Whilst Theresa May is seen by many as a safe pair of hands, and someone with suitably progressive and moderate views for a leader of the Tory party, her first steps as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom have caused a bit of a stir on the international stage and in the press.
Amongst the changes in May’s cabinet upheaval include George Osborne being replaced by Philip Hammond as chancellor, Justine Greening taking over from Nicky Morgan as secretary of education, and Boris Johnson being appointed as foreign secretary.
Despite May’s strong presence in British politics in recent years, there is an element of unpredictability to her ascension to the position of Prime Minister; this is reflected in the policies that she has supported in the past as well as in the ministers she has surrounded herself with in a new-look cabinet aimed at steadying the United Kingdom’s current political turmoil.
One MP has reflected this feeling by commenting on his unease at the disparity between May’s strict views on immigration and her views on other issues such as same-sex marriage:
“I’ve struggled with this, frankly. Her views on stop-and-search, on same-sex marriage, and forced slavery — it just doesn’t square with this [her views on immigration].”
One of the initial problems faced by May was the replacement of George Osborne, who did not resign along with David Cameron. However, his position was clearly untenable in May’s “Brexit means Brexit” cabinet, having claimed before the EU referendum took place that the UK leaving would necessitate a punishment budget. Osborne has been replaced by Philip Hammond, a strong supporter of May’s policies. Iain Martin, an author and political commentator, said that Hammond will be on board with May’s platform:
“In relation to Brexit, [Hammond] will seek to be the voice of stability; behind the scenes he will be a stout defender of the City of London when negotiations with the EU begin.”
Meanwhile, on two seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum are Andrea Leadsom, May’s leadership rival after Cameron’s resignation, who has been made secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs and Justine Greening who has come in as secretary of education and minister for women and equalities in place of strong advocate for the British school academies programme, Nicky Morgan.
Andrea Leadsom, the incoming environment secretary, opposes climate change measures and backs fox hunting and the selling off of forests. As recently as 2015 she is quoted as having questioned officials on whether climate change is real. Speaking on the fox-hunting ban of 2004, she said “it has not proven to be in the interests of animal welfare whatsoever.”
Greening, meanwhile, is the first openly LGBT female minister, is one of the few education secretaries to have attended a non-selective state school and is known for speaking out against gender inequality.
The step that has caused the greatest amount of surprise has been the appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. Some felt that his conduct throughout the Brexit campaign, as well as in its aftermath, has been anything but exemplary. This includes French and German foreign ministers who respectively called Johnson “a liar with his back to the wall” and someone whose behaviour has been “outrageous”.
May herself last month aimed a jibe at Boris Johnson’s international dealings, saying that the last time Boris struck a deal with the Germans, “He came back with three nearly-new water cannon”.
Ian Bremmer, an American political scientist, expressed his bemusement on Twitter:
“Maybe the Brits are just having us on.”
Theresa May’s own views and her support for separate policies are equally unpredictable. On education, May voted against raising University fees in 2004 prior to voting to raise them in 2010. She voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, saying: “If two people care for each other, if they love each other, then they should be able to get married.” However, she has been criticized for a controversial policy that bars British citizens from bringing non-British spouses or children into the country unless they earn more than £18,600 annually regardless of what the non-British spouse earns.
Moreover, as the Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff writes, the collapse of the Tory leadership contest following David Cameron’s resignation has meant that May has not been put in a position where she has had to clarify her views on these key issues.