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May appoints right wing cabinet for left wing agenda

Britain's new prime minister Theresa May Credit: Reuters

So what have we learned about Theresa May in the past 48 hours?

  • If you thought David Cameron was tough and ruthless, he was a pussycat compared with Theresa May. Barely through the door of 10 Downing Street, she sacked George Osborne, Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and John Whittingdale.
  • She is no sentimentalist, and backing her does not guarantee big rewards. Perhaps her most prominent cheerleader, Chris Grayling, has been given the job of Transport secretary and the fraught decision on where to place London's new runway. "Chalice" and "poison" spring to mind.
  • To slightly rework Bloomberg reporter Rob Hutton, her catchphrase could be "You Brexit, you fix it". All the jobs whose purpose is to make a success of leaving the EU have gone to prominent Leavers, namely Boris Johnson, David Davis, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom. If it all goes horribly wrong, it'll be their fault. That said, we the electorate may not make that nice distinction, and will probably blame her.
  • She is not as cautious as her reputation. Promoting the mercurial Boris Johnson, whose charisma is matched by his outspokenness, will not give her an easy life as PM.
  • She is not as committed to gender equality as her briefings claimed a couple of days ago. There aren't conspicuously more big jobs held by women than under Cameron (except for May's own, of course).
  • Her rhetoric is more left-wing than Cameron's was, her cabinet is more right wing than his was. It is not at all clear how this tension will play out.
  • She has learned the lesson of history that prime ministers have only once chance to sweep away the old guard. She has done that with a vengeance. Cameron's "chumocracy" is in the dustbin of history. Something like 90% of cabinet jobs have changed hands. And she has changed the structure of government departments more radically than any PM in decades (though Brexit forced that to an extent).
  • The Tory cabinet is again peopled by meritocratic products of state schools. Johnson is the last Etonian standing.

Finally she seems to be taking a punt that the Brexit-induced blow to business and consumer confidence can be offset by talking up an infrastructure and housing boom funded by increased government borrowing.

Treasury and Bank of England officials will be feeling slightly queasy about this - especially at a time when our overseas creditors are worried about our post Brexit credit-worthiness.

Or to put it all another way, she is certainly a Conservative but not apparently a small "c" one.

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