Five things in Theresa May’s inbox (that don’t include Brexit)

By Chris Rogers July 13, 2016 11:19 am

Most of us probably don’t include the phrases ‘visit the Queen,’ ‘form a government,’ ‘collect Downing Street keys from Dave,’ and ‘buy food for Larry the cat’ on our daily list of things to do. But that is what’s on the docket for incoming Prime Minister Theresa May today.

Once the formalities and the inevitable press calls and photographs are out the way, Mrs May – as she has doubtless already been doing – will be able to devote herself to her new role of running the government. Top of the pile on what will be a pretty substantial inbox will of course be a Cabinet reshuffle, and inevitably Fleet Street is working overtime to anticipate who Mrs May’s new neighbour might be in 11 Downing Street, who might take over the great offices of state, who’ll head up the Brexit team. And of course, what to do with Boris.

But that aside, what else might Mrs May have to look at as a priority in her first weeks on the job? For those of you exhausted with talk of the EU, here’s a few suggestions of non-Brexit matters the new PM is going to have to contend with.

Renewal of Trident

Mrs May has already made it very plain – she wants to see the UK’s nuclear deterrent renewed. David Cameron had previously announced a parliamentary vote on Trident for 18 July, but the abrupt conclusion of the Conservative leadership contest may result in this being pushed back.

The new PM will, in all probability want the vote sooner rather than later. After all, why not? With the ructions in the Labour Party, for which Trident remains a polarising issue, Mrs May can exacerbate the divide between MPs supportive of the deterrent and many in the rank and file who agree with Jeremy Corbyn’s desire for disarmament. In any case, Shadow Defence Minister Clive Lewis has confirmed Labour MPs will have a free vote on the issue – meaning the parliamentary maths are overwhelmingly on Mrs May’s side. This could be a quick and substantive win in the early days of her premiership.

Airport capacity

The new PM probably won’t thank her predecessor for leaving her with this one, but there is still a big question to answer about expanding Britain’s airport capacity. Should it be Heathrow, Gatwick, or an island in the Thames Estuary as suggested by Boris Johnson? The issue is a contentious one, hence it being kicked down the road to avoid firstly the London mayoral election and then the EU referendum. But it’s one Mrs May won’t be able to avoid, and big business will likely clamour for swift clarity on the Government’s decision.

Public health – and the NHS

Significant and much anticipated documents like the childhood obesity strategy have been repeatedly delayed out of political expediency and scheduling. In the case of the obesity strategy, it’s been delayed so long that some children who might have benefited from it will now be getting close of adolescence and adulthood.

This is again a strategy Mrs May will be expected to produce quickly having been handed the baton by David Cameron. And the issue of obesity feeds into wider questions of how to improve public health – which in turn feeds into the questions of how to reduce demands on the NHS and address the health service’s widening funding gap.

Oh, and Mrs May will also have to decide what to do about that pesky junior doctors contract.

Devolution and local government

Barely had the last EU referendum vote been counted (sorry that reference slipped in) than Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was intimating a second vote on independence could be in the offing. Now, this won’t happen in the short-term. There are substantial risks to the SNP of another defeat. But, Mrs May will need to take forward the deal agreed with the devolved institutions two years ago, which gave them even greater powers. And she’ll need to convince at least Scotland that its place is within the UK.

Local government is going to be a very tricky issue for the new PM. She will have to press on with Mr Cameron’s devolution of powers and Mr Osborne’s creation of a ‘northern powerhouse.’ But this will have to be reconciled with the substantial cuts to council budgets – begging the question of what local authorities will be asked to achieve.

The budget and deficit

Mrs May has already cast aside George Osborne’s commitment to a budget surplus by 2020. This is no more than a reflection that the political and economic situation is not geared to such a target, which would be brandished by her opponents as a mark of failure.

But in the absence of that target, Mrs May and her new Chancellor will have to explain what they plan to achieve, and what represents success. In particular, they’ll need to explain how they’ll balance the books in the post-Brexit world.

Well, nearly got there without a mention of Bexit.

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For media enquiries, please contact Chris Rogers on 020 7793 2536 / 07720 054189, or email Chris.Rogers@whitehouseconsulting.co.uk.

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