The Conservative party conference is now well and truly under way and although it’s not yet finished, I thought that I’d take this opportunity to take a look at how the Tory party, and indeed the country, will look like under Theresa May.
Since she was made Prime Minister on 13th July, May has been keen to distance herself from David Cameron, her predecessor. Cameron was not popular on the left for his pro-austerity stance (cutting government spending in order to reduce the deficit) and while May also wants to balance the country’s books, she’s made it clear that she intends to go about things in a different way. The first example of this was in her first speech as Prime Minister, when she emphasised how she wanted to lead a government ‘driven not by the interests of the privileged few’ but those ‘just managing’.
More concrete evidence was provided that evening when she began a sweeping cabinet reshuffle, getting rid of key Cameron allies such as Nicky Morgan, George Osborne and Michael Gove. Going against her predecessor’s stance of supporting Britain’s place in the EU, May continued to claim that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and appointed leave campaigners Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis as Foreign, International Trade and Brexit Secretaries.
But in terms of policies, which way is Theresa May going to go?
Let’s start with one of the most important areas. May continues to stress her promise that the UK will leave the EU but until recently we’ve had no idea what ‘Brexit’ actually means. Yesterday however, the Prime Minister declared during her conference speech that we will trigger Article 50 (which leads to the negotiations with the EU starting) in March next year with the UK leaving the European Union by March 2019.
As for whether it will be a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, we have heard nothing concrete yet. However, senior Tories seem to be indicating that May is prepared to leave the single market in exchange for being able to control immigration. All we know for sure is that May doesn’t intend to give MPs a vote on the issue.
In the 2 short months so far in which she has been Prime Minister, Theresa May has already unveiled one of the most radical education changes in decades. May plans to bring back grammar schools, which would overturn the ban enacted by Tony Blair on them since 1998 .
The big story here though is that it is not certain that the bill will get through Parliament. The Conservatives face fierce opposition on the issue from just about every other party in the House of Commons. Add that to the fact that some Tories don’t agree with May on the issue and there is a good chance that the bill will have to be abandoned.
Finance and money
As mentioned earlier, May is very keen on avoiding austerity and in terms of finance seems more liberal than her predecessor. Philip Hammond is her new Chancellor and although both of them want to invest in infrastructure and stop the budget cuts they will have their work cut out, especially if Brexit brings a recession to the UK. We should know more in detail about this area after the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement next month.
Even after Brexit though, May seems aware of the need for careful planning to keep Britain’s strong financial position in the world, as shown by her appointment of a new International Trade Secretary: Liam Fox. Fox will be travelling around the world drawing up potential trade deals for a post-EU nation. He can’t sign anything though until the UK leaves the bloc.
There are a variety of other things to watch out for: May seems keen to oppose a second referendum on Scottish independence, emphasising the importance of the ‘union’ in her maiden speech as Prime Minister. She also looks set to take tough decisions regarding both the NHS and prison reform, appointing Jeremy Hunt and Liz Truss as Health and Justice Secretaries respectively.
The truth is, while we can guess to an extent about May’s stances on a variety of fronts, only time will tell for sure which way she is going to go. The grammar schools bill and the way that she appointed prominent Brexiteers to the cabinet show that she means business though, and anyone thinking that she was going to be a pushover or afraid to make big decisions seems like they are going to be very wrong indeed…