by Sophie Taylor
The United Kingdom has a new Prime Minister! Calls for celebration and jubilation fill the air as the street parties flourish across the land in a typically awful British summer! Actually, no. I’m afraid that image is a load of rubbish. Yes, we have a new Prime Minister, but it is questionable as to the extent this is cause for celebration.
After a lot of backstabbing, manipulation, drop-outs, and a considerable amount of confusion, Theresa May, without doing any campaigning herself, was left as the only competitor.
Theresa May entered No.10 Downing Street on 13th July 2016, following what can’t really be described as a ‘leadership campaign’. The whole thing was slightly strange. David Cameron resigned on the 24th June, just as the announcement was made that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. The Tories then said they wouldn’t elect a new leader until October, which everyone thought was ridiculous. Yet we rolled with it because no one truly understands how politics in Britain works (hence ridiculous articles like this one can be produced by the bucketload). So let’s try and understand. A number (5 to be precise) of Tories decided to run for leadership. And after a lot of backstabbing, manipulation, drop-outs, and a considerable amount of confusion, Theresa May, without doing any campaigning herself, was left as the only competitor. She technically won by default.
Yes, ladies and gents, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the ‘home’ of democracy, was never actually elected.
Initially my heart soared at the news. If you think about it, her appointment was a momentous occasion. Theresa May is the UK’s second female Prime Minister! Second! That means that the First Minister of Scotland (Nicola Sturgeon) AND the Prime Minister of the UK are BOTH women! I’m so excited for the leaps and bounds this could mean for British feminism (surely two women in charge of the UK should shatter that glass ceiling once and for all?) that I frequently feel that I am overlooking some of Theresa May’s less ‘exciting’ choices.
I think, perhaps, I should have been worried, because of all the choices she was my dad’s favourite to win. And my dad is very right-wing (and, yes, it disgusts me). But the more I look into Theresa May’s policies and voting record, the more conflicted I become about her. So let’s discuss some of the key areas, that I think will help determine the faith I have in this Prime Minister.
As much as I am bored of talking about the referendum (I am, truly) it is still the most important concern the Prime Minister of this country will face in the next few years. May backed the ‘Remain’ camp of the referendum campaign but, somewhat surprisingly, her first statement was “Brexit means Brexit”. I did have a flicker of hope when I heard she was becoming Prime Minister, thinking she would overturn the vote. Though I suppose that would have made her so unpopular she would have been kicked out instantly, so I accept, May will make us leave the EU.
But her original desire to ‘Bremain’ should come in considerably useful. It means she will want to keep as much of the EU legislation as possible, keep the trade deals, and won’t stand for the racism exhibited by some in the leave camp (she’s already spoken out about the shameful attacks that have taken place since the Referendum). She offers the best of both worlds: respect for the vote even if it is not her opinion, and effort to keep as much of Europe with us as possible.
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There is, however, one worry regarding her leadership at such a pivotal moment. What May does next regarding Brexit could make or break the UK. If she succeeds, she will be heralded for centuries, a shining beacon and role model for girls everywhere. If she fails? If the UK collapses because of Brexit? If a man has to come sweeping in and take over as Prime Minister to restore the country to what it was pre-Brexit, then feminism will crumble. All she would have succeeded in would be providing misogynists everywhere with the ammunition needed to take women’s rights back at least 50 years.
One of the biggest problems facing a ‘Brexit’ Prime Minister is what will she do about the economy. Throughout the campaign, the remain camp raised concerns about the stability of the British economy following a leave vote, and since a lot of it did come true it would be nice to know our new PM’s positions on all financial matters.
May will likely continue the austerity measures David Cameron had put in place. That is, cuts to the welfare state and a general reorganisation of the benefits system. From a purely economic perspective I’m not entirely against this decision. It frustrates me that there are people being given more by the state than my mum earns in a year, despite her having 2 jobs. I believe strongly in the welfare system for those who need it, for those who physically can’t work or for the short-term (i.e. frictionally or seasonally) unemployed, but beyond that?
I like the idea of reform to a system that feels somewhat broken. I’m a little unconvinced about some of her ways of going about it (she strongly backed the hated Bedroom Tax, for example, which will hardly do her any favours) but her visions appears to be for a more stable British economy in the long-term.
It is in this sector that my hopefulness over May’s appointment dwindles. I know that people can be educated on certain topics and change their minds over time, but some of her previous choices regarding equality need to be pointed out.
Although she voted in favour of same-sex marriage in 2013, this was the first time she had affirmed equality. In the year 2000, she voted against the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (which “prohibited local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality or gay “pretended family relationships”, and prevented councils spending money on educational materials and projects perceived to promote a gay lifestyle”. Yeah – this was a thing until November 2003), as well as voting against allowing gay couples to adopt children in a 2002 vote. The world and UK have moved on and become increasingly liberal, but her views in the past still worry me.
May has also argued for the withdrawal of the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights. I pray, and I’m not even religious, that if she does do this that she already has a replacement set of human rights in place somewhere, even if it’s scribbled currently on the back of a McDonald’s napkin. Her argument is that it restricts the deportation of extremists and other criminals, but surely this calls for an amendment to the Bill rather than a complete withdrawal? Especially considering we drafted the Convention in the first place. Surely pulling out of something we created to create something else in it’s place is a ridiculous waste of time and money?
She also poses an interesting stance on social mobility. When she first entered Downing Street she said, “We [the new Conservative government] will build a better Britain not just for the privileged few”. Sounded like an amazing entry to Parliament, exactly the sort of thing a new Prime Minister would say! Hurrah! Unfortunately, I’m already unconvinced by her convictions. She has consistently voted to raise VAT (a regressive tax which affects the lowest earners more than the top earners) and voted against building 100 000 affordable homes in 2013. People are also arguing that her latest policy, to reintroduce the grammar school system, will also significantly affect the social mobility of the country. Although having gone through what is essentially a grammar school myself, I don’t entirely understand their anger, but I do understand this: one of her first policies is coming under scrutiny for isolating the ‘lower orders’ of society.
Can she learn from this mistake or will her policies become increasingly divisive?
I’m a little freaked out by May’s views on security. Part of her ‘economic policy’ consists of cutbacks to the police service while at the same time replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system. Not only does this sound like a poor attempt at an economic plan but also suggests that she promotes Britain’s ‘global presence’ above the safety of the individual citizens she is supposed to represent.
May is also a keen support of the “snooper’s charter” – an investigatory powers bill which is looking to extend the capabilities of state surveillance. The charter would allow the government to look more closely into the lives of those they suspect of terrorism, gang violence or drug cartels. I am a strong believer in the principles of ‘you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide’. Yet part of me is hearing alarm bells at the thought of this charter. I like to know, that I have some small measure of privacy (even if it is just googling slightly bizarre health-related questions – praise be for Yahoo! answers). This charter could, possibly, remove that last bit of privacy which is something I’m not convinced that I want to give up.
And then there’s Boris.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (I’m not even kidding) has been put in as Foreign Secretary. He’s a loveable buffoon most of the time, I can admit that I love him as Mayor of London and he did a pretty decent job. But a Buffoon (note the capital) in charge of diplomacy? Please God no. Look at some of the things he has said, and once you have you will understand why, when this particular post was announced, my sense of security dropped dramatically.
She has a tough job regarding keeping our nation secure. We live in dangerous times from a threat that we often can’t see. May’s security policies frighten me the most, and isn’t that the area the public need reassuring on most?
May’s security policies frighten me the most, and isn’t that the area the public need reassuring on most?
Theresa May is, therefore, a new entity. Like any other politician she will be loved by some, hated by others, and tolerated by most. She has policies I don’t agree with, policies I do. I wonder how long she will last considering her technically not elected status. But I hope she does well, not from a pro-Conservative perspective, but from a feminist one.
Sophie Taylor is a student from London, hoping to major in Modern History at the University of St. Andrews.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.
The photograph is under a Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license. It can be found here.