Until recently it had been a very quiet summer from the Conservatives who mostly enjoyed their holidays while watching Labour go through its second leadership contest in a year. It could of course have been very different – had Andrea Leadsom not stepped aside back in May we would currently be discussing the result of a bitterly fought Conservative leadership election. But history turned out differently and Theresa May was in Downing Street on the same day that Owen Smith announced his candidacy.
Just like that we had a new prime minister. The catchphrases of Cameron’s premiership, “long-term economic plan” and “northern powerhouse”, have been replaced by May’s “Brexit means Brexit” and “a Britain that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”. Theresa May inherits a very different Britain to the one Cameron did in 2010. For Cameron the task was to rescue the economy from one of the worst recessions in history whereas May must now build a post-Brexit Britain after the most significant vote in British history.
It was only last May that that David Cameron pulled off an unlikely election victory but the new Prime Minister has already demonstrated her willingness to break from her predecessors agenda. The biggest change in step was the announcement to remove the ban on new grammar schools which had been in place since 1998. For Theresa May, giving all children the opportunity to attend a selective school is part of her programme of creating a British meritocracy and this is the legacy she wishes to create.
It was inevitable that Theresa May’s vision of a “Britain that works for everyone” was going to centre on schools and grammar schools were not the only announcement. The vicar’s daughter also announced that removal of the 50% cap on the number of students a new faith school can select on the basis of faith. The announcement has been welcomed by Jewish communal leaders and it is clear that the Prime Minister’s Christian background is keeping her sympathetic to faith communities.
Theresa May is no stranger to the Jewish community having had several interactions during her time as Home Secretary. She addressed a Board of Deputies plenary after the attacks on a kosher supermarket in Paris, gave the keynote speech at CST’s 2016 annual dinner and even found time to dine with the Chief Rabbi the night before her appointment to Downing Street.
Israel also has many friends in the new cabinet. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is a strong supporter of Israel and recently gave a scathing comment on boycott supporters when visiting the country. The new International Development Secretary is a former Conservative Friends of Israel officer and the International Trade Secretary attended the 2016 AIPAC conference. A post-Brexit opportunity is a possible free-trade deal with Israel and the new Party Chairman has recently indicated his support for such an agreement.
Ultimately Theresa May’s legacy will be defined by the success of Brexit but she has said that she sees the referendum result as a vote to change the way Britain works. The proposed changes to the education system are just the beginning, this may be another Conservative government but it is under a very new leadership.