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A New Prime Minister: What can we expect?

This morning, Britain woke up to a new dawn and a new resident in Number 10, our second female prime minister. Owen Meredith, head of public affairs at the PPA, ponders what the new leadership might mean for the country in general and the publishing sector in particular.

By Owen Meredith

Theresa May moved into Downing Street last night after being invited by The Queen yesterday to form a government following David Cameron’s departure just hours earlier. As the new prime minister gets to work assembling her ministerial team and getting to grips with a jam-packed in-tray, what do we know of Theresa May, her priorities in office and what a May government means for the publishing world?

The answer, as with so many questions in politics at the moment, is sadly not a lot! Launching her campaign for leader of the Conservative party in Birmingham on Monday, she set out her economic priorities, in what was due to be the first of six policy speeches on her vision for the country. The home secretary, who falls just 21 days short of James Chuter Ede's record for long-service, has a reputation in some quarters as a hardnosed authoritarian, but much of that goes with the job. She’s known to be a quiet and private woman and struck a much softer tone during her brief leadership campaign, pledging to make “a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”, whilst challenging corporate greed and irresponsibility.

She has said "Brexit means Brexit" and those who campaigned to Leave believe her. She’s already pledged to “negotiate the best deal for Britain as we leave the EU and forge a new role for ourselves in the world.” There is no going back to June 22nd. Mrs May has spoken of the opportunities outside the EU, from forging new trading relationships to escaping strict VAT rules, which will please digital publishers suffering a 20% penalty against their print counterpart thanks to inflexibility of EU red tape.

Echoing tones of the ‘John Lewis model’ of corporate responsibility and accountability, the new prime minister has pledged to have both employee and consumer representatives on company boards, and make shareholders votes on executive pay binding, which will be a big shake up for the largest firms.

Access to the EU Single Market, not only for goods and services but for talent, is a major concern for publishers. Theresa May has stated, “it must be a priority 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 come here from Europe.” She’s stressed there can be no guarantees on EU Nationals living in the UK until reciprocal arrangement for UK nationals in the EU, but also hailed the important role of immigration for the strength of the UK economy and hinted at abandoning the 100,000 net-immigration target she failed to reach in office.

Seen by many as the continuity as well as the unity candidate, Theresa May will be expected to build on Cameron’s legacy as a Conservative moderniser. She was one of the first to identify the party was stuck in the dark ages with her 'nasty party' speech to conference in 2002, and the first cabinet minister to back Same Sex Marriage. She has talked extensively about the ‘One Nation’ brand of Conservatism, first credited to Disraeli, characterised as governing in the interests of the working classes as much as the better off, within a liberal, capitalist economy. Determined not to hold a general election until 2020, she'll stick to the ethos of the 2015 Conservative manifesto - in the early years at least, pushing on with a domestic agenda and refusing to let Brexit define her.

With the Summer Recess just around the corner, the new prime minister will barely have a chance to assemble her Cabinet before facing her first PMQs, and the last of this session, next Wednesday. Expect her to make the most of the next 60 days in which she'd planned to tour the country building support among Conservative party members, with regional visits and versions of those five planned speeches - no longer pitching for the top job, but telling us all exactly what she intends to do with it.

On major issues for publishers, from a UK framework for data protection, a copyright regime that rewards investment from both publishers and creators, liberation of advertising regulation free of EU restrictions, portability and cross-border sales, to equalising VAT at zero for print and digital, there remain more questions than answers, but with a new prime minster in place, the pressure to start answering will become intense.