Vowing not to give up, May tries to stamp authority on party

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May will tell her Conservative Party on Wednesday it is not her style “to give up and turn away” when things get hard, trying to persuade critics that she can lead Britain and complete difficult Brexit negotiations.

In the closing speech of her …

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May reset her “mainstream Conservative agenda” on Wednesday, taking on her critics, even a protester who interrupted her mid-speech, in an attempt to prove she can lead Britain and secure a strong Brexit.

In a keynote conference speech when the protester and a coughing fit brought her words almost to a halt, May won over many members in the hall by promising to reinvigorate the party by offering pledges to younger people and families alike.

The 61-year-old May also said she didn’t mind being called the “Ice Maiden” but that unlike many of her critics she came from lowly beginnings, something that convinced her of the need of what she called a British dream.

Her address could be make or break for the prime minister, whose attempt to present a united front at the conference has been undermined by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a possible leadership contender who received rousing applause for his speech on Tuesday.

“This is a Conservatism I believe in, a Conservatism of fairness and justice and opportunity for all, a Conservatism that keeps the British Dream alive for a new generation,” she told the cheering crowd.

“That’s what I‘m in this for,” she said in a phrase she repeated at least eight times. “That’s what we must all be in this for.”

The conference in the northern English city of Manchester was a sombre affair, light on policy and heavy on self doubt. Despite coming second in the June election, the opposition Labour Party’s annual meeting was almost celebratory.

After Labour’s assault on capitalism, the backbone of Conservative policy, May wants to underline the importance of re-arguing the defence of free markets and fiscal prudence.

But she also wants to engage with younger voters who have flocked to the policies championed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran leftist who has promised to renationalise the railways and end tuition fees that leave graduates in debt.

One senior Conservative said delegates were “hungry for ideas” and leadership, wanting their prime minister to win back the upper hand over Labour, which has closed the gap with the Conservatives in the opinion polls.

The run up to May’s speech, however, was overshadowed by Johnson who once again dominated the airwaves after he stunned some party members at the conference by saying Libya could become a new Dubai if it could “clear the dead bodies away.”

Again there were calls for Johnson to resign or be sacked, demands that May had hoped had been put aside after the foreign minister pledged his loyalty to her after setting out his own Brexit plan in a local newspaper.

Editing by Stephen Addison

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