LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May will set out plans to build “a road to a better future” for Britain at her Conservative Party conference next week, hoping to head off a rebellion over her handling of Brexit and the June election.
Weakened by the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority in that election, which prompted some members to call for her to go, May will try to show she is still the right person to lead the party and Britain.
She will set out her vision of a “country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”.
May first made that promise on the steps of her Downing Street office when she became prime minister just over a year ago after Britain voted to leave the European Union and her predecessor David Cameron stepped down.
She will be keen to play down divisions in her cabinet of ministers over the Brexit divorce talks with the EU, which has given the opposition Labour Party ammunition to criticise a squabbling government.
Instead, she will go on the offensive against Labour, which has won over voters by making a similar promise to govern “for the many, not the few”.
Labour came second in the election, but did far better than mainstream expectations. The standing of it leader, leftist Jeremy Corbyn, was raised considerably.
“Our party meets in Manchester this week, and our message to you is simple. As Conservatives, we have a vision of a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few – precisely the direction I set when I became prime minister last year,” May said in a statement before the conference begins on Sunday.
“I understand the concerns raised, particularly by young people, during what was a disappointing election for my party. So my determination to act on those concerns, and crucially, to fulfil the promise of my first speech on the steps of Downing Street, is greater than ever.”
After Labour staged a conference this week at which it sounded triumphant, May hopes to fire up thousands of members who feel let down by what some describe as an awful election campaign, when their leader was dubbed “the Maybot” for her repetition of catchphrases.
May is now dependent on a small Northern Irish party to be sure of passing legislation in parliament, and opinion polls indicate that Labour is a growing threat, persuading rivals in the party not to try to topple her quite yet.
May will also be careful in Manchester to present a united front and keep a lid on divisions in her cabinet after arguments over her Brexit strategy and vision of future ties with the EU, and over austerity, broke out into the open.
“So this week we’ll be setting out our road to a better future for you (voters) and your family. Yes, we have to get the best Brexit deal – but we must also take action here at home to make this a fairer place to live for ordinary working people,” she said.
“And for people considering the alternative, we have a clear message too. The Labour Party is simply not fit to govern – and have already gone back on their promises about things like student debt.”
She offered no details of her plan to take the initiative in a domestic debate that has been dominated by Labour’s criticism of economic austerity.
Its criticism of public sector cuts and pay caps for nurses, police and firefighters has caught the mood of the public. Many people have seen wages stagnate for nearly a decade as prices rise, and this has helped Labour close the gap in the opinion polls.
Conservative members say May must try to re-engage voters and modernise a party that some say has been overly dependent on older voters and swathes of southern England, which are now being targeted by Labour.
“This week in Manchester you’ll see more of our plan for a country that truly works for everyone,” she said.
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.