Theresa May : Britain’s new prime minister
Theresa May became the new Prime Minister of Britain on Thursday after the only other remaining candidate, Andrea Leadsom, pulled out of the race. Although it was an unexpected result, as May was not the initial favourite, many have welcomed the new Prime Minister as a leader who will unite the country at this crucial time.
May was born in Eastbourne, Sussex in 1956, to a Church of England Vicar. She grew up in Oxfordshire and received her education, mainly, from the state sector, although she briefly attended an independent Catholic school. She studied at the University of Oxford where she graduated with a BA degree in Geography in 1977. She is the Member of Parliament for Maidenhead constituency where she has served since 1997. She was appointed the first female chairman of the Conservative Party in July 2002. Subsequent to the 2010 general election and the coalition government that resulted from it, Theresa May became the Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities.
May identifies as a One Nation Conservative, and is seen as somewhat liberal and progressive in her views. One Nation Conservatives promote the idea of social cohesion and welfare, and aim to build a society that bridges the gap between the classes. May’s assurance that her government will look after the interests of the whole nation, and not just a “privileged few”, has been seen as an attempt to take advantage of the Labour Party’s disunity, and to gain support from the working class. In fairness though, this stance is not novel to her. She made a name for herself when, in 2002, she gave a speech warning her fellow Conservatives that they need to stop being the “nasty party” in U.K politics. The cabinet ministers she has selected even show more of a down-to-earth flavour, with Cameron’s party chairman Andrew Feldman being replaced by the former miner Patrick Mcloughlin. Even more impressive, only around one fifth of May’s cabinet were privately educated.
Theresa May’s emergence as the second female Prime Minister of Britain has also been seen as a victory for women. May is an avowed feminist and led the fight to close the U.K’s gender wage gap in 2008. Furthermore, May appointing Amber Rudd as the home secretary has meant that women now hold half of the so-called great offices of the state. That is, the four most important roles in government; the Prime Minister, the chancellor of the exchequer, the foreign secretary and the home secretary.
While May is seen as liberal and progressive in most areas, she is certainly not viewed that way in her stance on immigration. After being appointed home secretary in 2010, May used her power to bloc skilled immigrants from permanently settling in the U.K if they made less that £37,000 a year. Although May was the only major candidate that supported remaining in the E.U, her anti-immigration stance could actually make her more popular among the pro-Brexit electorate. Polling data shows that anti-immigration sentiment was the single most decisive factor in Britain voting to leave.
May gave the following address after being confirmed as leader of the Conservative Party: “I am honoured and humbled to have been chosen by the Conservative Party to become its leader.
I would like to pay tribute to the other candidates during the election campaign, and I would like to pay tribute to Andrea Leadsom for the dignity that she has shown today. During this campaign, my case has been based on three things. First, the need for strong, proven leadership to steer us through what will be difficult and uncertain economic and political times. The need of course, to negotiate the best deal for Britain in leaving the EU and to forge a new role for ourselves in the world. Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it. Second, we need to unite our country. And third, we need a strong, new, and positive vision for the future of our country. A vision of a country that works not for the privileged few but works for every one of us. Because we’re going to give people more control over their lives. That’s how together we will build a better Britain.”
While she appears calm and composed, May certainly has her work cut out for her. As she stated in her address, her first key task will be in ensuring that the U.K exits the E.U smoothly and that a favourable deal is reached. This will be much easier said than done, however. The U.K leaving the E.U has caused panic among the remaining member-states, so it is unlikely that May will be able to get the favourable deal she is in search of. Denying the U.K a good deal in leaving the E.U could serve as a deterrent to remaining member states to prevent them from following Britain’s lead and leaving.
The new Prime Minister will also have her work cut out for her in keeping the U.K united. The U.K’s overall decision to leave the E.U was not mirrored in Scotland as the region voted overwhelmingly to remain in the E.U. Consequently, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has warned May that, ‘while the new Prime Minister has told her own Party that “Brexit means Brexit”, she must not forget that for the people of Scotland “remain means remain”. That is why my message to Theresa May is that the question of Scotland’s continued place in the European Union must be among the priority issues she addresses as Prime Minister.’ Theresa May has already begun tackling this issue. She stated that her government will always be on Scotland’s side as she met Sturgeon in Edinburgh on Friday. She also promised that her government will involve Scotland’s devolved administration in the negotiations to withdraw Britain from the E.U.
Though many are already pleased with May’s position on key issues, she has already ruffled feathers when it comes to the environment and sustainability. One of the first changes Theresa May made to Whitehall was the abolishment of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, of which responsibilities will be absorbed into a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Green Party’s energy spokesman said the move showed that May had “utterly abandoned environmental issues on her first day in office.”