In the past few weeks, the sudden and dramatic changes in British politics have made their way into the lives and homes of all British people. Whether or not you regard yourself as particularly politically aware, we are now all forced to recognise the impact of our voice in the world of politics. If there is one thing that the EU Referendum has taught us, it is that our voice does matter.
One of the impacts of this political shake-up is the welcoming of new Prime Minister, Theresa May. In the wake of the EU Referendum, May faces a tougher political climate than any of her recent predecessors at Downing Street. Such a narrow majority for Leave means that May’s first major challenge is to unify a deeply divided nation, and attempt, as she has previously remarked, to “make Brexit work for Britain.” It is without a doubt that there are turbulent times ahead. It is therefore essential that we are fully aware of the views and intentions of our new Prime Minister, and what this new appointment means for the UK, Brexit and, in particular, us as students.
Who is Theresa May?
Despite the media’s portrayal, there is a lot more to Theresa May than her choice of footwear. Her impressive political career began in 1997 when she became the MP for Maidenhead, Berkshire, before earning her title of Home Secretary on the 12th of May 2010 under the Lib-Dem coalition. She has served in Cameron’s cabinet ever since, during which she made notable achievements, taking a harder line on drug policy and immigration. Most notable was her speech to the Police Federation in 2014, in which she criticised the police force for their misconduct and apparent racism, stating her intention of reducing the use of stop and search.
Ideologically, May identifies herself as a “One Nation Conservative”, focusing on social justice. This suggests a slight political shift from Cameron’s government who, although showing definite signs of one-nationism, was described by commentators as pertaining a Thatcherite nature. May is a self-proclaimed feminist, was one of the first high-profile politicians to publicly voice her support for same-sex marriage, and advocated remain in the recent referendum.
What does her new Cabinet look like?
With any new government comes a shiny new Cabinet – and May’s is spectacularly shiny, with the Cabinet looking almost entirely different from that which she served in under Cameron. A remarkable change is the cabinet’s refreshing, and no doubt deliberate, shift away from privately educated individuals. With only 29% of the cabinet having been to public schools, the split is now much more reflective of the public split.
However, perhaps the most important message of May’s cabinet, proven with her appointment of seven Brexit supporters, is that Brexit is a reality, and the government are going to fulfil the mandate given to them through the referendum result. Indeed, during her first Prime Ministers’ Questions, May made it clear that Brexit meant Brexit, and with the creation of the EU Exit Secretary (David Davies), May shows her determination to make Brexit work for Britain and to reassert its position as a global player.
What might this mean for students?
It goes without saying that the recent governments have not had a particularly good record when it comes to students. But a good way of working out what this new appointment will look like for students is perhaps to evaluate May’s voting record in the past. May initially opposed all votes that proposed rising tuition fees when they were raised from £1,225 per year to £3,000. However, she voted in favour of raising the cost of tuition fees to £9,000 per year under the Coalition.
When she was Home Secretary, the government made a controversial decision to freeze the salary at which graduates would start repaying their loans at £21,000, meaning that it would no longer rise with the rate of inflation and cost of living. In short, this means that grads will essentially have to pay back more than originally stated.
May has yet to make it clear what the EU Referendum result might mean for international students, refusing to rule out deportation for those without British citizenship. She was also confronted during her first Prime Minister’s Questions by MP Barry Sheerman over her lack of communication regarding what Brexit means for the younger generation whose futures regarding the free movement and opportunities provided by Europe are no longer clear. She responded with acknowledging the importance of his question, following with the ambiguous, yet ultimately important line: “We’re leaving the European Union, but we’re not leaving Europe.” Whatever that actually means.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to know exactly what this political change is going to mean for students and the country as a whole. The only thing that is certain right now regarding British politics is that nothing is certain. It is impossible to know what Britain is going to look like in one year, and what decisions May is going to make regarding Britain’s place in the world. She has stated that Brexit means Brexit, and yet she has also stated that discussions regarding Britain’s exit of the European Union will not take place until the end of this year. What is clear, however, is that May is a force to be reckoned with. Her recent decision to fervently support the renewal of Trident demonstrates the strength and determination of her character, and perhaps indicates that she will not get caught up with the meaningless squabble that often characterises British politics.