Following Theresa May's "disastrous" conference speech in Manchester yesterday, in which she had a coughing fit preventing her from speaking for minutes, while a heckler gave her the UK equivalent of a pink slip, and ended with letters falling from the slogan behind the stage and the Prime Minister being comforted by her husband, her political future is reportedly hanging in the balance, leaving her feeling "extremely distraught." Overnight, the Telegraph reported that May could be ousted as Prime Minister as soon as Christmas because as many as 30 Tory MPs are said to be preparing a letter calling for May's resignation.
In the speech, Mrs May apologised for the election defeat and spoke passionately about Brexit. She said: “We did not get the victory we wanted because our national campaign fell short. It was too scripted, too presidential, and it allowed the Labour Party to paint us as the voice of continuity, when the public wanted to hear a message of change. “I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility. I led the campaign. And I am sorry.”
And while May was "extremely distraught" for all the glitches surrounding her speech, with her Cabinet publicly supported the prime minister, privately Tory MPs said she was “limping like a broken horse into oblivion” and suggested that talks about her departure will have to be “accelerated”.
As the Telegraph first reported, May’s apology was well received in the conference hall, but it emerged on Wednesday night that as many as 30 Tory MPs are thought to be prepared to sign a letter calling for the Prime Minister to resign, with one drawing comparisons to Labour’s “sleepwalk into defeat” under Gordon Brown.
A senior Conservative source said: “The public are far more brutal about these things. They will see a Prime Minister who looks ill, with the stage set falling down. It will compound many of the views that they already have for her. It should be a wake-up call at the moment. “There were great policies in her speech, and nobody will be talking about them. We’ve not just been unlucky here, there have been some real, real failings.”
Another minister said: "Things are moving quite quickly. Conversations are being held. The plates are moving more fundamentally now. She has to decide." But the speech has accelerated calls for her to go in order to head off an emboldened Labour Party.
If May refused to step aside, rebels believe they could win enough signatures to trigger a leadership ballot over the coming months. Under the rules, 48 MPs would need to write to the party's backbench 1922 Committee expressing no confidence in Mrs May in order to trigger a leadership contest.
While May's Cabinet has been in damage control mode (the Telegraph has a live blog on all the latest post-speech developments) , Kit Juckes said it best overnight:
If collapsing props, coughing fits and a comic interruption are all that matter than politics truly is all about style rather than substance, but the pound is a little weaker on the back of this news but it's still ‘bumping along the bottom' rather than heading into uncharted waters. If EUR/USD has limited downside, so too does GBP/USD. Olivier pointed out yesterday that the lower spot provides the opportunity to Buy distant OTM calls, as the GBP risk is now getting very asymmetric.
Indeed, the market's verdict is that May's future is increasingly shaky, with the GBPUSD now back to levels last seen in early September.