The question about Theresa May has always been what does she believe? Well, today in the widest-ranging speech of her political career she went a long way to answering that. You can read the speech, delivered at the Conservative Home conference, here.
Several things struck me about the speech. First, on economics May is not a classical liberal or a Lawsonian. Instead, she is more in the Michael Heseltine camp. She made the case for a buy British government procurement programme that strikes a ‘better balance between short-term value for the taxpayer and long-term benefits to the economy’.
But, in other areas, May is prepared to be more free market than the Tory party has been to date. She said the party should have an open mind about companies making a profit out of delivering public services.
What I suspect, though, will grab the headlines are her comments about the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights. She said,
‘we have to ask ourselves, to what end are we signatories to the Convention? Are we really limiting human rights abuses in other countries? I’m sceptical. But are we restricting our ability to act in the national interest? Are we conceding that our own Supreme Court is not supreme? I believe we are.’
Now, it is pretty clear from this where May would like to go, as we said on Coffee House this time last week following the Mail on Sunday splash, and she herself declared ‘I want to be clear that all options – including leaving the Convention altogether – should be on the table.’ Indeed, one of the things that is most striking about her comments is that she takes on directly the arguments adduced by Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke and the Foreign Office for staying in.
May’s decision to make such a wide ranging speech puts her into a different bracket of politician. One can now begin to see where a May-led Tory party would go. Now, May is too loyal—and too cautious—a politician to challenge a sitting leader—and the speech went out of its way to praise Cameron and contrast his qualities with Miliband’s. But if a vacancy arises, it is now clear that May will be a contender.