Who exactly is Theresa May? Here are the facts, form your own opinions.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
• Born in 1956 (she’ll turn 60 this October) in Eastbourne, Sussex, her father was an Anglican vicar. During her appearance on Desert Island Discs in 2014, she explained that her Christian upbringing “is part of me, part of whom I am and how I approach things,” but doesn’t openly display her faith; “It’s good that we don’t flaunt such things in British politics.”
• May was educated at Holton Park Girls’ Grammar School, she studied Geography at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University. While there she met her husband Philip May, a banker, who she married in 1980. They have no children.
• After graduating, she worked at the Bank of England before becoming Head of the European Affairs Unit and Senior Adviser on International Affairs at the Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS).
Politics and the Party
• May’s official website explains that she “started out stuffing envelopes at her local Conservative Association,” before progressing to counsellor in the London Borough of Merton from 1986 – 1994, holding the position of Chairman of Education from 1988 – 1990, and Deputy Group Leader Housing Spokesman from 1992 – 1994.
•After standing unsuccessfully as Parliamentary candidate for NW Durham in 1992 and Barking (by-election) 1994, May was successfully selected as Maidenhead’s MP in May 1997, the constituency that she lives in. She has held the position ever since.
• From 1999, May held a raft of positions in the shadow cabinet across multiple government divisions, including Education and Employment, Work and Pensions, Transport, Culture, Media and Sport, and served as Leader of the House of Commons from 2005-9.
• In 2002-3, she became the first female Chair of the Conservative party. It was at the Party Conference in 2002 that May told the audience, “You know what some people call us: the nasty party,” and coined a phrase now so ingrained in political narrative it has its own Wikipedia page.
• Between 2005 and 2009, she was the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons.
• When the Conservatives formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, May became a key member of Prime Minister David Cameron’s first cabinet.
• From 2010 – 2012, she was Minister for Women and Equalities.
• In 2010, she was appointed Home Secretary. It’s a position she has held ever since, making her the longest-serving in 50 years.
Key policies, major moments
• May led the first major piece of legislation put before the new parliament in 2010 – axing Labour’s National Identity Card Scheme. Speaking at the time, she called it “a first step of many that this government is taking to reduce the control of the state over decent, law-abiding people and hand power back to them.”
• In 2012, she withdrew her extradition order to send computer hacker Gary McKinnon – accused of planning “the biggest military computer hack of all time” – to the US, on the basis that it would be “incompatible” with his human rights.
• She vocally supported the Government’s equal marriage promise, and released an #Out4Marriage campaign video explaining, “marriage should be for everyone.”
• She led the Government’s work to reform policing, and promised to “scrap “hidden Whitehall targets,” needless health and safety rules and red tape” [this is a Guardian quote, not her quote]. By 2013, recorded crime rates in England and Wales were down by 10%.
• In July 2013, she successfully negotiated the deportation of radical preacher Abu Qatada to Jordan, after a near-decade long battle to remove him, and would not allow his re-entry to the UK despite being cleared of terror charges.
• In the same month, the Home Office rolled out a controversial pilot scheme of anti-immigration billboards on the side of six vans in London, encouraging illegal immigrants to “go home.” It was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.
• A Remain campaigner in last month’s EU referendum, explaining to the BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg the week before, “I do believe we are more secure in the EU, and this issue of our place in the world…I believe we should stand up and stand tall and lead in Europe”
What the commentators are saying…
• The Guardian’s political columnist, Rafael Behr: “The home secretary – solid, redoubtable – has the safer-looking hands. It may seem awkward for a remainer to enact a leave mandate, but no one can fairly accuse May of Europhiliac, open-door liberalism.”
• Bertie Brandes, Vice: “Theresa is particularly well-known for her unflinching support of immigration detention centres like Yarls Wood, where women are kept in isolation and without trial for indeterminate lengths of time.”
• Conservative Party elder Ken Clarke, who was caught on camera candidly discussing the (then) Tory leadership candidates with Sir Malcom Rifkin in Sky News’ Westminster studio: “a bloody difficult woman… She’s been at the Home Office far too long… she doesn’t know much about foreign affairs.”
• The Telegraph’s Sketchwriter Michael Deacon tells us: “The greatest achievement of Theresa May’s political career is lasting for over six years now, as Home Secretary. That is extremely rare, it’s one of the toughest jobs you can have in politics. And she has lasted with so few obvious embarrassments.”
And so, we wait. Because no one can really predict if May or Andrea Leadsom will win the leadership race. But one thing we do know: we’ve got to the end of this piece without mentioning her shoes once. Because it’s really not relevant.
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