Then, toward the end of the address, letters began to fall from the slogan behind her onstage.

The speech highlighted the problems confronting Mrs. May — her battle to complete it seeming to some like a metaphor for her struggling premiership, the set of mishaps overshadowing the messages she hoped would dominate the news.

The four-day conference in Manchester is the first since Mrs. May gambled by calling a general election in June, in which her Conservative Party lost its majority after an unexpectedly strong performance from the opposition Labour Party, destroying much of her authority in the process.

Under the left-wing leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s anti-austerity message struck a chord, particularly with younger voters, who turned out in greater numbers than usual, leaving many Conservative activists in Manchester wondering how to compete.


The mock dismissal form included the name of the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

As the debate about the Conservative Party’s future has unfolded at the conference center and beyond, Mrs. May’s potential successors have had a chance to grab the limelight, and none took that opportunity more ruthlessly than the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who has made two interventions undermining Mrs. May’s strategy for negotiating Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, known as Brexit.

On Wednesday, Mrs. May promised more homes would be built to tackle the country’s housing crisis, detailed a cap on energy prices and promised to forge a British version of the American dream.

She apologized also to Conservative Party members for an election campaign that was “too scripted, too presidential.”

But, Mrs. May was soon interrupted by a prankster, who handed her a P45 — a form that is sent to Britons who lose their jobs — saying “Boris asked me to give you this,” before being ejected from the hall.

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