Assessing Theresa May’s new government

Assessing Theresa May’s new government

With a clear break from her predecessor, new British Prime Minister Theresa May has quickly made her presence felt at 10 Downing Street.

On the 11th of July 2016, Theresa May effectively became the new British Prime Minister after her opponent—Andrea Leadsom—withdrew from the contest for leadership of the Conservative Party. In the roughly three weeks since, May has moved rapidly to establish her position and assert her authority.

Through a brutal but efficient formation of a new cabinet, strong but ruthless personal performances, and quick progress on the process of leaving the European Union, the UK’s second female Prime Minister has had a busy few weeks. As a result, she has not only spurred comparisons of her Iron Lady predecessor, but also provided some of the stability Britain will need as it negotiates Brexit.

A more representative cabinet

May made it clear that her premiership was going to be distinctive through the appointment of her cabinet. Gone are the so called ‘Notting Hill’ figures of George Osborne and Michael Gove, as well as prominent figures such as Nicky Morgan. Replacing them are people closer to May—such as Philip Hammond replacing Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liz Truss replacing Gove as Justice Secretary and Justine Greening replacing Morgan as Education Secretary.

The cabinet overall has moved away from public and private school educated individuals to grammar and comprehensive school educated figures. While this seems a minor point on the outset, in reality, it is a significant as a shift away from Cameron’s private school government that creates a sense of greater popular representation.

While the number of women in the cabinet has not changed dramatically, as first predicted, women are in much more influential positions overall. Powerful offices of the Prime Minister, the Home Office, the Department of Education and the Ministry of Justice are now all led by women.

New substance, same Conservative style

By removing Osborne and Gove while downgrading others such as Sajid Javid, May is making a break from the past. Her rhetoric has been noted as being very similar to former Labour leader Ed Miliband, indicating that the Conservative government are going to move away from the complete austerity attitude of Cameron and Osborne.

While this is no indication of the Tories moving more to the left, it is a sign that they are being less rigid. This is especially true with comments of moving away from the budget surplus target of 2020 and a greater focus on investment for the future—the same policies Labour was advocating before 2015.

On the other hand, while May’s substance has been different from the past, her style has been a traditional Conservative tone that notably echoes Margaret Thatcher. However, after the first three weeks of her premiership, it is clear that the similarities run much deeper than gender. Her recent performance at Prime Minister’s Questions was strong, and very similar to Thatcher’s confident tone, attacks,  and sly expressions.

May has also succeeded in leading a smooth transition from one government to another. In just her first week, she has appointed her Cabinet, set out her vision for the country, and met with a number of important figures—including Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The stark contrast of the chaotic and infighting Labour party only serves to highlight how badly Jeremy Corbyn and his party have organised themselves in comparison to May and the Tories.

Her speeches, decision making, and media appearances have been composed. While her policies may not be supported by all, it is clear that she knows where she stands and is not going to let obstacles get in her way. In short, May looks and acts like Prime Minister and—more importantly—a leader.

Handling the Brexit

As for dealing with Brexit, May has taken it in stride and has dealt with it relatively capably. Despite her potentially tone-deaf appointment of gaffe-prone Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, May has also appointed prominent Leave campaigners David Davis and Liam Fox as Secretary for Exiting the European Union and International Trade Secretary, respectively.

Johnson, Davis, and Fox have been dubbed the “three Brexiteers,” and in combination they are effectively in charge of making sure Britain gets the best possible deal in leaving the EU.

May has been logical in giving these figures the role considering that they campaigned for it vigorously, allowing those who facilitated the situation to also find its adequate solution.

As a known Remain supporter, she has largely avoided the major political issues that would arise from a more active engagement of the issue. If the deal goes wrong, she can easily pass blame her pro-Brexit cabinet members.

However, by stating clearly that “Brexit means Brexit,” May has also set out the vision that she is going to respect the will of the people and make the best of a tough situation. Her recent meetings with Sturgeon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande is evidence of May’s willingness to get on with the job.

In short, the transition from May to Cameron has been carried out smoothly, especially considering the circumstances. Whether she succeeds in such a challenging situation remains to be seen, but the early signs look positive—and the markets have acknowledged that through greater stability.

May’s actions in the first three weeks are economically significant because they have helped to tackle the uncertain post-referendum period, making Britain appear more capable of benefitting from Brexit. Britain needs decisive leadership to deal with the Brexit, and May has provided it in these early stages.

Categories: Politics

About Author

Rayhan Chouglay

Rayhan Chouglay is a GRI Analyst. He holds a BA in History from the London School of Economics with a particular focus on Hindu-Muslim relations in South Asia. His main political risk interests concern relations between India and Pakistan.