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7 July 2016

Who is Theresa May? The lowdown on the Tory leadership finalist

Theresa May is experienced and serious. But will she see off Andrea Leadsom?

By New Statesman

Theresa May has won the second round of the Conservative leadership contest, but her rival to the crown, Andrea Leadsom, has popular appeal and the Leave campaign behind her. So what is she offering? 

Who? The longest-serving Home Secretary for more than 100 years, May has held the Great Office of State since 2010. Her hard line on immigration (everything from restricting foreign student visas to her Department mooting the infamous “Go Home vans”) has defined her time in office, although she has also been tough towards the Police Federation and her most memorable message has been for the Tories to shed their “nasty party” label.

Support base: An early advocate of Tory modernisation, the Home Secretary, 59, has won backers from the party’s liberal wing, including Jeremy Hunt, Justine Greening, Alan Duncan, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. For political balance, her campaign is chaired by social conservative Chris Grayling and she is also supported by Brexiters such as Nadhim Zahawi, Kwasi Kwarteng and Mike Penning.

Pros: May has unrivalled ministerial experience. Her reluctant backing for the Remain campaign and anti-immigration stance make her acceptable to pro-Leave Tory activists, while her comprehensive education helpfully contrasts with the outgoing leadership. She is also popular in Whitehall, known for personally thanking civil servants in her Department for the work they do for her.

Cons: Her support for Remain, albeit lukewarm, exposes her to the charge that she cannot credibly lead the post-Brexit negotiations. May’s lack of charisma is also cited by opponents who believe the Tories need a more magnetic personality.

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Pitch to the party: A serious candidate for serious times. As the UK endures perhaps its greatest crisis of the post-war era, the Maidenhead MP offers herself as a competent, Merkel-esque figure.

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Quotable quote: “My pitch is simple – I’m Theresa May and I think I’m the best person to lead this country.”