Britain: Change of guard

May, the force to be reckoned with

Mrs May getting a kiss from her husband Philip on Monday after becoming the new Conservative Party leader. She held the post of Home Secretary for six years - making her Britain's longest-serving interior minister since 1892.
Mrs May getting a kiss from her husband Philip on Monday after becoming the new Conservative Party leader. She held the post of Home Secretary for six years - making her Britain's longest-serving interior minister since 1892. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Next British PM is widely respected and not part of any Westminster clique

LONDON • Britain's next prime minister, Mrs Theresa May, is well known for her collection of leopard-print kitten heel shoes - a contrast with her sober dress sense and demeanour.

A keen cricket fan, she lists her hobbies as walking and cooking, telling one interviewer that she had more than 100 cookbooks at home. In a BBC Radio interview, she named Abba's Dancing Queen as one of her all-time favourite songs. She also chose a "lifetime subscription to Vogue" as the luxury item she would take to a desert island.

But Mrs May has been fiercely private about her life in a way that is unusual for modern politicians.

She was born Theresa Brasier in the English seaside town of Eastbourne in 1956. Her father Hubert was an Anglican clergyman, one of several points which have drawn comparisons between her and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Her education - at a series of little-known state and private schools - has been contrasted with the elite Etonian background of outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron and many in his "Notting Hill Set".

Like Mr Cameron, she attended Oxford University, studying geography, but kept a low profile. It was there that she met her husband Philip, now a banker - they were reportedly introduced by the late Benazir Bhutto, who was twice prime minister of Pakistan.

The couple married in 1980 but were unable to have children. Mrs May's rival for the Conservative Party leadership, Mrs Andrea Leadsom, withdrew from the race two days after comments were published suggesting that not having children made Mrs May less qualified to be prime minister.

Mrs May worked in finance, including at the Bank of England, before being elected as Member of Parliament for the London commuter town of Maidenhead in 1997.

As party chairman in 2002, she made waves by suggesting that the Conservatives were seen as "the nasty party" and needed to overhaul their image.

In 2013, Mrs May revealed she had Type 1 diabetes but insisted it would not affect her career, saying it was a question of "head down and getting on with it".

Widely respected, she is not part of any clique at Westminster, acknowledging that she does not drink in Parliament's many bars or "gossip about people over lunch".

A source who has worked closely with her said she was "incredibly hard-working".

"She's always got up three hours before everybody else and knows five times more than anyone else in the room," the source added.

And she has been labelled, in an unguarded moment, a "bloody difficult woman" by a senior Conservative, Mr Kenneth Clarke.

Mrs May has been in the job of Home Secretary for six years - Britain's longest-serving interior minister since 1892.

Supporters say her achievements include deporting radical cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan - where he was later freed after a decade of legal cases - and standing up to the Police Federation, the powerful police officers union, to try to address a string of scandals.

She will be Britain's second female leader after the late Margaret Thatcher.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2016, with the headline 'Britain: Change of guard May, the force to be reckoned with'. Print Edition | Subscribe