What the commentators said
“Did any Tory who watched May’s protester-interrupted, cough-plagued, stuttering, cringeinducing address feel she exuded authority” asked Hugh Muir in The Guardian. To judge from the “pained expressions” in the hall, they did not. This was May’s chance to press a reset button on her premiership. But it wasn’t to be. “Bring me a general who is lucky,” said Napoleon. She isn’t that. There is “panic in the air” in Tory circles, due to the relative success of last week’s Labour conference, said Dan Hodges in The Mail on Sunday. These people need to get a grip. True, if an election were held next week, the Tories would lose. But there isn’t going to be one until 2022, unless they want one. There’s plenty of time to turn things around.
Parties can rejuvenate themselves while in power, said Isabel Hardman in The Spectator. The Tories managed it under Margaret Thatcher, after her economic ideas triggered an early backlash, and again under John Major, who won the 1992 election after the “catastrophic rows” over the poll tax that ended Thatcher’s premiership. But it’s a hard trick to pull off, and not one that the current government looks likely to achieve on the evidence of this week’s muted conference. “The Tories are starting to resemble Labour at the end of its last spell in power” – bereft of energy and new ideas. It’s not so much the “Nasty Party” as the “Knackered Party”.
Might the ebullient Johnson come to the rescue? Unlikely, said Juliet Samuel in The Daily Telegraph. While his recent Brexit pronouncements have “won him a bounce in popularity among grass-roots Tory activists” – one recent poll showed him back in front of rivals as the favoured candidate to replace May – they have also bred some “serious ill will” among his colleagues. Johnson has alienated too many people to win the leadership now, agreed John Rentoul in The Independent. A better candidate would be Ruth Davidson, the charismatic, straight-talking leader of the Scottish Tories. “If the party is serious about power – and you have to wonder about the truth of that old saw – it should get her into the House of Commons the moment the 2021 Scottish parliament elections are over.”