As quickly as it started, the Conservative leadership contest ended with a predictable default victory for Theresa May. Just a few short weeks after we threw off the yolk of anti-democratic horrors that is the European Union, we’ve got a new prime minister that not a single person voted for. Hours after launching her bid in Birmingham, May rushed to London to accept the role of leader of the party after Andrea Leadsom withdrew from the contest. The markets are already on the uptick as Britain has avoided months of political uncertainty. Theresa May will become Prime Minister on Wednesday afternoon.
Who is she, and what can we expect from her leadership?
Two decades in government
Contrary to the wishes of many populists, Brexiteers, and “anti-establishment” types, May is not an outsider. She has been MP for Maidenhead since 1997.
Perhaps more under the radar than some of her peers in cabinet, her most recent post was as Home Secretary under David Cameron. During her six-year tenure, she reversed the controversial stop and search police powers, succeeded in deporting convicted terrorist Abu Qatada, and failed to bring immigration under a self-imposed 100,000 per year. May also publicly refused a request from Boris Johnson to bring water cannons to the streets of Britain in the wake of the 2011 riots.
I spy with May little eye
Theresa May has also been a highly controversial figure among privacy advocates. She attempted to fast-track the Draft Communications Data Bill – disparagingly referred to as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’; a piece of legislation offering unprecedented control over citizens’ private communication. Among other questionable provisions it requires ISPs to retain a years’ worth of customers weblogs, and to turn this information over to the government when requested. These logs include websites visited and other online activities. This has since been watered down slightly into the Investigatory Powers Bill, but shows May has little regard for online privacy at a time when more and more personal and financial transactions happen online.
May campaigned, albeit quietly, to remain in the European Union. Over the past few years she has complained that Britain’s involvement in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has been a hindrance to British justice. However, after the referendum, she stated that “Brexit means Brexit”, but also that she would not pull out of the ECHR.
One of her goals as home secretary was to drastically reduce immigration. Naturally, this was impossible with the EU’s freedom of movement, but she also failed dismally with non-EU immigration – something the UK has always had complete control over. Now the tables have turned however, and May has indicated that she will not seek continued membership in the single market if it means the free movement of people.
Starting the British withdrawal process from the EU shouldn’t start this year, according to May. As Home Secretary, she credits her experience negotiating as a strong point in the forthcoming Article 50 discussions.
Taking back control… again
Of course there is a whole raft of problems that need to be addressed aside from Brexit. In her launch speech, May said she wants a Britain that “works for everyone”, giving everyone equal opportunities to succeed, as well as a few other inspirational yet typical pledges.
Interestingly, May touched upon a sore point in Britain: productivity. While the country has the fifth (or now possibly sixth) largest economy in the world, its productivity levels have often been well below that of similar economies. She also criticised business leaders and CEOs who have seen their pay increase massively since the Great Recession as workers have seen little rise in their wages – and pledged to introduce sweeping corporate reform. She also called out Amazon, Google, and Starbucks when referencing that everyone should pay their fair share of tax (while quickly reminding the audience that as a Conservative she favours a low tax regime).
It’s going to be “bloody difficult”
Given that the EU referendum was not just about leaving the EU, but also a protest by those who felt they had been left behind, May not only has the dubious honour of being the Prime Minister to get us a Brexit deal; she also has to address a Britain that wants change. A large swathe of the people want real change in British society. Although her leadership in EU negotiations will be a huge part of her job, once it becomes clear that most of Britain’s problems have nothing to do with the EU at all, May’s real domestic policies will take centre stage. Good luck.