What You Should Know About Theresa May, UK’s New Prime Minister
Where does Theresa May stand on the issues you care about?
After weeks of political turmoil, the UK has a new leader: Prime Minister Theresa May.
Tasked with overcoming the divisions exposed by the Brexit vote, she has become the second female Prime Minister to walk into No. 10 Downing Street.
May has a tough job ahead of her: She must negotiate an exit deal with the EU, hold the United Kingdom together, and restore social cohesion between rich and poor, young and old, and London and the UK’s wider regions. May, the UK’s former Home Secretary, is already subject to much scrutiny as the country tries to work out what type of leader she will be.
Who is she? Is she up to the job? What does she believe in? What will her cabinet look like? And in the midst of all these serious questions, some prefer to distract themselves with a more light-hearted matter: what pair of shoes will she wear next?
Whatever your views on Theresa May, in a time of national uncertainty, what’s far more important than the shoes she stands in, are the issues she stands for.
As she builds her new cabinet and steps into her role as the UK’s next Prime Minister, here’s a Global Citizen guide to Theresa May:
The second female Prime Minister has a track record of promoting gender equality within the Conservative Party. As the co-founder of the Conservative’s Women2Win organisation 11 years ago, she has played a key role in leading the campaign to get more Conservative women in Parliament — and with significant success. The number of female Tory MPs rose to 68 in the last general election, in line with a surge in numbers of female MPs across the political spectrum.
In her former role as Home Secretary, May pushed for action on domestic violence, including an enquiry into the police on its treatment of domestic violence victims. And at the 2014 Girl Summit held in London, she announced an ambitious plan to tackle FGM in the UK.
However, May has come under criticism for her role in supporting the Conservatie government's austerity programme, imposing a range of large-scale cuts to public spending that have hit women the hardest. Women make up two-thirds of the public sector workforce, which has experienced drastic cuts under Conservative rule. 1 in 4 women now earn below the national living wage, and the gender pay gap in the UK has actually increased despite recent economic growth. Organisations like Sisters Uncut have sprung up to campaign for the rights of vulnerable women in the face of these policies. As Prime Minister, May will need to ensure reality lines up with her rhetoric to guarantee women benefit from Britain's future, and build a society that is truly fair for all its citizens.
Earlier this year, May voted to repeal the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. In its place, the Conservative party proposed a ‘British Bill of Rights’ which would protect some, but not all of the same rights. The ECHR is not affected by the UK’s relationship to the EU, but is an international treaty designed to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in line with the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights - rights that extend beyond borders and nationalities.
Since launching her leadership bid, May has stated that she will no longer seek to leave the Convention — a reversal that will be welcomed by human rights activists across the country.
May has also recently voted to promote LGBT rights, voting in favour of civil partnerships for same-sex couples, and later for equal marriage. In terms of racial equality, a lesser known success of her tenure as Home Secretary is that she helped reduce the use of ‘Stop and Search’ by 40%, arguing that the misuse of this tactic disproportionately targeted ethnic minorities. May’s legacy on human rights is therefore still to be written, and in a period of social unrest, it’s more vital than ever to stand up for the freedoms that protect us all.
At the 2015 Conservative Party Conference, May announced that Britain would accept the “most vulnerable” refugees from conflict zones around the world whilst reforming asylum laws to cut the numbers of those seeking asylum in the country. In a recent vote on whether to accept 3,000 children refugees in Europe, May voted in line with Conservative policy against providing a home for these children in the UK. Although the proposal to accept these vulnerable refugees initially lost the vote, an amended proposal was successfully passed through Parliament. Theresa May might not have supported the decision, but as Prime Minister, it is her responsibility to make this a reality.
While Brexit will certainly feature in David Cameron’s legacy, it is important to remember that he was the first UK Prime Minister to enshrine the target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid — an achievement he highlighted in his final speech. This money provides life-saving support to millions around the world, whether it’s helping 5.3 million girls receive a quality education, or providing more than 280,000 people in Nepal with shelter after 2015’s devastating earthquake. In her first speech as Prime Minister, May declared that she would continue Cameron’s drive for “social justice” — and it’s important that this extends beyond the UK’s borders.
As she steers the country on a domestic and global stage, protecting the poorest at home and abroad must remain a priority.