The cough, the P45, the falling F: Theresa May’s speech calamity

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Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong in a speech designed to unite the Tories behind their leader. Heres how the disaster unfolded

Billed as a speech where Theresa May was fighting for her political life after weeks of leadership manoeuvres by senior figures in her cabinet, almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the prime minister at the Conservative party conference.

The combination of a prank, a hacking cough and the words on the set collapsing behind her meant that few will remember the policy initiatives she announced on housing, organ donation and energy prices.

Heres how the disaster unfolded, and how the internet reacted.

The P45 prank

Play Video

Prankster interrupts Theresa May’s conference speech to hand her fake P45 video

Simon Brodkin, who had showered fake banknotes on to Sepp Blatter when he was Fifa president, interrupted May to present her with a P45, which he said Boris Johnson had told him to give her.

Simon Brodkin gives the thumbs up to the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The note he handed her was subsequently found on the conference floor.

Robert Peston (@Peston)

The pranksters P45, found by Mays lectern

October 4, 2017

And the images of her being handed her termination paper were easily and quickly Photoshopped into gags on Twitter.

Philly Boo-yrne (@PhilipNByrne)

Not sure why but I photoshopped the dude handing May a copy of Iron Maiden’s Powerslave and it’s good.

October 4, 2017

The cough

It wasnt long after the P45 stunt that Mays voice began to fail her and she started on an extended coughing fit, which inhibited the delivery of much of the speech.

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Great expectorations: Theresa May battles a conference coughing fit video

At one point the chancellor, Philip Hammond, handed her a cough sweet, and May ad-libbed that you very rarely saw the chancellor give anything away for free.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, hands a cough sweet to Theresa May. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

Boris Johnson had to be told to stand up

To cover the fact that May was faltering in her delivery, the audience rose to give her a standing ovation. They didnt all rise as one, however, and the home secretary, Amber Rudd, appeared to tell the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, that he needed to stand. He did as he was told.

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Does Amber Rudd tell Boris Johnson to stand up for the PM? video

The communist-loving bracelet

There was some question over Mays choice of jewellery for a speech in which she was keen to criticise the politics of Jeremy Corbyn a bracelet depicting self-portraits by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

HannahJane Parkinson (@ladyhaja)

Can I just point out that Theresa May is wearing a bracelet of Frida Kahlo, a member of the Communist party who LITERALLY DATED TROTSKY

October 4, 2017

Maybe this was part of a bold new plan to try to attract the Corbynista youth vote.

Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar)

When the ghost of Frida Kahlo comes back to strangle you to death for abusing her image and everything she ever stood for. #CPC17

October 4, 2017

Then the backdrop began to collapse

As if a sign that her political world was collapsing around her, near the end of her speech, the letters began to fall off the backdrop behind her. First the F from for, then the final E from everyone.

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Letter F falls off slogan behind Theresa May at Tory conference video

Philip Sim (@BBCPhilipSim)

We’ve also dropped an E now, which actually starts to explain some of the things that have happened in the last hour

October 4, 2017

Tom Phillips (@flashboy)

October 4, 2017

Marnanel Thurman (@marnanel)

I had to draw that

October 4, 2017

Ross McCafferty (@RossMcCaff)

Boris Johnson: I’m going to be responsible for the biggest disaster at Tory conference

Set designer: Hold my b r

October 4, 2017

Still, as many on social media were keen to point out, with the word country part of the backdrop, May possibly got off lightly.

All in all, if youd written it as an episode of political satire, youd have probably dismissed it as too much.

Stephen Bush (@stephenkb)

If you scripted that, the editor would go the sign falling off is a bit on the nose, isnt it?

October 4, 2017

Social media users compared the performance to disastrous TV shows and conference speeches of the past.

Oisin (@OisinDubai)

The last time I watched a car crash like that on TV

October 4, 2017

Vix (@yearof39)

“The quiet man is TURNING UP THE VOLUME.” That speech now looks like a nuanced classic.

October 4, 2017

People were puzzled by Mays repeated mentions of the British dream

At several points in the speech, the prime minister referred tothe British dream as if it was as well understood a concept as the idea of the American dream. On Twitter, that didnt seem to be the case:

Dr Tim Nicholls (@guessonomics)

Dear The World,

Just to clarify: Theresa May’s ‘British dream’ is a mystery to us. We don’t say that. It’s not a thing.

Love, Britain

October 4, 2017

Doug Robertson (@flumcake)

Isnt the British dream the one where we turn up naked and unprepared for an important exam? Or Brexit, as its otherwise known.

October 4, 2017

Dawn Foster (@DawnHFoster)

Me at the start of the speech: WTF is the British dreamMe at the end in tears of laughter: THIS, this is the British dream

October 4, 2017

The audience reaction at times was painful to watch

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