Who is the New PM? A former staffer’s view

Tomorrow Theresa May will be invited to form a government by the Queen, following Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the leadership race. Whilst a lot of commentary has been dedicated to yet another unexpected twist in this most turbulent time in politics, little attention has yet been paid to our new Prime Minister and what makes her tick. Mrs May is a surprisingly enigmatic figure, which is notable considering her long and high profile career on the Conservative front bench.

Having worked in Theresa May’s parliamentary office back in 2006/7, it is interesting to reflect on that experience as she prepares to step into Number 10.

Back then, relatively early into the Cameron era of the party, she was very much on the outside – distrusted by Cameron and kept at arm’s length through a demotion to Shadow Leader of the House, despite having served as a Shadow Secretary of State in no less than six departments since her first appointment to the Education and Employment brief under Hague in 1999.

She was even distrusted by a significant proportion of the party members, many of whom were still angry at her ‘Nasty Party’ speech of 2002, and we regularly received damning letters, torn up membership cards and worse from those who felt she had betrayed the cause. Looking back now, that speech could be seen as a precursor to the Cameron project to detoxify the Conservative brand that would come a few years later.

The desire for a new politics, which was at the heart of the ‘nasty party’ comment is supported by a passion about inclusivity in politics, having been involved in the Women2Win campaign which sought to encourage more women to stand for parliament, believing diversity would lead to better decision-making. Despite that, she’s also not one to take herself too seriously and famed for her love of footwear, played up to the media interest with heel-emblazoned cushions and stationery in her parliamentary office.

The rumours in the office back in 2006 were that Cameron wanted rid of her but couldn’t act on it as she was one of the few senior female Tory MPs at the time. Those rumours persisted into government, with her appointment as Home Secretary seen by some as a poison chalice offered deliberately by Cameron – the department being a notorious basket case and claiming the ministerial careers of many of her recent predecessors.

The fact that May went on to become the longest serving Home Secretary for over a century says a lot about her qualities – a quiet, hard-working and ruthlessly determined operator, imbued with the old-fashioned notion of public service as a cause in itself.

These qualities defined my experience of working for her. From the most minor constituency issue (and anyone who has ever worked in an MP’s office will know just how minor that can be) through to national and party issues, she always approached things with a careful consideration and a deep awareness of her responsibilities. Her attitude to constituents was exemplary; she personally reviewed all correspondence and worked tirelessly in the constituency over weekends showing a commitment that isn’t always seen in seats as safe as Maidenhead.

This commitment highlights her sense of duty, which should reassure the Leave camp that she really means what she says when she said “Brexit means Brexit”. Despite nominally being in the ‘Remain’ camp she has always harboured scepticism over the EU and will no doubt pursue the democratic will of the people once in post.

What the rest of her political programme as PM will look like is open for debate. Her campaign pledge to make “Britain a country that works for everyone” hints at her progressive side (such as her open support for same sex marriage in 2012) but also her one-nation conservative roots stressing the need for individuals’ obligation to work for their own betterment. Undoubtedly a true conservative at heart, we can expect to see policy developments on immigration and significant movements in the financial markets (where she herself started her career) both to respond to Brexit and as policies that she would have pursued regardless.

In terms of how she will approach things, expect more of the same. Her poised, self-assured and calm approach will not change; though whether those qualities will reassure or underwhelm a jittery Conservative party, financial markets and country is yet to be seen.

It may not be glitzy, but that may be just what we need right now.

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