Theresa May: what she said and what it means

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new Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street Photo by Bloomberg

Horndiplomat-Theresa May entered Downing Street with a speech emphasising how her government would bring prosperity to the many, not just the few. Here is a guide to deciphering her rhetoric.

 

 

What she said

“In David Cameron, I follow in the footsteps of a great, modern prime minister. Under David’s leadership, the government stabilised the economy, reduced the budget deficit and helped more people into work than ever before. But David’s true legacy is not about the economy, but about social justice.”

 … and what it means

The Conservatives won last year’s election promising a “long-term economic plan” but Mr Cameron always wanted to be remembered for more than cutting the deficit. With a possible recession on the horizon and little hope of reaching a fiscal surplus by 2020, it might therefore make sense for Mrs May to emphasise a broader agenda.

What she said

“From the introduction of same-sex marriage, to taking people on low wages out of income tax altogether, David Cameron has led a One Nation government, and it is that spirit that I also plan to lead.”

… and what it means

The EU referendum was driven by the right-wing of the Conservative party. But Mrs May does not want to move from the centre ground, particularly after Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has vacated it.

What she said

“Not everybody knows this but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party, and that word ‘Unionist’ is very important to me. It means we believe in the union, that precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland … It [also] means we believe in a union … between all of our citizens — every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we’re from.”

… and what it means

The Scottish National party has called for a second independence referendum if Brexit happens. By embracing a social justice agenda (see below), Mrs May is seeking to avoid presenting a choice between Scottish independence and Conservative spending cuts.

What she said

“That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you are born poor you will die, on average, nine years earlier than others. If you are black you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white. If you are a white working-class boy you are less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you are at a state school you are less likely to reach the top professions than if you are educated privately. If you are a woman you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there is not enough help to hand. If you are young you will find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”

 … and what it means

The rhetorical style is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s St Francis of Assisi speech, delivered on her own arrival to Downing Street. (“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”) For Mrs May to identify such a wide range of problems sets a high bar for her government, which is also committed to overseeing the process of Brexit and stabilising the economy.

What she said

“If you are from an ordinary working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job, but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home but you worry about paying the mortgage. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.”

 … and what it means

It appears that Ed Miliband was on to something with his “squeezed middle” theme and his references to the cost of living. Now that Labour has lurched to the left, Mrs May is taking those themes for her own.

What she said

“The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.”

 … and what it means

Brexiters wanted to “take control” and to smite “the elites”. Mrs May, a quiet Remainer, wants to show that she has heard their message.

What she said

“When we take the big calls we will think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws we will listen not to the mighty, but to you. When it comes to taxes we will prioritise not the wealthy, but you. When it comes to opportunity we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few; we will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”

 … and what it means

If an election were approaching, a Conservative prime minister might be careful about offending wealthy Oxbridge-educated donors. As it is, Mrs May is happy to bring down the curtain on the era of Old Etonians Mr Cameron and George Osborne.

What she said

“Following the referendum, we face a time of great national change. And I know because we are Great Britain we will rise to the challenge. As we leave the European Union we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world.”

 … and what it means

As stated, Mrs May was a Remainer. But she is trying to find a way that Brexiters do not hold it against her.

SOURCE:FINANCIAL TIMES

 

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