Theresa May is Britain’s first post-Thatcherite Conservative Leader. David Cameron’s modernisers emphasised their cultural compatibility with the left but pursued a hard-line economic policy of which Thatcher might have been proud. By contrast Theresa May’s conservatism will likely combine undisguised contempt for the cultural left’s sacred cows with a neo-statist economic policy.
May and her circle are deeply uncomfortable with various aspects of ‘Modern Britain’, and proud of it. The Prime Minister’s shockingly honest 2015 party conference speech and her record at the Home Office suggest genuine concern about the economic and cultural impacts of high immigration. She shares the electorate’s contempt for the self-congratulatory elite cosmopolitanism of the city and magic-circle law firms.
Both New Labour and the Cameroons sought to build alliances between Main Street and Wall Street; the Mayists believes the two are at war and intend back Main Street to the hilt. The Prime Minister has called for an industrial policy and workers representation on boards. A deficit reduction programme that was quietly reducing the state’s share of the economy is likely to be largely abandoned. International Development Minister Priti Patel is May’s most senior Thatcherite; its no coincidence that Patel’s axe blows will largely fall abroad.
The ConservativeHome columns of May’s guru Nick Timothy revealed a distrust of capitalistic ‘creative destruction’ and symbolically denounced Thatcher’s Orgreave battle against striking coal miners; May will be attentive to the forgotten northern working class at whose expense the Thatcherite economic miracle was built. If Thatcherites sought to help Brits compete against the rest of the world, the Mayists recognise most find global competition terrifying and would prefer security.
Theresa May is not the establishment candidate and certainly not merely a ‘safe pair of hands’. She is a ‘Second Thatcher’ only in the sense of representing a challenge to ubiquitous cultural and economic elite assumptions. Now may be a good time to buy property in Stuttgart; aspects of May’s cultural and economic outlook suggest she would cheerfully sacrifice the British Financial Services Industry in return for lower immigration. As some of their international friends depart and their bonuses diminish, the London elite may start to want their country back.
The electorate will adore this combination. Conservative parliamentarians may not. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nick Boles have their disagreements but May’s desire for an ‘industrial strategy’ has probably given both similar nightmares. With Brexit as Party policy, Daniel Hannan and George Osborne now differ on far fewer issues of significance. At some-point the left and right of the Conservative Party may notice they share more with each other than with May’s coterie. Her approach to immigration will sit uneasily with the self-conscious cosmopolitanism of the tory left and perhaps also with the right’s reverence for the Commonwealth. Too much movement towards a ‘wet’ economic position might unite left and right against the Government. With a wafer thin majority, extremely difficult Brexit negotiations to conduct, and a deliberately exclusive cabinet May’s government would rapidly find itself floundering. Fortunately, the Prime Minister has an obvious way to prevent this destabilisation: restrain her advisers and moderate her break with Cameroon-Thatcherite Consensus.