Wednesday, August 10

Theresa May: Vicar’s Daughter Unflappable



She’s a vicar’s daughter who’s a fan of Geoffrey Boycott, kitten heels, colourful clothes and cooking.

She drinks Earl Grey tea, has more than 100 cook books and lives in the same picture postcard village as George Clooney.

Theresa May, who will be 60 in October, suddenly finds herself poised to become Prime Minister two months earlier than she expected.

She will have Cabinet appointments to make, favours to repay and a Conservative Party badly split by the EU referendum to unite.

But she will do all those in her usual unflappable manner, without fuss and with the steel and determination she has shown in her six years as Home Secretary.

At her side, more than ever as she prepares to move into Britain’s most famous address, 10 Downing Street, will be her loyal husband Philip, whom she met at Oxford University when they were introduced by the late Benazir Bhutto.

Born in Eastbourne, she grew up in Oxfordshire, where her father was a vicar.

She went to state school, then Oxford University and then got a job at the Bank of England after graduating.

She became an MP in 1997, the year of Tony Blair’s landslide Labour victory, when the old Windsor and Maidenhead constituency was split and she was the candidate for the safe seat of Maidenhead.

Previously, in the 1992 election, she fought Blair ally Hilary Armstrong in North West Durham, where the Liberal Democrat candidate was Tim Farron.

In 1994 she was Tory candidate in a by-election that saw Margaret Hodge elected in the safe Labour seat of Barking. “The thing I remember about Theresa was her shoes,” the veteran Labour MP recalls.

Once elected to the Commons, she had a succession of front bench jobs; shadowing education and employment, local government and transport before Iain Duncan Smith appointed her party chairman, succeeding David Davis, in 2002.

It was during her party conference speech in that year that she uttered the words: “You know what people call us? The nasty party.”

It sent shockwaves through the Tory establishment and the grassroots and infuriated traditionalists.

More shadow front bench jobs followed: environment, the family and culture media and sport, before David Cameron appointed her Shadow Commons Leader, then to shadow women and equality and work and pensions.

Some MPs were surprised when Mr Cameron appointed her to the top job of Home Secretary.

But she has survived a job seen as a political graveyard for many ministerial careers and become the longest serving Home Secretary for more than a century.

There have been highs and lows. Her supporters point to her brutal verbal assault on the Police Federation and the successful deportation – after an eight-year battle – of Abu Hamsa.

But critics claim her record on curbing immigration has been woeful and that she has failed spectacularly to implement Mr Cameron’s “no ifs, no buts” pledge to cut immigration to tens of thousands.

Two years ago she revealed she was diabetic and has to inject insulin four times a day.

Typically, she gets on with it without fuss.

She has also made little fuss about the fact she has not had children, although friends say it hurt her and husband Philip badly some years ago.

She also reacted in a low-key way and with dignity when her former leadership rival Andrea Leadsom raised it – disastrously, as it turned out – in an interview at the weekend.

She and Philip are both cricket fans and many MPs think it’s no surprise that she was a fan of Boycott, the grinding run machine who slowly amassed big scores.

Her shoes and clothes are often from the unflashy LK Bennett and while her house in Clooney’s home village of Sonning in her Berkshire constituency is full of cook books, she is not a fan of the showy Delia Smith or Jamie Oliver.

As for Earl Grey tea, she always takes some bags with her when she stays in a hotel – at party conferences, for example – in case there aren’t any in her bedroom.

That’s how meticulous she is in preparing for the unexpected. That sort of preparation is about to be put to the biggest test.