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What You Need To Know About Our Next Possible Female PM

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Politics is always brutal. But there are certain moments where it feels like the whole country is about to unravel. This is one of them. Post-referendum, our place in the world is under question, our Prime Minister has decided to do a runner, and the people who called for a Brexit in the first place have slowly backed away from the chaos that's ensued (we're looking at you Boris and Farage.)

Enter from the right: Theresa May.

The current Home Secretary and MP for Maidenhead is the favourite to replace David Cameron as the next Tory PM. With the opposition in turmoil (Labour MPs have attempted to oust their leader Jeremy Corbyn, but he refuses), May – a heavyweight politician, vicar's daughter and Grammar school gal – is looking like a pretty stable option to guide Britain through the departure from the EU.

Born in 1956, May studied Geography at Oxford University. She married Philip May in 1980 – whom she met at an Oxford University Conservative Association disco. Their marriage was described by Gaby Hinsliff in a Guardian long read last year as, "her [Theresa's] bedrock; at parties they work the room together, the more gregarious Philip charming people she cannot."

May's young life was blighted by tragedy after her father was killed in a car accident in 1981, when she was 25, and her mother, who had multiple sclerosis, died a year later.

According to her excellent Desert Island Discs interview on Radio 4, May's life outside of Westminster now involves evenings dancing at her local village hall and trying out new recipes.
Photo: Getty Images.
If she is to win the race for Tory leadership, automatically bagging her the role of Prime Minister, May would be joining the elite of female political power players like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. It's a key time in history for women taking the reigns – even the Labour Party are touting a woman, Angela Eagle, as their next leader if Jeremy Corbyn ever gets lost. Who run the world? Girls!

Here's a run down of why Theresa May might be the next leader of Britain:
She's a unifying candidate
May was part of the Remain campaign. This is useful, given that the Conservatives probably now want to patch over the issues that have emerged since the EU referendum result, such as the effect it has had on the UK economy. According to Iain Begg, research fellow at the LSE, May is in a strong position because "she has been quite canny in having been so low profile during the referendum, while also not appearing to be disloyal." He added that "she brings substantial experience of government, of the House of Commons and of party management." In other words, she's a relatively safe option in a time of political unrest.
She's beaten Gove before
'Political serial killer' Michael Gove and Theresa May have fallen out in the past. They clashed over extremism in schools, which resulted in Gove effectively being fired as education secretary. He was the loser in that battle and many suspect that will happen again. Plus, as Adam Drummond, head of polling at Opinium, tells us, May is less polarising than Gove, who is still widely despised by the teaching profession. Nonetheless, it's likely to be a close contest.

"May’s strategy when she thought she was up against Boris was quite clearly to be the grown up in the room, the long serving cabinet minister with the experience necessary to do what is looking like a very difficult job. The strategy against Boris was that he has no ministerial experience and joined Vote Leave to further his own ambitions. With Gove, it's another story," says Drummond. "He has been in government for as long as May, albeit at a less senior level, but he is also more clearly a ‘true believer’ in leaving the EU and was one of the most prominent figures in the Leave campaign which I suspect will serve him well."
She's a skilful operator
As Home Secretary, May consistently failed to meet the Tory target of having net immigration come in under 100,000 people a year. In many ways, her failure to do this played a big part in the increasing controversy over the EU and the Leave vote. Take migration out of the picture and would we be on the brink of leaving the EU? Probably not. She also had a humiliating decade-long battle to deport the radical preacher Abu Qatada (she practically put him on the plane herself) and in 2013 it transpired that only 11 people actually left the country as a direct result of her highly controversial "go home or face arrest" advertisements, according to the Guardian. May has done very little, but it doesn't seem to have held her back. "As Home Secretary she's failed to do very much at all, but it's not clung to her," says Andrew Blick, lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King's College. "She's either very lucky or she's a very skilful operator. Politicians need to be both to end up in the job at number 10."

She's a safe pair of hands
As it stands, May is the favourite now that Boris has pulled out. The bandwagon is rolling for her. As well as coming across as convincing, she's managed to survive as Home Secretary for six years, which is quite an achievement in itself. She's also seen as safe pair of hands in a time of crisis. The downside of all this? Perhaps she's too safe. She doesn’t exactly set the room on fire with charisma when she speaks. Some even say she's the John Major of our time. Satirical puppet show Spitting Image famously parodied him and his wife eating peas, while having an incredibly boring conversation. The consensus is she's not that different – or perhaps she just holds her cards close to her chest. Either way, some might want a serious person for serious times.

She's been plotting for a while...
May is blessed with that slippery politician’s gift of being “very good at avoiding direct questions," something Desert Island Discs presenter, Kirsty Young, said of her back in 2014. So, it's no surprise that for years now, she's expertly refused to be drawn into any speculation on whether she even wants to be PM (obviously she does) or whether she has a plan for it (we're hoping she does.)

Whatever the result, she'll need to watch her back...
Enter Boris. "I wouldn't be surprised if in his mind Boris is calculating that if something goes wrong he can be the one waiting in the wings," says Blick. "He'll be waiting on events, picking his moment. He's a gambler after all. If something goes badly wrong for May, all the people that she ran against and beat will be regarded as the losers. Under these circumstances, it may come together again for him.

Yes, politics really is that brutal. And the drama won't end here.
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