The Paradox of Conservative Progression

15/07/2016 11:25 | Updated 15 July 2016

In the aftermath of Britain's vote to leave the European Union, the Conservative Party was teetering on the edge of a precarious situation. With David Cameron announcing his departure from the top job; many heads turned to former London Mayor Boris Johnson as his natural replacement. We all, therefore, predicted the continuation of the Notting Hill set's stranglehold upon the political sphere. Instead, the United Kingdom now finds itself with its second female Prime Minister and a more inclusive, progressive Conservative government.

It is worth noting that the Conservative party has given the United Kingdom both of its female Prime Ministers. Their gender not a concern; both Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May have not been the product of the all-female lists that came to symbolise the Labour Party under Tony Blair. Whilst positive discrimination has its place in this imperfect world, both female leaders have risen to the fore on their own tenacity and determination.

However, the lady who now finds herself at the helm is not a woman who naturally embodies such a progressive, one nation stance. May's voting record regarding the LGBT community is one such example of this. Theresa May voted against the motion to equal the age of consent. She also voted against the motion to repeal Section 28 (a Thatcherite policy) as well against same sex adoption.

In more recent years, the socially conservative former Home Secretary has become more liberal in her approach. Under the leadership of Michael Howard, the member for Maidenhead voted in favour of civil partnerships. One of David Cameron's more positive legacies, the Equal Marriage Act, also owes some debt of gratitude to Mrs May. As Baroness Lynne Featherstone has affirmed, May's support for the motion was influential in convincing the Conservative leadership to push ahead with the Bill.

In her maiden speech as Prime Minister, Mrs May said that she would prioritise the working class. Yet this stands juxtaposed to her recent voting record. As a Minister under David Cameron, Theresa May voted through the Welfare Reform and Work Bill which cut disability benefit and seemingly supported her leader's commitment to austerity.

In the aforementioned speech May also stated that; "If you're a white, working class boy, you're less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university." Surprisingly, May initially voted against tuition fee rises but has subsequently changed that positon to align herself with Cameron's government. As a result, there exists a concern amongst commentators that she is a sheep-like MP - built to follow an agenda rather than constructing her own. However, her speech made remarks that would have not been amiss in a Miliband manifesto. Its inclusive tone was an obvious strategic swipe at Corbyn's imploding Labour Party. Perhaps with the keys to Downing Street in hand, May has realised the extent of her ambitions.

This progressive stance is not just restricted to Theresa May, either. Indeed, it is a fair assessment that the current Conservative Party is distinct from the Tory Party of old. Data obtained by the Conservative British tabloid the Sun showed that, whilst thirty-three percent of the party's members surveyed disagree with equal marriage, a majority of forty-four percent now support the change in law. Furthermore, nineteen percent of the same survey pool would like to see an increase in the number of LGBT MPs, whilst a minority of sixteen percent would like to see fewer.

On this issue at least, May has come to realise the liberal wishes of the masses. Her voting record, whilst appropriately concerning some, is merely representative of a Conservative having to tug the party line in order to advance her own career. Her appointment of Justine Greening to Women and Equality Minister (as well as an expanded education brief) shows that her progressive, inclusive promises have some foundation. Whilst some have displayed dissatisfaction at the missed opportunity to disassociate the equalities brief from education, the fact that Greening is the first LGBT minister to have taken a lead on LGBT issues is a start in the right direction. So too is the promotion of Patrick McLoughlin, a former farm worker and miner, to the post of Party Chairman.

The Conservative Party and progressive politics - for so long a contradiction in terms - now have a tenuous link. After all, the existence of a female leader of the national party is a feat that the Labour Party are yet to replicate [though the publication of this post occurs as Angela Eagle poses a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn.] May's one nation conservatism is undoubtedly more akin to Disraeli than Cameron's interpretation. Though the concern still stands that the party has merely taken two steps forward, and one jump back.