They say a week in politics is a long time, but currently, a day in politics is a very long time.
Since the shock referendum result, turmoil has been the order of the day and the British public are aboard a ship from which the Captain, and half the crew, have jumped overboard. We need a saviour who will steer HMS United Kingdom to safer waters, and, since Boris stabbed Dave and Gove stabbed Boris, the coup de grace was performed by Theresa May, our new Prime Minster.
So who is Theresa May?
May has been Home Secretary since 2010, MP for Maidenhead since 1997 and was made the first female Chairman of the Conservative Party, and a member of the Privy Council. This vicar’s daughter was born in Eastbourne in 1956 and, after a spell in state schools, she won a place at Holton Park Girls’ Grammar School and then went on to St Hugh’s College, Oxford, where she achieved a BA in 1977. She is married to banker Philip May, whom she met at Oxford during a Conservative Association dance, where they were introduced by Benazir Bhutto, later to become President of Pakistan, where she was killed in 2007.
So here is a lady who was not privately educated, is the daughter of a clergyman and therefore not born into wealth and privilege, and who has nevertheless risen to the very top of the political elite. She seems to have made few enemies, not put a foot wrong and is now the 81st Prime Minster of the UK and the second female to land the job. The only blot on her copybook is that she was, quietly, a Remain supporter, and it is felt in some circles that the new PM must be a Leave supporter. She also got caught up in Cameron’s daft pledge to bring down immigration to the tens of thousands when she made that promise, on his behalf, in 2010. The number actually rose from 298,000 to 634,000 per year. Worse still, she fully supported Blair’s invasion of Iraq.
On 30th June, 2016, May formally announced her candidacy for party leader to replace David Cameron. May emphasised the need for unity within the party, regardless of positions about leaving the EU and said she could bring “strong leadership” and a “positive vision” for the country’s future. She insisted that there would be no second referendum about the UK remaining in the EU: “The campaign was fought and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door. Brexit means Brexit,” she said, adding that Article 50 (the formal notification of Britain’s exit from the EU) should not be filed until the end of 2016.
On the issue of immigration, she agreed that there was a need to regain more control of the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe. Under questioning, she conceded that it would not be possible to totally eliminate immigration to the UK. Wisely, she has also stated that there can be no guarantee of EU nationals staying in the UK until there has been negotiation regarding UK nationals living within the EU. The other contenders are all shouting that this must be confirmed now, but why on earth would we do that until we have the assurance the other way round? This demonstrates her negotiating nous and the popularist attitude of the others.
May described herself as a candidate who will unify the party after a divisive referendum, and was the favourite among the public in a Sky Data Snap Poll; 47% of the people who were polled on June 30th, 2016 said May was their choice to replace David Cameron, who had resigned the previous week. By July 1st, May had received considerable support from within the Conservative Party, including endorsements from over 100 MPs, far more than her nearest rival Andrea Leadsom. Her supporters included a number of cabinet members, such as Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Fallon and Patrick McLoughlin. By July 13th, she was Prime Minister.
May is known for her no-nonsense style, attention to detail and steely demeanour. She will need all of this and more to deal with the Brexit negotiations and has refused to rule out the deportation of EU nationals living in Britain after the country leaves the European Union, amid fears that guaranteeing their rights at this stage could lead to a “huge influx” of migrants during the Brexit negotiation phase.
A source close to May told The Independent: “She [Mrs May] was saying it’s unwise to promise right now that all EU nationals living in Britain should be able to stay indefinitely. The reason for that is, if we did that the same rights would have to apply to any EU national who comes to Britain before we leave the EU.”
“If we made that promise you could just see a huge influx of EU nationals, who would all want to come here while they have that chance.” The source also made clear that the issue was a “negotiating point.” They added: “It would just be a bad negotiating position, because we shouldn’t guarantee the rights of EU nationals without having any guarantees the other way about British nationals living in EU member states.”
Mrs May said during her leadership campaign that there was no mandate to accept the free movement of people in its current state. She could, therefore, use EU nationals living in Britain as a “negotiating point” if she attempts to maintain access to the single market with restrictions.
May, the longest-serving Home Secretary in 100 years, hedged her bets as the “unity” candidate in the Tory leadership contest, said: “What’s important is, there will be a negotiation here as to how we deal with that issue of people who are already here and who have established life here and Brits who have established a life in other countries within the European Union. The position at the moment is as it has been, there’s no change at the moment, but, of course, we have to factor that into negotiations. As part of the negotiation, we will need to look at this question of people who are here in the UK from the EU.”
This entire issue, and the foremost complaint from the Leavers, will be dealt with by a new Department for Brexit, a Department that one Tony Blair is vying for. I believe he has as much chance as my cat and should actually be thanking his lucky stars that he is not on trial following the Chilcot Report. Fortunately, that post has gone to arch euro sceptic, David Davies.
We should thank our lucky stars that Andrea Leadsom was ‘talked out’ of continuing her
candidacy as it sped up the transition in one of the most volatile times this country has seen in many years. Installing May into No. 10 rapidly allows us to move onto the complex issue of untangling ourselves from the EU and we need a strong and no-nonsense PM to do it. In May, l think we have it and she will need to go toe-to-toe with Angela Merkel, a women who, it is said, intimidates every male politician she comes across. I have a feeling she will have her hands full with Mrs May.
One of the important statements May has made is that she will not join the vanity project of calling a snap general election to seek her own mandate and this, l believe, is of the utmost importance. The last thing this country needs is another six months preparing for a vote whilst Rome, or London in this instance, burns. The new PM needs to get his or her sleeves up and deal with the current crisis and not seek approval from the electorate. That approval will be forthcoming if he/she gets the job done and secures our future.
Mrs May has also taken the opportunity to talk about her private life and how she dealt with the heartbreak of not being able to have children. “Of course, we were both affected by it. You see friends who now have grown-up children, but you accept the hand that life deals you. Sometimes things you wish had happened don’t, or there are things you wish you’d been able to do, but can’t. There are other couples in a similar position.”
Mrs May said she and Philip drew comfort from their happy marriage and all the other things they were ‘blessed with.’
Has it affected her outlook as a politician?
“I don’t think so, it’s an impossible question, because you can’t tell what you’d have been like if you’d been in a different position.”
Did they look at other families and wish they could be the same?
“Yes, but I’m a great believer that you just get on with things. There are lots of problems people have. We are all different, we all have different circumstances and you have to cope with whatever it is and try not to dwell on things.”
Mrs May has been called stoic and steely by friends, stubborn and stuffy by enemies, but no one has ever accused her of self pity.
At her leadership launch, she credited her clergyman father Hubert Brasier for inspiring a sense of public duty in her.
“He was hopeless at cooking or mending a plug but hugely respected for his pastoral work. He visited one family and heard scrabbling noises in the house before the door was opened. When he sat down he put his hand over the armchair straight into a bowl of jelly and ice cream. They had been sitting eating and tried to clear it away before the vicar came in.”
It is easy to see where she gets her sense of propriety: her father banned a teenage Theresa from canvassing for the Tories in the village to avoid claims of political bias against him. Instead, she stuffed envelopes in the Conservative office, out of sight.
But he backed her when she rebelled against a decision by the head at her school to ban girls from joining a boys-only school trip to an international rugby match. Rev Brasier complained and Theresa went to the match. Her father was killed in a car crash in 1981. She recalls: “I got a phone call saying he was in intensive care. I saw him before he died, but he wasn’t able to speak.”
The health of her mother Zaidee, who had multiple sclerosis, deteriorated rapidly and she died a year later.
After that distressing year, she took even more solace in her marriage and one can only imagine how close she and Philip are and quite how much advice he departs.
But all remains tranquil at home in sleepy Sonning, where her neighbours include George and Amal Clooney, ex-footballer Glenn Hoddle and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
She will need plenty of stamina to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU but insists she is not deterred by Brussels’ refusal to open talks before Article 50 is signed – a daunting, irreversible decision that will fall to the new PM. “I’m very clear we need to determine our negotiating position before we invoke Article 50.”
But isn’t the EU stating that they will not do that, asked the Guardian’s Political Editor, Ashley Cowburn. “Sometimes the practice one is able to undertake in negotiations is different… it’s possible to have informal discussions,” she says, trailing off with a meaningful glance, as if to say “They would say that, wouldn’t they? Wait till I get to grips with them.”
She bats away the claim by her rival Mrs Leadsom that as a Remainer she has no right to be PM after being on the losing side in the referendum. “The Government cannot just be consumed by Brexit, there is so much more to do.”
“Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high, and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government and of Parliament to make sure we do just that.”
“There should be no general election until 2020. There should be a normal Autumn Statement, held in the normal way at the normal time, and no emergency budget. And there should be no decision to invoke Article 50 until the British negotiating strategy is agreed and clear – which means Article 50 should not be invoked before the end of this year.”
“We should make clear that for the foreseeable future there is absolutely no change in Britain’s trading relationships with the EU or other markets. And until a new legal agreement is reached with the EU, which will not happen for some time, the legal status of British nationals living or working in Europe will not change – and neither will the status of EU nationals in Britain.”
“While it is absolutely vital that the Government continues with its intention to reduce public spending and cut the budget deficit, we should no longer seek to reach a budget surplus by the end of the Parliament. If before 2020 there is a choice between further spending cuts, more borrowing and tax rises, the priority must be to avoid tax increases since they would disrupt consumption, employment and investment. These are all measures that will be taken by a Conservative Government I lead, and they offer stability and certainty to consumers, employers and investors for the foreseeable future. And I want to reassure foreign governments, international companies and foreign nationals living in Britain that we are the same outward looking and globally-minded and big-thinking country we have always been – and we remain open for business and welcoming to foreign talent.”
Theresa May is an impressive character. Yes, she is very politically correct, and yes, she does lack dynamism and charisma, but do we want another Tony Blair? Style over substance, or, at this time of huge political turmoil, do we want a steady hand on the tiller who is more concerned with getting the job done than grandstanding and constantly checking on their popularity ratings?
There is one very large elephant in the room that l will take on in full in my Anger Management column on page 52, and that is, she’s female. It is time for men to take a step back and let women have a go at running the global economy, and indeed, the UK. Male politicians have totally screwed it up time and time again with raging egos, childish public-school point-scoring and future-nest-feathering, and if we look around the world, with Merkel running one of the most powerful countries in the world and Clinton soon to be running the most powerful country in the world, l think May would be in good company. It is time men put their egos away, rolled up their sleeves and started grafting for a female boss. She sure as hell couldn’t do any worse than them, even if she had a lobotomy the day after taking office.
She gets my vote all the way.