BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May will make a bid for the centre ground in British politics on Wednesday in a speech calling for a new approach to government, based on serving “ordinary working-class people”.
In her closing address at the Conservatives’ annual conference, May will call on members to appeal to the millions of traditional Labour voters who defied the opposition party’s pro-EU stance by voting to leave the European Union in June.
With Labour struggling to unite after the re-election of leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn, May will say it is time to become “the party of the workers”.
“I want to set our party and our country on the path towards the new centre ground of British politics - built on the values of fairness and opportunity,” she will say in her speech, according to pre-released excerpts.
“So let’s have no more of Labour’s absurd belief that they have a monopoly on compassion ... Let’s make clear that they have given up the right to call themselves the party of the NHS (National Health Service), the party of the workers, the party of public servants.”
May has a long record of trying to push the Conservatives to adopt a more caring image - in 2002, she famously told them that some voters called them the “nasty party”,
Since she was appointed prime minister almost three months ago following the resignation of her predecessor David Cameron over the EU referendum, the Conservatives have maintained an opinion poll lead of around 8 percentage points over Labour.
May’s approval ratings as a leader dwarf Corbyn’s. A poll late last month said only 16 percent of voters thought Labour was likely to win the next election under Corbyn, compared to 65 percent for the Conservatives under May.
Some critics say she is enjoying a political honeymoon, but at the annual conference in Britain’s second city of Birmingham, May has wooed some of the most critical members in her party by promising to return sovereignty from Brussels and restore control over the flow of people into Britain.
Hoping to press her advantage before an election due in 2020, May will say she wants to put “the power of government squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people”, to tackle injustice and make sure everyone has a chance to succeed.
“It’s time to remember the good that government can do,” she will say, adding Britain can no longer be governed for the privileged few - a veiled criticism of Cameron, who was educated at the elite Eton public school.
“And if we do – if we act to correct unfairness and injustice and put government at the service of ordinary working people – we can build that new united Britain in which everyone plays by the same rules, and in which the powerful and the privileged no longer ignore the interests of the people.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Mark Trevelyan