‘There are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happen.’ This quote from Lenin was as true during the tumultuous Russian revolution as it is true today.
The UK constitution has been under great scrutiny during these past few weeks after the British people’s decision to leave the European Union. After the unexpected results came in it was not long before Theresa May, the former Home Secretary, arrived at 10 Downing Street to replace David Cameron as Prime Minister.
May, being the UK’s second female Prime Minister, has had no easy ride being compared to her predecessor: Margaret Thatcher. Many have been quick to point out the stark similarities between the two ambitious political personalities. May’s ruthless cabinet reshuffle paired with Ken Clarke remarking on just how ‘bloody difficult’ May actually is only strengthen these claims.
But, just how similar are Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher?
Unlike their fellow Conservative MPs, both Thatcher and May came from middle class backgrounds and were prominent figures in their communities. Equally as interesting, both had also found their riches through marriage – Thatcher marrying Denis Thatcher a millionaire, and May marrying an investment banker. Their interests seem to be very similar too. Both have been known to have little interest in anything outside the political sphere and are known to have stayed clear from parliamentary cliques and perhaps more importantly: the parliament’s bars.
However, it is not just their social background that is similar. It is also the political context in which they sprung to power. Both Thatcher and May formed government in times of economic distress and when Labour, the opposition party, was suffering from major splits. Thatcher benefited from the bickering between James Callaghan and Michael Foot whereas May is now benefiting from the fundamental splits between the Corbynites and Blairites within the Labour Party. In this way, both May and Thatcher were able to represent and display strength during troubled times in Britain.
From Thatcher’s 1978 speech in which she addressed her concerns for the loss of ‘deep-rooted [British] traditions’ that occurs when ‘swarms’ of immigrants enter the UK, to May’s party conference speech in which she blames mass immigration for a supposed lack of a cohesive society, both women shared similar stances.
That being said, there is little else that Thatcher and May agree on. Even in their similarities there are stark differences. Both leaders have had their politics shaped in part by their Christian upbringings but whilst Thatcher was skeptical of collectivism, viewing it as an evil that took away individuals’ freedoms, May has been described as more ‘pragmatic’. Theresa May has also been noted as being one of the first to call out Thatcher’s legacy for being divisive and promoted policies which helped the disadvantaged in society as opposed to the privileged few. May has even put Tory donors in the backseat as she claims she would give ‘less priority to the wealthy.’
Furthermore, May has often taken a more liberal approach to politics, advocating for both gender and sexual equality in her ‘Women2Win’ initiative aimed to encourage more women to engage in politics and her voting for same-sex marriage in 2013. Thatcher however, never considered herself as an active Feminist and instead thrived off being the sole female in her cabinet.
Everyone seems to want to compare female leaders with Thatcher but the fact is May shares similar stances to Thatcher because they are both Conservative party members. So, there is little indication that May is likely to be Thatcher 2.0. In fact, it could be argued that May shares more similarities with New Labour than she does with Thatcher. But is it too soon to tell? Thatcher ruled as Prime Minister for 11 years whilst May has been in office for less than a month and although her previous 6 years in Government are very telling there is no way to predict her next few years as Prime Minister.