Whilst Labour tangle themselves up in civil war, the Prime Minister is making a move for the party’s economic territory. On her first day in Downing Street, Theresa May said her Government would stick up for everyone, not only the ‘privileged few’. Today, she’ll start work making good on that promise when she chairs the first meeting of her Cabinet committee on the economy and industrial strategy.
So what does that all mean? It’s obvious the sentiment suggests an attempt to beat Labour at its own game. From the politician who coined the description of the Tories as the ‘nasty party’, May is doing her best to show the Conservatives are the party of both compassion and competency. Quite a task, but Labour’s leadership tussle is an opportunity for the Conservatives and Theresa May knows it. But what will her pitch look like in practice?
Whilst the words are good, it’s difficult for May to be judged on results for the time being, but in repeating her aim to build an economy for everyone, she is trying to convince voters she really does mean it – and also piling pressure on herself if she doesn’t succeed. In the short-term, what it does tell us, though, is that Theresa May is serious about putting clear ground between herself and her predecessor. As her seismic cabinet reshuffle showed, May isn’t so much interested in building on David Cameron’s legacy as knocking it down and starting afresh. And this new beginning is manifested again today in the launch of her economic strategy.
Today also represents a clear break from her predecessor’s way of doing things; whilst George Osborne was left largely alone to run the Treasury, May is indicating she’ll be much more involved than Cameron was in economic strategy. This is no surprise for those who have followed the former Home Secretary’s way of doing things before she came to Downing Street. But micro-managing during a summer recess is somewhat easier than doing so when things are busier. Only time will tell whether May’s close involvement in chairing these meetings alongside her Chancellor pays off or whether it proves impossible. But whilst the PM will be kept busy with Brexit over the months and years ahead, she also makes it clear she sees the economy as a key part of the armoury as Britain leaves the EU. In her statement ahead of this afternoon’s gathering, she said if the country wants to take advantage of ‘the opportunities presented by Brexit, we need to have our whole economy firing.’ For May, this is about getting Britain into the strongest position possible before the details of actually leaving the EU get thrashed out.
Finally, as if we didn’t know it, Theresa May didn’t like George Osborne’s way of doing things. In a further sting to the former Chancellor’s tattered legacy, she says Britain now needs a ‘proper’ industrial strategy. And instead of Osborne’s myopic Northern Powerhouse, she wants to ‘drive growth up and down the country – from rural areas to our great cities.’ It’s still early days in Downing Street for Theresa May, but in trying to snatch Labour territory and knocking down what came before her, the PM is making clear it won’t be business as usual.