As May takes No. 10, a divided Britain takes its first step towards certainty after the EU referendum.
It could be argued that during these times of unprecedented uncertainty May’s leadership marks a move towards stability. Given the tremendously difficult circumstances she is up against, the key question is who will Theresa May choose to help rebuild a Britain outside of the EU? Having weathered almost 20 years in parliamentary life, May’s appointment as the leader of post-Brexit Britain has brought a sense of stability. Andrea Leadsom aside, Theresa May’s appointment to PM has been remarkably swift and painless. If two decades of experience and her straightforward appointment to the Tory leadership are anything to go by then there is hope of direct and principled negotiations with Brussels.
Her campaign-less road to leadership certainly raised questions of legitimacy with calls for an early general election rocking her otherwise steady front. But, some doubt can be dispelled by her party’s apparent support, her experience and her strikingly considered nature.
Restoring confidence to a nation crippled by split opinion is no mean feat. May has survived the House of Commons for almost two decades and the ministerial burial ground that is the Home Office for six years but her time in Downing Street is not set to be a steady one.
For the large proportion of the country who voted to stay within the EU it remains difficult to get behind May’s Brexiting Britain. What is key to her success will be shifting the focus from a nation of divided opinion. May will want to build a balanced Cabinet that appeals to those who were left feeling disparaged by the referendum result.
Her first task of forming a Cabinet of ministers is likely to be a surgical slash. May’s reserved and contemplative style that is set to characterise her leadership is unlikely to influence her appointing of ministers. May requires a Cabinet that is more representative of the country in ethnicity, gender and social background. The call for greater female representation cannot be ignored but May is not short of equally capable female candidates. The task is therefore one of appointing the best people for the job and not one of filling quotas. Amber Rudd, Priti Patel, Justine Greening and Andrea Leadsom have all been front-runners for ministerial prominence.
The most interesting placement would, of course, be that of Leadsom. It is quite likely that the once opponent of May will be granted a role in the new Cabinet but her prominence in that Cabinet is questionable. By yielding the party leadership to May, Leadsom has certainly garnered some brownie points. However May’s reputation as a serious politician might just render those brownie points entirely useless and see Leadsom making no gains on her losses. May’s mission is to form a Cabinet of capable ministers and not to adhere to tradition or positive discrimination. The new Prime Minister is renowned for her value of loyalty and trust so is likely to retain ministers who have supported her throughout the campaign. Chris Grayling, a pro-Brexit ally of Theresa May is likely to remain in the Cabinet and could expect to be promoted to a more prominent position. Philip Hammond is also likely to remain despite supporting the ‘remain’ campaign due to his gravitas within the Treasury and his vocal support of the new PM during her campaign.
It is with near certainty that Chancellor of the Exchequer will be replaced and Hammond is a likely candidate for the job. Osborne will probably step out of the Cabinet quite willingly due to path he forged throughout the remain campaign. His threat of a rather draconian post-Brexit budget created uncertainty on both sides of the campaign and vehemently cemented his position for Britain to remain in the EU. It is not entirely out of the question for Osborne to remain in the Cabinet but his extensive networks in diplomatic circles leaves the chancellor with choices.
May will want to create cohesion within the party and drastic change to the Cabinet isn’t the most favourable step towards certainty. Forging a distinctively new Cabinet will signify her unfaltering position on Brexit, creating a stronger position for negotiations with the EU in the coming months and years. But, creating a cabinet of Brexiteers and remain supporters will also be necessary to form a Cabinet that is representative of the Conservative party.
For now, what remains a certainty is that May’s early days in office will be marked by great scrutiny. She will experience higher levels of speculation than most Prime Ministers will ever face. Her decisions will be talked about extensively and the history of her appointment can certainly be credited with reinvigorating a politically disinterested country. In the end, it will be the result of her negotiations with Brussels that will come to characterise not only her leadership but also the future of Britain.