Theresa May. The current incumbent of the office of Prime Minister and the person who has called us all once more to the ballot box. She has spoken constantly of ‘strong and stable’ leadership and of the need for the country to elect her in a landslide to give her a mandate to push for a hard Brexit. The woman once known by her cabinet colleagues as ‘the submarine’ due to her habit of disappearing during crucial moments in the nation’s political history and who currently remains an unelected leader has seen fit to summon the population to the ballot box once more. However, we are left to ask the question who is Theresa May? Where does she come from? What are her opinions away from the propaganda and the spin? What does she actually believe in? What are her views on key issues?
In this series I will be analysing the three main party leaders from the three most important perspectives; what is their background and career path, what are their known personal beliefs and what is their voting record in the House of Commons. With this three pronged attack I hope to shed light on who it is we are voting for and hopefully make the choice clearer for any and all readers.
Theresa May is the daughter of an Anglo-Catholic (Church of England) vicar who attended grammar school in her early years. From here she attended St Hugh’s College Oxford and attained a Second Class Honours Degree in Geography.
After her graduation she worked for the Bank of England for ten years before entering politics. May quickly rose through the ranks of the Conservative Party and was elected as MP for Maidenhead in 1997, a position she has held ever since. Earmarked for progression early on, Theresa May was handed her first senior position in 1999 and worked through the positions of Shadow Transport Secretary, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary and Chairman of the Conservative Party for a brief period between 2002 and 2003.
Following the narrow Conservative victory in 2010 May was made both Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities under the Coalition Government. In this role she pursued vigorous change of the existing order including, but not limited to, hard line drug policy, reform of the Police Federation, the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, the creation of the National Crime Agency, additional restrictions on immigration and the jewel in her crown; the successful deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada.
A staunch ‘Remainer’ in the EU Referendum, May was elected leader of the Conservative Party after David Cameron’s resignation following the vote for Brexit, and has subsequently initiated another General Election to give legitimacy to her Premiership.
This is a brief overview of her rise to power, however, there are numerous successes and controversies in her career that warrant further discussion and investigation.
Upon taking on the office of Home Secretary May immediately repealed the Labour government’s plans for compulsory ID cards and the national database which were to be established under the Identity Documents Act of 2010. This was a significantly positive decision and brought about the end of what could have become a police state in the United Kingdom. Under the auspices of terror prevention the Labour government was intending to require all citizens to carry a biometric ID card which would have been provided to police upon request. Presumably under ‘Occupation’ they were expecting Al Qaeda cells to list ‘terrorist’ and thus make their jobs that little bit easier.
Other actions May took upon assuming office included ending the Labour government’s ‘Go Orders’ scheme which would have banned domestic abusers from the homes of their victims, supporting the detention of David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald who had broken the Edward Snowden revelations and championing the ‘Snoopers Charter’, a bill which required Internet Service Providers and Mobile Service Providers to keep records of internet usage, voice calls, messages and emails for up to a year in case police requested access to records during an investigation. This was subsequently toned down to become the Investigatory Powers Bill which passed through the House of Commons in 2015
May has shown her ruthless streak often, a trait that has not always been met with approval from either peers or the public. In 2010 May banned radical Muslim cleric Zakir Naik from entering the UK because of his ‘unacceptable behaviour’. Whilst there can be no doubt that Naik is a complete lunatic, a fanatic who believes that ‘all Muslims should be terrorists’, banning people from speaking goes against the central tenant of free speech on which Western democracy is based. To deny him entry and to deny the opportunity for people to see his views for what they are, hate filled, misinformed and fundamentally ridiculous meant that he obtained a form of living martyrdom amongst those who had sympathy for his cause. He was seen as having been denied entry because his ideas were ‘too dangerous’ and for some this meant that he was probably right. Several Home Office officials raised this issue with May leading to one vocal critic being suspended. May is not a person who accepts challenges to her views; an issue highlighted in her recent refusal to debate opposition leaders in the run up to the 2017 General Election.
One of her biggest successes as Home Secretary was her achievement of the deportation of lunatic hook handed Salafist Abu Qatada. May eventually secured a deal with Jordan that would mean that Qatada would be given a trial without the use of evidence obtained through torture. This came after her initial attempt to have him deported was rejected by the European Court of Human Rights. May used this incident as a basis for criticism of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights saying that they had ‘moved the goalposts’ and had a ‘crazy interpretation of our human rights laws’. This is the reason that she has consistently campaigned for British withdrawal from both bodies ever since.
Her time as Home Secretary was not an unmitigated success, she was widely criticised for failing to react appropriately to either the Tuition Fee Riots in 2010 or the Tottenham Riots in 2011. Her actual reaction to this was to increase police powers curtailing the right of the people to protest, giving police extra powers to remove masked individuals and monitor social networks to prevent peaceful protest without prior police consent. This was and is a draconian measure which limits the fundamental freedom of the people within a democratic society.
Immigration has been the biggest issue during Theresa May’s time as both Home Secretary and Prime Minister. In June 2010 she announced a temporary cap on non-EU migration to the UK and pledged to bring net migration levels to below 100,000 that same year. In February 2015 the Office for National Statistics reported a net flow of migrants to the UK of 298,000 up from 210,000 from the previous year. In order to combat this rise May introduced rules preventing any adult and elderly dependents from settling in the UK unless they can demonstrate that as a result of age, illness of disability they require a level of long term personal care that can only be provided by a relative in the UK. Human rights charity Liberty concluded that these rules showed no regard to the impact they would have on genuine families. An All Party Parliamentary Group ruled that the measures were causing very young children to be separated from their parents and could exile British citizens from the UK. May was even threatened with a custodial sentence over her ‘totally unacceptable and regrettable behaviour’ when she ignored a legal agreement to free an Algerian man from an Immigration Detention Centre in 2012. She avoided this by reversing her stance.
In 2013 May ran her controversial ‘Go Home or Be Arrested’ advertising campaign. The campaign involved large adverts being paraded around the streets on the back of trucks to instruct illegal immigrants to leave the country or risk being arrested. The campaign was a PR disaster and resulted in the Advertising Standards Authority demanding the immediate withdrawal of the adverts. This further cemented the image of Theresa May as a woman of action if not thought or compassion. This built on the verdict of Lord Roberts who in 2013 accused her of being prepared to allow someone to die ‘to score a political point’ following her move to deport mentally ill Nigerian man Isa Muazu.
In line with the current political climate Theresa May is not averse to ignoring expert opinion and following her own path. In 2013 she banned the stimulant drug Khat against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. She was widely accused of seeking to prosecute minor drug offenders rather than treating them. This continued her hard-line stance when it comes to drugs.
Theresa May has shown herself throughout her career in government to be a woman unafraid to fly in the face of prevailing opinion and to follow her own ideological path. In this way her ‘strong and stable’ mantra is accurate; rarely has she deviated from the views she espouses even if her route to her final destination is murky and underhanded. How has this translated in the House of Commons? Well for that information we need to look at her voting record.
The motions which Theresa May has voted in favour of include Civil Partnerships (2004), Gay Marriage (2013), repealing the Human Rights Act of 1998 (2016), war in Iraq (2003), no-fly zone in Libya (2011), war in Syria (2015), the Bedroom Tax (2013), decreasing the amount people receive in tax credits (2015), raising tuition fees to £9,000 per annum (2010), allowing the bulk interception of communications, equipment interference and the retention and examination of bulk datasets (the ‘Snoopers Charter’ 2016), culling badgers (2013), the sale of England’s public forests for real estate (2011) and the privatisation of Royal Mail (2010).
Conversely, the motions that Theresa May has voted against include homosexual adoption (2002), the fox hunting ban (2002 and 2003), measures to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste (2013), plans to save the steel industry (2016), protection of the rights of EU nationals after Brexit (2016), making exceptions in Welfare for those undergoing cancer treatment from the 365 day limit on receiving Employment and Support Allowance (2012), excluding child benefit from the benefit cap (2012), creating more jobs for young people through a tax on bankers bonuses (2012), the mansion tax (2013), devolution of power to Wales and Scotland (2013, 2011), introduction of identity cards (2004), capping rail fare increases at 1% above inflation (2012) and measures which would have made legal aid available to cover the entirety of assistance required where people were deemed to have complex, interconnected needs (2011).
Theresa May has worked her way through the ranks of the Conservative Party and has had some successes during her tenure, however she has also been widely criticised for her management of the Home Office. If you voted for Brexit and are considering voting Conservative because they are promising a ‘Hard Brexit’ remember that she has consistently failed to bring immigration under her own, self-assigned targets. Her voting record is at least consistent; May believes in the interests of big business, big government and private capital superseding those of the general population. Her social views are on the whole backward though this may appeal to those voters who want to ‘get back to the good old days’ of the 1950s. Theresa May, to give her credit, is strong willed and single minded when it comes to her view of how things should work. A skilled political operator who I am certain Margaret Thatcher would have been proud to view as a successor.
This article has hopefully given some additional information that has shed a bit of light on the current incumbent of 10 Downing Street and the person whose political ambition is the reason we have all been summoned to vote once more.