Theresa May sets out 'one nation' vision in Tory leadership bid


Theresa May has set out her stall in the campaign to succeed David Cameron, presenting herself as an experienced and hard-headed politician who is "ready and able to do the job from day one".

In a speech setting out a "one nation" vision focusing heavily on improving the life chances of ordinary people, the Home Secretary took several swipes at her main rival for the Conservative leadership, Boris Johnson - as well as the surprise addition to the race, Michael Gove.

While some politicians were driven by "ideological fervour" or "ambition and glory", she was the unshowy daughter of a vicar who had public service at the heart of her beliefs, she said.

In a jibe clearly directed at the flamboyant former mayor of London, Mrs May said politics was not a "game".

"If you are from an ordinary working class family, life is just much harder than many people in politics realise," she said.

"Frankly, not everybody in Westminster understands what it's like to live like this and some need to be told that it isn't a game. It's a serious business that has real consequences for people's lives."

After taking a low-key role as a supporter of Remain in the EU referendum, Mrs May made clear she will not attempt to back away from last week's vote to leave the EU, saying "Brexit means Brexit".

But she said she would not kick off the two-year process of negotiating withdrawal until the UK's strategy is agreed - probably not before the end of this year. And she said she would create a new Government department, headed by a Cabinet-level minister who had campaigned for Leave, to oversee the UK's departure from the EU.

She would not order an emergency budget in response to the Brexit vote and would not call a snap election ahead of the scheduled date of 2020. And she was ready to ditch George Osborne's target of achieving budget surplus by the end of the Parliament if it was necessary to avoid tax rises.

In a surprise move, she said she would ditch her proposal to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

But she stood by the goal of reducing net migration, despite her failure as Home Secretary to hit Mr Cameron's target of cutting it below 100,000. 

The priority in Brexit negotiations must be to "allow British companies to trade with the single market in goods and services but also, to regain more control of the numbers of people who are coming here from Europe", she said. 

In what appeared to be a pointed reference to Mr Johnson, she said any attempt to "wriggle out" of Leave campaign promises to control immigration would be "unacceptable" to voters.

Mrs May tried to make a virtue of not being a "showy" politician, in implicit contrast to the former mayor.

"If ever there was a time for a prime minister who is ready and able to do the job from day one, this is it," she said.

She cited her experience in negotiating the deportation of Abu Qatada, standing up to the US over its demand to extradite hacker Gary McKinnon and taking on the police in the Stephen Lawrence and Hillsborough cases.

Mocking Mr Johnson's purchase of riot control equipment without securing her permission - eventually withheld - to use it, Mrs May joked: "Boris negotiated in Europe. I seem to remember last time he did a deal with the Germans, he came back with three nearly-new water cannon."

In a clear jibe at Mr Gove and Mr Johnson, Mrs May said: "I know some politicians seek high office because they are driven by ideological fervour. I know others seek it for reasons of ambition or glory.

"My reasons are much simpler. I grew up the daughter of a local vicar and the granddaughter of a regimental sergeant major. Public service has been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember.

"I know I'm not a showy politician, I don't tour the TV studios, I don't gossip about people over lunch, I don't go drinking in Parliament's bars. I don't often wear my heart on my sleeve. I just get on with the job in front of me."

She brushed off comparisons with Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel as a woman aspiring to lead her country, saying: "Whether it's a woman or a man, what counts is the quality of the individual."

Mrs May said: "Following last week's referendum, our country needs strong leadership to steer us through this period of economic and political uncertainty and to negotiate the best possible terms as we leave the EU.

"We need leadership that can unite our party and our country."

With Labour "tearing itself apart" and Scottish Nationalists mooting a second independence referendum, it was "nothing less than the patriotic duty of our party to unite and to govern in the best interests of the whole country", she said.

"We need a bold new positive vision for the future of our country - a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us."

She concluded: "My pitch is very simple. I'm Theresa May and I think I'm the best person to be prime minister of this country."