LONDON (Reuters) - Giving a “stonking” performance, Britain’s Theresa May won a stay of execution from her Conservative Party on Monday, winning support from disillusioned lawmakers after losing a parliamentary majority at last week’s national election.
The prime minister was described as “contrite” at a meeting of Conservative members called the 1922 Committee, apologising to those politicians who lost their seats in an election she did not need to hold and promising to clear up “the mess” she made on Thursday by working more widely with her party.
For some who attended, it was a performance strong enough to convince doubters over her future.
Her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, described it on Twitter as a: “Stonking performance by the PM at 1922. One team going forward together for the UK.”
But it was also one they wished she had deployed more during the seven-week election campaign, when her double-digit lead in the polls collapsed as she was widely mocked as a “Maybot” for sticking doggedly to an agreed script.
Several Conservative lawmakers, who all spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a private meeting, said she started off at the meeting by saying she had got the party into “this mess and I‘m the one who is going to get us out of it.'”
“Once she’d made that confession - that mea culpa ‘I‘m taking responsibility’ - the room really warmed up,” said another lawmaker who attended the meeting of the committee, named after a meeting in 1922 when the Conservatives withdrew from a coalition government.
“We’re all hugely proud, fond and respectful of her as a person.”
With cheers, laughter and the sound of fists thumping tables heard in the corridor outside the Gladstone Room in parliament overlooking the Thames, her pledge to “serve us as long as we want her” was met with a ‘yes’, at least for now.
The more than hour-long meeting was the latest test for the 60-year-old prime minister whose uncharacteristic gamble to strengthen her leadership by calling an early election left her authority in tatters and weakened her hand in Brexit talks.
Her two closest aides have resigned, any plans for a wide reshuffle of her top ministers were put firmly aside and she will most probably have to rein in her reform programme, now dependent on a small Northern Irish party for support.
And while at least one Conservative lawmaker left the meeting suggesting that not all was well by shouting “what do you expect, some kind of communal love in?” when asked how the meeting was going, others seemed satisfied that May had bought herself more time at the helm of the party, and country.
She seemed to settle nerves among eurosceptics and pro-EU lawmakers about her strategy for Britain’s departure from the European Union and eased concerns about a tie-up with the Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which some feared could press on social issues such as abortion and gay rights.
But it was her words about the party which won many over.
She spoke about being “a servant of the party since she was 12-years-old” when she started stuffing envelopes with Conservative Party promotional material, a lawmaker said.
Another said: “I just wished we had seen more of it during the campaign.”
Writing by Elizabeth Piper, Editing by Angus MacSwan