As of yesterday, Britain has a new Prime Minister. In another proud day for the venerable British parliamentary system, the “robotic” Theresa May will now lead a nation of 64 million people thanks to the votes of 199 Tory MPs. But what does May’s leadership signify? And what are the interests and policies that she represents?
Britain has a new Prime Minister. In another proud day for the venerable British parliamentary system, the “robotic” Theresa May will now lead a nation of 64 million people thanks to the votes of 199 Tory MPs.
Readers could be forgiven for wondering what on Earth a government led by May would look like. Even the bourgeois press isn’t sure, calling her both a “mystery” and “inscrutable”. This is perhaps her biggest advantage – at a time when society and the Tory Party is becoming increasingly polarised, the ruling class will likely welcome a reassuringly anonymous presence at the helm.
At her campaign launch / coronation speech on Monday, May appeared as a unifier, unfurling the old banner of One Nation Toryism, briefly borrowed by Labour’s Ed Miliband last year. As someone who supported a vote to Remain in the EU, but who wisely kept her head well under the parapet during the debate, May has reached out to potentially disgruntled Brexiters by declaring, “Brexit means Brexit”, and has vowed to “make a success” of it, whilst kicking the Article 50 can down the road to next year at least. She has also promised to “tackle immigration” whilst negotiating the best possible access to the European market…shortly before turning water into wine and discovering the cure for cancer.
Dropping Osborne’s commitment to deficit reduction (and, indeed, removing him from his position as Chancellor), May has still insisted that cuts to public spending are needed, meaning we can look forward to more handouts for the rich and austerity for the poor in the near future. Pointing out that the economy is clearly “not working” for everyone, May has even committed to putting employee representatives on the boards of companies and forcing companies to publish executive pay – positions that, if sincere, would put her somewhere to the left of the majority of the PLP. However, she had nothing to say about the relentless attacks on workers’ conditions carried out whilst she was in government.
Rising to the top in a period of Tory crisis and intra-party feuding, May has continued in her role as peacemaker with her new cabinet. Hated Ministers responsible for disastrous austerity policies, such as Nicky Morgan and Michael Gove, have been unceremoniously ejected from their roles, only to be replaced by a new batch of incompetent reactionaries (enter, Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary). Jeremy Hunt appears to have been rewarded for his efforts to destroy the NHS by being left in his post – perhaps because no one else in the party would touch it with a barge pole.
However, for all the hot air in the press about May’s “moderniser” credentials, her six years as Home Secretary give some indication as to May’s true principles: scrapping the Human Rights Act; threatening to use EU nationals as bargaining chips for future Brexit negotiations; and consistently supporting Tory cuts in Parliament – these are just some highlights from her rap sheet in government. Business as usual for the Nasty Party then.
Except, at a time when many are predicting economic recession as a result of Brexit (and the wider global slump), and when the possible breakup of the UK is very much on the cards, the future offers little comfort for the ‘May Team’. In fact, the ruthless efficiency of the Tory leadership contest and all the talk of unity belie the extreme instability at all levels in the current situation.
This fact alone should focus our minds on the tasks ahead. We can and must beat this government. But if we are to get the Tories out of government, we must first get them out of our own party. This means building a genuine, unified Labour Party, capable of fighting and beating the Tories on the basis of a bold socialist programme.