There is a new government in Britain, and it looks to be one of the most formidable the British have produced in a long time. With a new President of the United States to be elected in November, and both the President of France and the Chancellor Of Germany up for re-election in 2017, leadership of the Western democracies could look very different a year from now.
The five key members of the new British government are Theresa May, the Prime Minister; Amber Rudd (Home Secretary) and Philip Hammond (Chancellor of the Exchequer) on domestic affairs; and Boris Johnson (Foreign Secretary) and David Davis (Brexit Secretary) on foreign affairs.
Theresa May, Prime Minister
The change begins with Theresa May, the Prime Minister. She is the daughter of a Church of England vicar with the sort of middle class background which tended to exclude someone from becoming a Conservative Party grandee, until Margaret Thatcher famously broke the mould. Like Thatcher she went to Oxford, where she studied geography, then worked in the City before going into politics.
It was only on her third try that May won a seat in Parliament in Maidenhead in 1997, which she has held ever since. She held a number of Shadow Cabinet posts in the Conservative Party but was not a member of the “Notting Hill set” around David Cameron and George Osborne who were eventually to form a government in 2010. Somewhat surprisingly, she was appointed Home Secretary, one of the most senior Cabinet positions but also a traditionally “bad news” portfolio, responsible for the internal affairs of England and Wales, policing, national security including supervision of the Security Service (MI5), and the highly contentious immigration issue. In that job, May proved to be politically dependable and unflappable, and was once described by the Guardian as “a calm headmistress in a chamber full of over-excitable public schoolboys”. Little wonder that she surged to the lead in the party contest to replace Cameron, once the charismatic Boris Johnson withdrew from the race. May supported the Remain side in the Brexit campaign, but has been unequivocal that Britain will leave the European Union. Tough and determined, other world leaders will find Theresa May a handful to deal with.
Amber Rudd, Home Secretary
May’s successor as Home Secretary is Amber Rudd, who was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (George Osborne) and then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the Cameron government. Rudd graduated from Edinburgh University with a degree in history and went into investment banking in London and New York before being elected to Parliament in 2010 (Hastings and Rye). Like May, she is considered a “pair of safe hands” while not lacking in toughness. Rudd was a vocal member of the Remain group during the Brexit campaign, clashing with Boris Johnson in TV debates, and supported May in her leadership bid.
Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Philip Hammond takes over as Chancellor of the Exchequer after May booted Osborne from the Cabinet. Like May, Hammond is an Oxford graduate (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and worked for a small pharmaceutical company before entering Parliament (Runneymede and Weybridge) in the same election as Theresa May (1997). In his six years in government, Hammond held three senior posts: Secretary of State for Transport (2010-2011), Secretary of State for Defence (2011-2014), and Foreign Secretary (2014-2016). Hammond’s style has been described as undramatic. He too was a supporter of the Remain side, but he has vowed to defend the City in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations and ensure British industry’s continued access to the single European market.
Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary
Boris Johnson was long considered to be a likely successor to David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party, but he had his enemies in the party who never reconciled to his flamboyant manner and popular appeal. When he broke with Cameron over Brexit and led the Leave side to victory, he was considered a shoo-in to win the nomination to be party leader and Prime Minister. But moments before he was to declare his candidacy, his most prominent supporter Michael Gove who was Justice Secretary announced his own run. This immediately drew off potential Johnson votes, and Johnson withdrew from the contest. Theresa May thereupon showed her calibre by dismissing Gove from Cabinet, citing his untrustworthiness, and astonished everyone by appointing Johnson Foreign Secretary. Johnson was born in New York, studied classics at Balliol College where he was president of the Oxford Union, and pursued a career in journalism (The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Spectator), before going into politics, first as an MP (Henley, then Uxbridge and South Ruislip) and then as Mayor of London (2008-2016) defeating the incumbent Labour politician Ken Livingstone.
David Davis, Brexit Secretary
David Davis was the man David Cameron beat to win the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2005. From humble origins, Davis worked his way up from insurance clerk and member of the Territorial Army (21 SAS Regiment), to becoming a senior executive at Tate & Lyle where he helped restructure its Canadian subsidiary Redpath Sugar. Along the way, he earned degrees from the University of Warwick, the London Business School, and Harvard (Advanced Management Program) before entering Parliament in 1987 at the age of 38 (Boothferry). He was a foreign office minister in the John Major government (1994-97) and subsequently held positions as Conservative Party chairman, shadow Prime Minister and shadow home secretary. Davis was invited to join the Cameron Cabinet in 2010, but preferred to remain a backbencher free to pursue his twin causes of civil liberties and Euroskepticism. Davis supported Johnson for the party leadership and switched to May when Johnson withdrew. His appointment to the newly created post of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union assigns him the main responsibility for designing Britain’s negotiating strategy for Britain’s new relationship with the EU.
Feature photo: Associated Press