Theresa May would never sell herself as a great orator. But that was a good speech, perhaps the most significant of her lifetime in Tory politics.
It was an address that achieved three things. It confirmed that she is sticking to her Chequers Brexit strategy – not that she even once uttered the controversial ‘C’ word. And she tried to acquire some wiggle room from sceptical members, so that she can offer the rest of the EU compromises on both the future trading relationship with them and the insurance policy, or backstop, to keep the Ireland border open.
Second, it planted the Tories in the centre of politics, with a pledge to end austerity and loosen the borrowing cap on local councils for housebuilding. Importantly she attacked Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour for vacating what she would see as the ‘patriotic’ centre ground – and resisted the pressure from some in her party to battle Labour from the far right (symbolically, she repeated her promise to give workers some kind of representation in the boardroom).
Third, she in effect told her party they will have to send in the bailiffs if they want her out of 10 Downing Street any time soon. Her not-very-subliminal message was that she is enduring the huge personal stress and grief of delivering Brexit, and – if she pulls that off – she believes she will have earned the right to shape the post-Brexit future of the UK.
Was this confidence or hubris?
She and we will know soon enough: in the next few weeks we’ll learn whether the project that has defined her short time in office, getting us out of the EU, will be smooth and relatively orderly in its execution, or the kind of chaotic crash that would make all of us much poorer and would turf the Tories out of office for a generation.
So May’s speech mattered. But with the hand of Brexit history on her shoulder, it was a sideshow to the drama that will define this country for decades to come.
This article originally appeared on Robert Peston’s Facebook page