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  1. ITV Report

Theresa May makes pitch for centre ground as she promises to end austerity

Theresa May has told the Conservative Party Conference that she wants "decent, moderate and patriotic" Conservatives to be "a party for the whole country", in a clear pitch to centrist voters.

The prime minister used her keynote speech to declare that Britain's post-Brexit future is "full of promise", but that the UK is "not afraid" to leave the EU "with no deal if we have to".

In her address, she also insisted that her Chequers Brexit plan - which she did not mention in name - is the only credible one, and called for the party to unite behind her on it.

In recent weeks, Mrs May has been hit by questions over her leadership abilities, however, in her speech she positioned herself as a Prime Minister who is to stay for a long time, telling the conference of her plans for a "brighter future".

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Just minutes before her key speech, Tory MP James Duddridge wrote to the chair of the Conservative 1922 committee (a committee of influential backbenchers) calling for a change of leader, saying : "I write this with heavy heart however we now need a proper leadership election and to move on."

Yet, indicating that she had no intentions of quitting any time soon, Mrs May told the conference: "Leadership is doing what you believe to be right and having the courage and determination to see it through.

"That is the approach I have taken on Brexit."

The 62-year-old continued she had been "working day and night" for "the last two years" to "honour" the results of the Brexit referendum and "seek a good trading and security relationship with our neighbours after we have left".

In a speech entitled "Our Future Is In Our Hands", Mrs May said no one wants a good deal with the EU as much as she does, "but that has never meant getting a deal at any cost. Britain isn’t afraid to leave with no deal if we have to".

She said while this would be "bad at first" the "resilience and ingenuity of the British people would see us through".

Mrs May said she could not rule out no deal as this would weaken the UK's negotiating position, resulting in an deal that either "keeps us in the EU in all but name, keeps free movement, keeps vast annual payments and stops us signing trade deals with other countries.

"Or a deal that carves off Northern Ireland, a part of this country, effectively leaving it in the EU’s Custom’s Union."

In her 64-minute speech, Mrs May said that she had treated the EU with "with nothing but respect" so far in negotiations and "the UK expects the same" in return.

Mrs May insisted that the Government's Brexit proposals to the EU will ensure frictionless trade, protect jobs, allow the UK to take back control of its money and laws, and "end freedom of movement once and for all".

  • Watch the speech in full

In a plea for her party to unite behind her, Mrs May told delegates that "even if we do not all agree on every part of this proposal, we need to come together" and back her proposals.

She cautioned that should Labour come to power - in an acknowledgement of Labour's warning that they would vote any EU deal they did not agree with and then push for a General Election - they "would accept any deal the EU chose to offer, regardless of how bad it is for the UK"

She added that what the Government is "proposing is very challenging for the EU", but "if we stick together and hold our nerve I know we can get a deal that delivers for Britain", rather than pursuing different policy ideas at the risk of ending up with "no Brexit at all".

The Prime Minister also said there would be "no second referendum" as Labour has called for, saying "the people's vote has already taken place", and another vote would simply be "a politicians' vote".

  • Jokes about her dancing skills

While Mrs May dedicated a large part of her speech to Brexit, she made her way onto stage by poking fun at her dancing skills - which proved popular on social media during her trip to Africa in September - walking on to Abba's Dancing Queen, throwing some shapes as she did so.

Mrs May later referenced her lack of moves as she spoke of her trip to Kenya, saying she doubted she had inspired any of the children she met there to become dancers.

  • The importance of free markets

In another light-hearted moment in her speech, the Prime Minister took a swipe at Boris Johnson - who was not in the hall - who reportedly said earlier this year "f*** business" after concerns were raised about Brexit.

She told activists: "To all businesses, large and small, you may have heard that there is a four-letter word to describe what we Conservatives want to do to you.

"It has a single syllable. It is of Anglo-Saxon derivation. It ends in the letter k.

"Back business. Back them to create jobs and build prosperity. Back them to drive innovation and improve lives.

"Back them with the lowest corporation tax in the G20.

"Britain, under my Conservative government is open for business."

She continued that the Tories believe in the power of the "well-regulated free market" as "the greatest agent of collective human progress ever devised" which had helped half "extreme poverty" and child mortality in the last 30 years, and increase global life expectancy by almost 20 years.

She continued "the free market hasn’t just saved lives, it has improved them: the internet, smartphones, cheap air travel, electric cars, even flat-pack furniture.

"We should defend free markets, because it is ordinary working people who benefit."

Mrs May called for party unity over Brexit. Credit: PA
  • "A party for the whole country"

Much of Mrs May's speech was dedicated as positioning the Tories as the party for everyone, "a party for the whole country", in a bid to win over Labour moderates.

She told the hall that the Conservatives were the party that "puts the national interest first", "delivers on the issues" people care about, is "patriotic", "believes in business" and is "comfortable with modern Britain in all of its diversity".

Mrs May said that "above all", hers was "a party of Unionism, not just of four proud nations, but of all our people.

"A party that believes your success in life should not be defined by who you love, your faith, the colour of your skin, who your parents were, or where you were raised - but by your talent and hard work."

While Jeremy Corbyn claims that Labour is the party "for the many, not the few", Mrs May claimed hers was the "party not for the few, not even for the many, but for everyone who is willing to work hard and do their best", a point she came back to throughout her speech.

She added that while she does not agree with many of their policies, she used to believe that Labour "had some respect", but since it became "the Jeremy Corbyn Party", this is not something she could see anymore.

She also attacked Labour over the accusations they faced over the summer of anti-Semitism, telling the delegates: "What has befallen Labour is a national tragedy.

"What has it come to when Jewish families today seriously discuss where they should go if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister, when a leading Labour MP says his party is institutionally racist."

Mrs May continued the Tories could offer "security, freedom and opportunity" for all, citing the examples of Home Secretary Sajid Javid whose parents were immigrants from Pakistan, or leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson who is pregnant with her first child and engaged to her girlfriend.

Mrs May added that the Tories under her, rather than a Labour Government under Mr Corbyn, would keep the UK secure.

The Prime Minister pointed to her expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats following the Salisbury attack, and the sending of RAF jets to strike against Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons factories following an attack on civilians.

She continued that unlike Mr Corbyn she did not want to disarm the UK, and believes that NATO membership is a "guarantor of our freedom and security".

Mrs May said the Conservatives were the party who have 'looked after the NHS'. Credit: PA
  • NHS

In another attack on Labour, Mrs May told the delegates that the Conservatives "had looked after the NHS", a Labour creation, "for most of its life".

Mrs May reminded those in Birmingham that for the NHS's 70th birthday earlier this year, the Conservatives had pledged at extra £394 million a week for it.

On Wednesday, she announced that some of this money would be used to fund a new cancer strategy, with the intention of boosting the early detection rate from one-in-two today, to-three-in four by 2028.

As she announced the proposals, the Prime Minister told the delegates about her goddaughter who had died from cancer, noting that "half of us will be diagnosed with cancer" in our lifetimes.

Mrs May said earlier cancer detection - which can be key to surviving the deadly disease - would be done by lowering the bowel cancer screening age from 60 to 50, investing in the very latest scanners, and by building more Rapid Diagnostic Centres – one stop-shops that help people get treatment quicker.

She said this would mean that by 2028, 55,000 more people will be alive five years after their diagnosis compared to today.

"Every life saved means precious extra years with friends and family.

"Every life saved means a parent, a partner, a child, a god mother spared the pain of losing a loved one before their time."

Mrs May said she wanted to 'fix' the 'broken housing market'. Credit: PA
  • Fixing the "broken" housing market

In what could be seen as an attempt to win some of Labour's supporters, Mrs May pledged to fix the "broken" housing market.

"We cannot make the case for capitalism if ordinary working people have no chance of owning capital," the Tory MP said.

In an interview with ITV News on Tuesday, Mrs May spoke of how she wanted housing and enabling more people to own their own homes, to be her legacy of her time in office.

On Wednesday, Mrs May said the Tories were committed to helping more first-time buyers on to the property market by "scrapping stamp duty for most first-time buyers" and introducing the Help to Buy scheme.

She continued that "this week we have announced that we will charge a higher rate of stamp duty on those buying homes who do not live and pay taxes in the UK, to help level the playing field for British buyers", with "the money raised will go towards tackling the scourge of rough sleeping".

The Prime Minister added that in order to fix the market in the long term, the Conservatives would ensure more homes were built, and would help councils to build more affordable homes by removing a cap on the amount of money they could borrow to do this.

Hours ahead of Mrs May's speech, a large queue had formed to hear her. Credit: PA

Mrs May's speech comes just two weeks ahead of the EU summit seen as the most likely opportunity for a final agreement on the UK divorce from the bloc and a statement on future relations.

The proximity of the Tory conference and EU summit mean it may be too early for Mrs May to make the compromises the EU are seeking to reach a deal.

Mrs May's keynote speech came one year, almost to the day, since her catastrophic conference speech at the 2017 Tory conference in Manchester, where she suffered stage invasion by a comedian, a persistent cough and a collapsing backdrop.

Opening her speech in a lighthearted manner, Mrs May joked that delegates would have to "excuse me if I cough during this speech; I’ve been up all night supergluing the backdrop".

The Prime Minister ended her speech, and the conference, by telling delegates that "we stand at a pivotal moment in our history.

"It falls to our party to lead our country through it.

"When we come together there is no limit to what we can achieve."