The Conservative Party is what it is today because of Theresa May, the woman who forced it to confront its reality as the “nasty party”. She was unafraid to put the tweed-wearing Etonian schoolboys back in their place. The Conservative Party, and the country, are better off because of her public service. Her legacy will not be Brexit, it will be a Conservative Party that is fundamentally different than the one of which she was first elected as an MP for in 1997.
There are Conservative women on the green benches today, and at every level within the Conservative Party, who wouldn’t be there without her. By launching Women2Win, she is responsible for an entire generation of women getting into Parliament in 2010 – and ever since.
She was never afraid of the feminist label that so many in our party shy away from. Her work has focused on advocating for equal pay, for shared parental leave and on finding ways to tackle the culture of gender discrimination in the workplace. So often her achievements have been accredited to men; Cameron had always taken the credit for shared parental leave, when May was advocating for it long before he was.
Her tenure at the Home Office was the longest of any home secretary of the modern era. She tackled the burning injustices of some of the most vulnerable in our society. She brought in Domestic Violence Protection Orders and Domestic Violence Disclosure Schemes, and was responsible for introducing the offence of “controlling and coercive behaviour”. She supported the campaign to end FGM and forced marriage, co-hosting the 2014 Girls Summit. What she will be most remembered for is her personal crusade against modern slavery, with the 2015 Modern Slavery Act being the first of its kind in Europe.
Theresa May stepped forward to lead the Conservatives and the country at a time of great uncertainty. It is at such times that we need leaders who put our country and its people before themselves. Her Brexit deal was the best compromise our government could ever have achieved, and she believed completely in it – that it would protect our union, and in particular Northern Ireland, somewhere far too many of her colleagues conveniently forget exists. Once again, pragmatism has fallen victim to the egoism of men.
She led this country through four terrorist attacks, and through tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire. Her tackling of the Salisbury incident was the mark of a great stateswoman, who was not afraid to call out Russia by name and do whatever she had to in order to protect her country.
For the Heidi Allens of the world, who say she should have shown the emotion from her speech before now, that emotion was always there – you just chose not to see it. It was there when she helped modernise the Conservative Party, when she took on the crusade of ending modern slavery, and when she put her love for this country ahead of herself.
Theresa May is human, as much as some people would deny her even that. She’s a prime minister who has never forgotten about her constituency work, who has got off a plane from Brussels on little sleep, and gone straight to a community event. She has dedicated herself entirely to the causes of tackling burning injustices and making this country one that is fundamentally better for our children and grandchildren. She did all this while tackling type one diabetes, and never letting that hold her back.
May has no ego, she doesn’t go out looking for the photocall or the praise that others so desperately seek. She speaks to victims and survivors behind closed doors, respecting their privacy and learning from their life experiences in order to ensure those burning injustices are never allowed to happen again. She is a rare politician, in this media age, who does her best work away from the glare of the camera lens, and who does it without any expectation or desire for praise. She has never been driven by ego, only a genuine desire to show the good that government can do, and a sense of public duty that has been instilled in her since her childhood.
I often tell people that I wouldn’t be in politics without Theresa May. A girl with an Irish name like Aine, with an Irish Catholic background and a County Derry accent, isn’t someone you would expect to see in the ranks of the Conservative Party. Theresa May taught me that I didn’t have to change who I am, that I didn’t have to force myself to fit the stereotype, that it was okay to be myself.
My journey hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve taken two important lessons from our second female prime minister. Believe in yourself, and if you know you’re doing the right thing, then you’ll draw strength from that and you’ll go further than you could ever imagine possible.
Whoever the third female prime minister may be – Labour or Conservative, a sitting MP or someone who is still contemplating a life in public service, she will owe Theresa May more than she will probably ever realise.
Theresa May was the second female prime minister. The third female prime minister will be there because of her.