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In a clear pitch for the centre-ground of British politics, the front-runner to take over as Prime Minister in September said Britain needs ‘a bold, new, positive vision for the future of our country’.
And she dismissed any fears that as someone who campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU she would seek to dilute the terms of withdrawing from the EU, declaring: ‘Brexit means Brexit’.
In a speech in Birmingham Mrs May promised new laws to block fat cat pay and bonuses as she promises to stand up for ordinary workers.
The Tory leadership favourite will also give consumers and staff seats on company boards in a bid to crack down on ‘corporate irresponsibility’.
The changes are intended to show Mrs May can reach out to the blue-collar workers who were the bedrock of Margaret Thatcher’s electoral success.
They also show her determination to be the candidate who can reunite the country as well as the Tory party.
Launching the second phase of her bid for No 10, she vowed to build a Britain ‘that works for everyone – not just the privileged few’.
Mrs May said she hopes to ‘bring people back together – rich and poor, north and south … young and old, male and female, black and white’.
Aides claim her mission as prime minister would be to rebuild public trust in politics – which has plummeted in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, the banking crash and the failure to address worries over immigration.
Signalling a major change in the direction of the Conservative party, Mrs May, who famously described the Conservatives as the ‘nasty party’ amid the darkest days of opposition in 2002, said this morning: ‘This is a different kind of Conservatism, I know. It marks a break with the past. But it is in fact completely consistent with Conservative principles.
‘Because we don’t just believe in markets, but in communities. We don’t just believe in individualism, but in society. We don’t hate the state, we value the role that only the state can play.
‘We believe everybody – not just the privileged few – has a right to take ownership of what matters in their lives.
‘We believe that each generation – of politicians, of business leaders, of us all – are custodians with a responsibility to pass on something better to the next generation. Above all, we believe in Britain – and in the British people.’
Mrs May also sent out a very clear message about her commitment to Britain withdrawing from the EU.
She said: ‘Our country needs strong, proven leadership – to steer us through this time of economic and political uncertainty, and to negotiate the best deal for Britain as we leave the EU and forge a new role for ourselves in the world. Because Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it.’
The rules on fat cat pay will allow shareholders to block a remuneration package they believe is undeserved.
Currently, they have a binding vote on general company pay policies but can be overridden if they decide that an individual deal is too generous.
Mrs May said: ‘The people who run big businesses are supposed to be accountable to outsiders, to non-executive directors, who are supposed to ask the difficult questions.
‘In practice, they are drawn from the same, narrow social and professional circles as the executive team and – as we have seen time and time again – the scrutiny they provide is just not good enough.
‘So if I’m prime minister, we’re going to change that system – and we’re going to have not just consumers represented on company boards, but workers as well.’
Outlining her plan to get tough on ‘corporate irresponsibility’, she will add: ‘We’re the Conservative Party, and yes, we’re the party of enterprise, but that does not mean we should be prepared to accept that ‘anything goes’ … I will make shareholder votes on corporate pay not just advisory but binding.’
At the event in Birmingham, Mrs May will set out three reasons why the party’s 150,000 members should choose her, saying: ‘First, we need a bold, new, positive vision for the future of our country … that works for everyone – not just the privileged few. Second, we need to unite our party and our country.
‘And third, our country needs strong, proven leadership – to steer us through this time of economic and political uncertainty – and to negotiate the best deal for Britain as we leave the European Union and forge a new role for ourselves in the world. Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it.’
Mrs May will add: ‘Right now, if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else to go to university.
‘If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. If you’re a woman, you still earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s too often not enough help to hand. If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.
‘If you’re from a working-class family, life is just much harder than many people in politics realise. You have a job, but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about mortgage rates going up. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and the quality of the local school, because there’s no other choice for you.
‘These are the reasons why, under my leadership, the Conservative Party will put itself – completely, absolutely, unequivocally – at the service of working people.’
Aides last night said of the pay reforms: ‘This isn’t about putting a limit on executive pay, but making sure that it is linked to the performance of a company.’
Mrs May, the favourite to become prime minister after securing the support of 199 Tory MPs, now also has the overwhelming backing of Tory Party association chairmen.
Of 127 who answered a poll by the BBC’s The World This Weekend, 70 said they were definitely voting for the Home Secretary. This compared to 27 for her rival Andrea Leadsom.
In addition, two of the party’s most senior Brexit campaigners – Chris Grayling and David Davis – have backed Mrs May to secure Britain’s borders and take the country out of the EU.
Mr Davis said she had re-assured him that controlling immigration was more important than retaining access to the single market.
The former Tory leadership contender – who was last night being tipped for a major job in a May government – was exiled by David Cameron and has not held a ministerial post in the past six years, despite remaining popular with members.
Liam Fox, the ex-defence secretary who threw his weight behind Mrs May after being knocked out of the race himself, is also tipped for a job.
Cabinet minister Chris Grayling said he was confident Mrs May would have Britain out of the EU by 2020 at the latest. He told the BBC: ‘She’s said that we will trigger Article 50 around the end of this year. There is then a two-year time frame and the next general election is 2020. So I can’t see any circumstances in which we wouldn’t have [left] by 2020.’