Monday 23 September 2019

Watch: 'This was a woman showing her vulnerability' - Theresa May's speech interrupted by several minutes of coughing

Theresa May's conference speech teetered on the brink of disaster, as she repeatedly spluttered and coughed and lost her voice - forcing her to apologise.

Cabinet ministers rallied round Mrs May following her dramatic speech to the Conservative Party conference.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he believed Mrs May's speech showed a "great sense of duty", adding she "did really well" to cope with a persistent cough and a prankster waving a P45 unemployment notice in her face.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove added to the Press Association: "I thought it was a fantastic speech from a Prime Minister at the top of her game."

Senior Conservative MP George Freeman, head of the Prime Minister's policy board, described it as the "most electrifying" speech and added Mrs May's "faltering" voice heightened the sense of her tenacity.

He told the Press Association: "She completely turned around that tone of the general election, of a monotone, iron lady, the Maybot.

"This was a woman showing her vulnerability, showing her frailty, and in so doing connecting with and demonstrating what is her greatest strength - a steely commitment to public service, an incredible personal sense of duty, a woman who at an age of life where many would be putting their feet up, is redoubling her commitment to the toughest job in the country.

"Strangely the faltering voice actually heightened the sense of her tenacity and her commitment to go through the adversity.

"You could feel the more she spoke, the more the mood came with her, as people celebrated the values of public service that are at the heart of Conservatism.

"You couldn't have scripted it more powerfully."

Conservative Paul Masterton, who was among the MPs selected to speak on the main stage before Mrs May's arrival, told the Press Association: "It was eventful.

"It was a clear reminder why she's the right person to be taking the country forward - a stinking cold, some idiot at the stage halfway through, and she did what leaders do."

Mr Hunt, in a later interview with BBC Radio 4's World At One, said of Mrs May: "Well I think she came across as very human, in fairness perhaps not in the way that she had planned.

"But people up and down the country watching TV have coughs and colds and they struggle on and that's what she did."

He added: "I think people know that she has had not just an annoying cough but a very, very tough few months and what comes across about Theresa May in public now is something that I've always seen in private which is a tremendous sense of duty.

"A sense that actually you're there to do the right thing and that was in the substance of the speech but also, in a way, in the style as we saw her battling with that horrible cough.

"But I think the substance was also very, very significant, I hope that what happened doesn't cloud the substance."

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