Tonight there will be sighs of relief in CCHQ after Theresa May put in a solid – if imperfect – performance in the Sky / Channel 4 ‘Battle for Number 10’ programme. After a difficult week which saw the Tory lead drop to five points, the Prime Minister navigated her way through a range of tricky topics from her dementia tax U-turn to cuts to school funding.
Answering questions from the audience, May had the dubious honour of receiving the first heckle of the night for her claim that Labour’s manifesto was un-costed. However, despite some initial audience hostility, May managed to keep her cool. When an audience member asked her about the ‘so-called dementia tax’, May struck a more conciliatory tone than in her Andrew Neil interview. She calmly explained the reasoning behind her party’s controversial social care proposals (pointing out it would lessen the burden on the young) and promised a cap on costs, to be decided on consultation. Her answer appeared to go down okay with the audience.
In the second half of the programme, May was quizzed by Jeremy Paxman on her views on Brexit — before and after the EU referendum. The most difficult moment came when Paxman questioned May’s ability to negotiate for Britain — accusing her of being ‘a blowhard who collapses at the first sign of gunfire’ in light of her penchant for U-turns. This won a round of applause from the audience but May’s riposte was to point to her record — she said she should be judged on her past achievements negotiating in Brussels.
Despite the criticism, Paxman’s line of questioning ultimately benefitted May. She is strongest when talking about Brexit — and this was demonstrated when May won applause for explaining why she is now committed to Britain’s exit from the EU. Asked how she would secure a good deal, May returned to an old refrain as she promised to be a bloody difficult woman and ensure that she negotiates hard. The Conservatives will hope to keep the conversation on Brexit in the coming days.