THERESA MAY: Britain’s new prime minister

Incoming British Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking at a terrorism conference at Chatham House in Dec. 2015 as Home Secretary. Photo: Chatham House/Creative Commons

Incoming British Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking at a terrorism conference at Chatham House in Dec. 2015 as Home Secretary. Photo: Chatham House/Creative Commons

By Victoria Honeyman, University of Leeds
July 11, 2016

Britain is to have a new prime minister in the form of Theresa May, currently the home secretary. May will take office July 13 after the contest to become Conservative leader was unexpectedly cut short by her rival Andrea Leadsom.

May was always seen as the more likely of the two candidates to prevail but it had been thought that she wouldn’t emerge as the victor until September. Then, after facing a backlash for comments she made implying that being a mother made her the best woman for the job, Leadsom quit the race.

So, who is the new prime minster? Some newspapers obsessed over May’s quirky shoe choices. But she also hit headlines with her admission in 2002 that the Conservatives were often seen as the “nasty party”.

Before you continue: please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We are on an honour system and survive only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story.  Contribute below, or find more details here. Thanks for your interest and support.

After graduating from Oxford, May spent her early career on a London council and at the Bank of England. She was elected to the House of Commons in 1997 as MP for Maidenhead in Berkshire. Her star rose quickly and she became shadow Secretary of State for Education in June 1999, when the Conservative Party was the party of opposition.

When then leader William Hague departed, his successor Iain Duncan Smith appointed May as shadow Secretary of State for transport. Then in 2002, she became chairman of the Conservative Party.

Her style was calm, collected and, as the “nasty party” reference suggests, not afraid to point out uncomfortable truths in order to help her party win power. Under Duncan Smith’s successor, Michael Howard, May returned to the transport portfolio, before moving to culture, finally becoming shadow leader of the House of Commons in 2005 when David Cameron rose to the leadership.

After a short stint as shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, May took up her more permanent position as HOme Secretary after the Conservative Party came to power as the lead partner in the 2010-2015 coalition government. She held that position right up until now – an exceptionally long stint in one of the government’s toughest jobs.

Traditionally in British politics, it was anticipated that Prime Ministers would occupy two of the three large governmental positions before becoming Prime Minister, those positions being Home Secretary Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, many Prime Ministers have not held more than one of those positions, and some have held none.

Tony Blair had famously never held a government position before becoming Prime Minister, as the Labour Party had been out of power for the entire duration of his career as an MP. Cameron, too, had never held a Cabinet position before becoming Prime Minister, although he had been a special adviser to Norman Lamont while he had been Chancellor. In modern times, only Jim Callaghan (1976-1979) and John Major (1990-1997) had fulfilled the traditional apprenticeship of government.

Waiting for the vision

For May, there will be no “third way” or “Liberal Conservatism”. She is seen as being to the right of Cameron, who represents the more centre-right element of the party.

We can expect May’s leadership to be defined by the Brexit talks. May has cast herself, not just since the referendum vote, but since her arrival in parliament, as a steady pair of hands. She will need to live up to that reputation in a political environment which is unpredictable and tumultuous.

The lack of a longer leadership campaign means that May has not been pressured on any of her policies, nor has she had the opportunity to explain and justify them to the party and the public.

It seems likely that Britain’s new PM will attempt to “steady the ship”, securing Britain’s relationship with the EU. She said as much in a speech outside parliament when her leadership was confirmed. Brexit, she said, means Brexit, and securing a good deal must be the top priority.

But she will also have to heal her party’s nasty wounds. And even if she didn’t say as much, this problem will have to come first – at least chronologically. The Conservatives have been bitterly divided over the European issue for many years and the referendum has only deepened the rift.

So, before starting protracted negotiations with the EU and various other key trading nations, May will need to bring peace to her own team. And while her first cabinet may give us a hint as to her intentions, it may be some time before her vision for Britain becomes clear.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Links:

We can make Britain a country that works for everyone: Theresa May’s speech launching her campaign, on her campaign site: http://www.theresa2016.co.uk/we_can_make_britain_a_country_that_works_for_everyone

Europe looks forward to dealing with pragmatist, by Duncan Robinson & Stefan Wagstyl, Financial Times

Der Spiegel reporting on Theresa May (mostly in German)

Related works on F&O:

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Brexit will save the European project, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs    Analysis

When the dust of history settles, the moment angry Britons voted to quit the European Union will stand out as the moment that saved the 28-nation project.

‘Explosive shock’ as Britain votes to leave EU, Cameron quits, by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton  Report

Britain has voted to leave the European Union, forcing the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and dealing the biggest blow since World War Two to the European project of forging greater unity.

Brexit Factbox: Who, where, when why – and what next, by Alastair MacDonald, Report

In England’s Mean and Truculent Land, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

Britain’s departure from the EU will be a journey across new territory full of terrors and treacherous terrain. Among the many stupidities in Cameron’s management of the referendum was allowing a simple majority for victory.

An American “Brexit” revolt? Not likely, by Tom Regan, F&O Summoning Orenda columnist

Immediately after the Brexit vote, to take Britain out of the European Union, the hyperventilating United States  media found umpteen different ways to say “It could happen here.” This American media chorus is wrong.

 

Victoria-HoneymanVictoria Honeyman is a Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Leeds. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.