Mrs May has long been associated with leopard skin kitten heel shoes which she wore several years ago at a Conservative Party conference. (Representative ones are shown at left.)
(Photo credits: mozimo.co.uk)
In fact, at the weekend, my better half and I spoke with an older local resident. This man told us, quite seriously (verbatim), ‘I do hope Mrs May wins the leadership contest. Oh, those kitten heel shoes … I do like a firm woman, one who knows what she’s about.’
My overseas readers might ask what happened to the Conservative leadership contest. This is how it all unfolded.
Andrea Leadsom’s miserable weekend
Last weekend, the other candidate running for Conservative Party leader, Andrea Leadsom, gave an interview to Rachel Sylvester of The Times.
Sylvester, incidentally, is married to the Diplomatic Editor of The Guardian, Patrick Wintour. Wintour’s sister Anna is the famous editor of the American edition of Vogue. Their late father, Charles, is best known for editing the London Evening Standard, although he also held similar senior positions at the Daily Express and The Times.
Sylvester asked Leadsom what set her apart from May. Leadsom, always interested in children, answered, in part:
… genuinely, I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next … so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.
The interview made The Times‘s front page. A media storm ensued. Leadsom tweeted that the quotes were ‘truly appalling’ and the exact opposite of what she actually said. Sylvester defended her interview, claiming that Leadsom was the one who brought children into it. However, renowned political blogger Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) listened to the transcript and said that Sylvester wove motherhood into her question, something the journalist later admitted in a BBC interview. Fawkes concluded (highlights in the original):
Goes without saying that Leadsom completely denies raising the issue, calling the claim “gutter journalism”. The only way to establish whether or not Andrea Leadsom has been stitched up is to release the full recording – something The Times is refusing to do…
On Saturday, July 9, Leadsom gave a press conference from her home in Northamptonshire at which she said:
Everyone has an equal stake in the future of our country.
However, it was too late. Several Conservative MPs — men and women — criticised Leadsom’s remark on motherhood.
By Sunday, Leadsom admitted to The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson that she felt:
under attack, under enormous pressure. It has been shattering.
By lunchtime on Monday, July 11, Leadsom announced she was dropping out of the leadership contest.
That afternoon, David Cameron made a brief announcement, saying that a new Prime Minister would be in place by Wednesday evening. He walked back to No. 10, unaware that the microphones were still on. This is what the world heard:
The Telegraph noted:
Somehow, it sounded half-mournful, half-jaunty. It was strangely touching.
It was a very human moment. It brought a smile.
Speaking of which, July 11 marked the first time the British public saw Theresa May smile (see picture at the top of the Telegraph link). Finally, we saw another side to the ‘steely’ Home Secretary who had served the nation for six years.
Cameron’s final hours
On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 12, an empty removals van arrived at 10 Downing Street:
Simply Removals will no doubt be getting a lot of new business.
This may look trivial, but it is important in the British psyche with regard to a new Prime Minister. It represents the beginning of the transfer of power from one to another. I remember in November 1990 when John Major was announced as Margaret Thatcher’s successor. My colleagues explained that nothing would happen until the removals van arrived.
On Wednesday, Cameron presided over his last PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions). It was a witty, informative and heart-warming 45 minutes, including those questions and remarks from Leader of the Opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, who wore a tie. Cameron remarked upon it in the nicest possible way to much laughter from the benches.
Conservative MPs thanked Cameron for his achievements and some mentioned particular instances in their own constituencies, particularly the sharp drop in unemployment in certain parts of England.
Even a handful of Labour MPs thanked Cameron for his service.
At the end, the Conservatives gave him a standing ovation. All the Labour MPs heartily applauded him.
Afterwards, Cameron returned to spend a few hours at No. 10 before he gave his farewell speech around 4:45 p.m. His wife Samantha and their three children stood off to the side. Cameron recalled how his youngest, Florence (in Samantha’s womb when Cameron first entered No. 10 in May 2010) once climbed into his red ministerial box when she was little and begged him to take her along on one of his trips. He said that his two older children were known to kick the red boxes, they were so frustrated with their father’s absences from home.
The children, rightly, looked nervous. They had never been in the public eye until now.
Cameron also detailed his many achievements as Prime Minister — a lengthy list. We were blessed to have had him in that post for six years.
Just before 5 p.m., the Cameron family left No. 10 for Buckingham Palace. David and Samantha were in one car and the children in another.
The Queen’s role
Even more important than the removals van was the constitutional step of the outgoing Prime Minister asking the Queen for permission to resign.
This is a formality nowadays, since the successor has already been chosen by the political party, whether Conservative or Labour. However, it was not always so. When the Queen first ascended to the throne, the BBC News panel covering the afternoon’s events said that she used to seek advice from party grandees — the most senior MPs and advisers — on whom would be best placed to become the next Prime Minister. One Royal Family reporter said that this stopped in the 1960s after the Palace had a hand in the appointment of Anthony Eden — responsible for the Suez crisis in 1956 — and Alec Douglas-Home who served for only one year.
It is unlikely that the Queen would refuse a Prime Minister’s resignation. Nonetheless, she must be asked. The outgoing Prime Minister then recommends his or her successor to her. Again, these days, it is unlikely she would refuse that person.
In fact, Theresa May and her husband were already in a car waiting outside the Houses of Parliament. The driver awaited instructions from the Palace to leave. As soon as the Cameron family was being driven away — in black cars, no longer the silver Prime Ministerial ones — the car with the Mays pulled up in the forecourt.
The Queen spent a good half hour with David Cameron. Much of that was a private conversation between the two, then the whole family had an audience with her.
The monarch spent the same amount of time with Theresa May, again most of that privately, then with her husband included for a general conversation.
The Queen already knows Theresa May somewhat because, as Home Secretary, she was part of the Privy Council which meets with her at the Palace.
The Queen would have asked her to form a government. When the Queen issues this request of an incoming, consenting Prime Minister, that person must ‘kiss hands’ with her. In May’s case, this was a shake of the hands and a deep curtsey, à la Margaret Thatcher.
It is possible that the Queen asked May questions about the future government and its direction, although we will never know. Revealing private conversations of that nature is strictly forbidden.
The BBC panel said that, when the Queen was younger, she found the advice of Prime Ministers extremely helpful. That later turned into the Queen’s advising her Prime Ministers. The relationship is that of a CEO (PM) reporting to the Chairman (the Queen).
Theresa May is the 13th Prime Minister to serve under the Queen. It is interesting that she also was granted that position on July 13.
Like her predecessors, May will be expected to meet weekly with the Queen when Parliament is in session. The early Wednesday evening time — Cameron’s — might continue. We can but see.
The Mays left Buckingham Palace shortly before 6 p.m. in the silver Prime Ministerial car. They were in place at No. 10 in time for the evening news.
Security cars and motorcycles escorted the Camerons and the Mays to and from Buckingham Palace.
The Camerons, like other former Prime Ministerial families or couples, will continue to have security detail in future.
Theresa May’s address to the nation
Theresa May no sooner got out of the car with her husband Philip when she addressed the people of Great Britain. Philip stood off to the side.
The Spectator has the full transcript, most of which follows. It sounds very centrist if not Labour-like. Excerpts follow (emphases mine):
I have just been to Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty the Queen has asked me to form a new government, and I accepted. In David Cameron, I follow in the footsteps of a great, modern Prime Minister … David Cameron has led a one nation government, and it is in that spirit that I also plan to lead. Because not everybody knows this, but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party. And that word unionist is very important to me.
It means we believe in the union, the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it means something else that is just as important, it means we believe in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom, but between all of our citizens, every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we are from. That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you’re born poor you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white, working class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand. If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home …
If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home but you worry about paying the mortgage. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly. I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you …
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.
That will be the mission of the Government I lead. And together, we will build a better Britain.
This is a very good outcome for the nation in just under three weeks from the EU Referendum result and Cameron’s resignation.
Tomorrow: more about Theresa May and her Cabinet