Theresa May’s speech was an attempt to seize the moment created by Brexit and Labour’s lurch to the left. She tried to set out a new centre-ground politics, promising to stand up to elites on behalf of ordinary people. She attempted to nationalise Clement Attlee, the Labour Prime Minister who presided over the creation of the NHS, hailing him as one of her inspirations and promised government intervention to fix the housing, energy and broadband markets.
In political terms, the speech was clever. There are an awful lot of voters who will nod along with her criticism of a ‘sneering’ elite who view themselves as ‘global citizens’ and her demands that multinational businesses accept that they have obligations to the communities they operate in. There’ll be traditional Labour voters who don’t like Corbyn’s pseudo-academic left-wingery and will like the tone of this speech, as well as the plan to put workers on board.
But the question is how May can achieve these things: setting the direction is the easy bit, getting there is the hard part. On that, May was deliberately vague. There was no new policy in the speech, and there has been very little of that all week. Can May find a way to preserve the openness of the UK economy which international investors find so attractive while implementing this agenda? Can her interventions in the housing sector get round Britain’s absurdly restrictive planning regime? All of that we will find out in the coming years.