Analysis: Listening is fine, but May needs to offer direction too

Theresa May
Theresa May
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It is only 15 months since Theresa May stood outside Downing Street and set what she would hope be the tone for her administration with a speech railing against the unfairness of modern Britain.

The Prime Minister declared she wanted "to make Britain a country that works for everyone", tackling insecurity at home and work.

Leaving aside for one moment her apparent lapse of memory that the Conservatives had been in power, in some form, for the previous six years, the speech was a powerful statement of intent with some uncomfortable messages for party supporters.

Fast forward to this party conference and that slogan continues to adorn the Manchester venue. The opening days have seen a string of policy announcements helping students, private renters and tackling disparities in regional transport spending.

All could comfortably be presented as measures delivering on that Downing Street promise.

Yes, the Government has suddenly found extra money to support these initiatives just weeks after an election where Mrs May insisted there was no magic money tree.

But the reality is one of the Prime Minister's first actions in office was to put back the target for balancing the Government's books and signal the uncertainty surrounding Brexit would require a more flexible approach to the public finances.

However, the damaging legacy of Mrs May's decision to call a snap election is not just the loss of a parliamentary majority and her personal authority, but also the Conservatives' control of the narrative.

Every policy announcement is now set against the backdrop of Labour's unexpected gains in June and in particular Jeremy Corbyn's ability to appeal to younger voters.

Mrs May admitted as much at a fringe event in Manchester where a Huffington Post video caught her saying: "We thought there was a political consensus. Jeremy Corbyn has changed that. It’s our job to go out and make those arguments all over again.”

In her speech on Wednesday, the Prime Minister must tread a fine line between reassuring voters she is listening while getting her party back on the front foot.