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Britain's Mrs Merkel

By Tim Montgomerie
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May in handbag1

The new Margaret Thatcher? The Home Secretary is getting lots of praise at the moment. Benedict Brogan has blogged about her "irresistible rise". The Express' Patrick O'Flynn has Tweeted about "an outbreak of Theresa May-nia". I've been an admirer of Mrs May for some time. I don't see her as a future leader but I do see her as a marathon runner and installed her in my 2020 fantasy cabinet, partly out of respect for her political stamina. Despite the handbag cartoon above it's not the Iron Lady, however, that Mrs May most reminds me of.

If you want someone to act quickly and theatrically then Theresa May is not your kind of politician. She is Britain's Mrs Merkel: unshowy, not particularly flamboyant but reliable, steady, solid and very hard-working. Yesterday, announcing that Britain would opt out of 130 EU law and order measures she was greeted by Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers as a heroine. "What a star we have in the Home Secretary," said the hard-to-impress Peter Bone. "Terrorists are sent home," he exclaimed, referring to Abu Hamza, and "powers are brought back from Europe." "What more can she do?," he asked with hope and expectation in his voice. She gave Mr Bone her answer to that today. She blocked the extradition to America of Gary McKinnon and gave her explanation to the House of Commons:

"Since I came into office, the sole issue on which I have been required to make a decision is whether Mr McKinnon's extradition to the United States would breach his human rights. Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes. But there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill. He has Asperger's syndrome, and suffers from depressive illness. The legal question before me is now whether the extent of that illness is sufficient to preclude extradition. After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that Mr McKinnon's extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon's human rights."

In his blog Ben Brogan says that we don't know much about Mrs May's wider political philosophy, Yes, he writes, she's an outspoken supporter of homosexual equality but what else? What's her view on the European Union generally? I certainly didn't put her in 'my Gove-ian group of eight'. What's her view on the size of the state and supply-side economics? Or decentralisation? We don't have many clues to Mrs May's politics - partly because she focuses on her brief and partly because she doesn't do much chit-chatting with journalists or colleagues. Her speech to party conference did give some clues to her overall steeliness, however. The civil liberties lobby inside the Coalition is powerful but she made it clear that she's more Michael Howard than David Davis when it comes to security issues:

"Organised criminals, paedophile rings and terrorists are taking advantage of new technologies, communicating using internet phone services and even video games. That's why we want to legislate to give the police access to the same information for internet communications as they already have for telephones. Some say this is a charter for state snooping. I say it's a nightmare for criminals.  
The power would only be available when it's necessary and proportionate, under the supervision of a senior officer. It would be regulated and overseen by independent watchdogs. And remember, we're talking about who contacted whom, when and where, nothing more.  
So let's be clear: I don't want to read everybody's emails. As Home Secretary I've strengthened civil liberty safeguards - not weakened them.
But do we want to see criminals take advantage of new technologies? No. Do we want to see the internet become an unpoliced space?  No.  Do we want to see terrorists, criminals and paedophiles get away scot-free?  No.  
We are the Conservative Party, not the Libertarian Party. As Conservatives, we believe the first duty of government is to protect the public.  That is why the Conservative Party will always be the party of law and order."

There's a lot more to Mrs Theresa May than leopard-skinned Russell and Bromleys. She is Britain's Mrs Merkel. Albeit a bit more Eurosceptic than Germany's Chancellor.

> 5.30pm Video: Responding to the Home Secretary's Commons statement, David Burrowes MP says McKinnon decision is victory for compassion and pre-election promises.


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