Theresa May promised to build a more socially just country that works “for all our citizens” as she took office as Britain’s prime minister.
Standing outside her new official residence and office, 10 Downing Street, May said that her government will fight against “burning injustice” that contributes to make people’s lives “much harder” than the center of power realizes. In making policy decisions, the government will “think not of the powerful, but you,” she said.
“We are living through an important moment in our country’s history following the referendum,” May, the former home secretary, said on Wednesday. “We face a time of great national change. As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us.”
Britain’s second woman prime minister after Margaret Thatcher, May swept to power in the wake of Britain’s surprise vote last month to quit the EU. That led David Cameron to resign, and then saw May’s rivals for the top job knife each other or drop out, leaving her the only candidate. Cameron officially tendered his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II earlier on Wednesday, who then asked May to form a government.
A month ago, May had no idea she was about to become prime minister. Now she must manage Britain’s exit from the 28-nation EU and a predicted recession as the prospect of a Brexit sends a chill through markets and the global business community. The pound has fallen 11 percent in the past three weeks, consumer sentiment has plunged the most since 1994 and companies from Vodafone Group to JPMorgan Chase say they are considering moving jobs abroad.
A new government department is being set up to manage Brexit, and May was due to name the minister who will head it on Wednesday evening. She was also due to appoint some other senior ministers, including her chancellor of the exchequer.
As she addressed the country from Downing Street, the main focus of her speech wasn’t Brexit or the economy. Instead, it was on those people who, with their lives made insecure by the forces of globalization, are increasingly angry with the political class.
“If you’re from an ordinary working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realize,” she said. “You have a job, but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home but you worry about paying the mortgage. If you are one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly. I know you are working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle.”
As the opposition Labour Party enters the next wave of its internal fight between leader Jeremy Corbyn and his lawmakers, May was pitching herself firmly for the center ground of politics. A clergyman’s daughter, she’s able to talk about “the privileged few” in a way that stockbroker’s son Cameron never could.
“When it comes to taxes we will prioritise not the wealthy, but you,” she said, again signalling a shift from Cameron’s government, which cut taxes on inheritance. “When it comes to opportunity we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”
May was speaking immediately upon her return from Buckingham Palace, where she was invited by the queen to form a government. Earlier Cameron and his family had made an emotional farewell to the job.
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · Robert Hutton