UK: Key figures

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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Politics, Summary, Background, Political forces at a glance
Political Geography
United Kingdom

Theresa May

Mrs May has been the leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister of the UK since July 2016, when she was chosen by her party to succeed David Cameron, who resigned in the wake of his failure to win the referendum on EU membership that he had called. Mrs May had previously served as home secretary for six years, a remarkable feat in a role that has damaged or destroyed many careers. Her longevity as home secretary came despite her repeated failure to hit her own targets for reducing net migration to the UK-an issue that had a big influence on the outcome of the EU referendum. During the referendum campaign Mrs May formally supported the UK staying in the EU, but communicated sufficient ambiguity as to her true beliefs to position herself as a leader able to bridge the divide in the party between "leavers" and "remainers" once Mr Cameron resigned. Having insisted that she would not call an early election, as the country needed stability, Mrs May went back on her word and called a snap poll for June 8th 2017. She will aim to increase her government's parliamentary majority to give her a freer hand in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. Although many of her statements during her first eight months in office suggest a preference for a "hard" version of Brexit, during negotiations she may seek to achieve a more nuanced compromise in which she accepts elements of continued EU jurisdiction in return for a trade agreement with the EU.

Philip Hammond

Before being promoted as chancellor of the exchequer by Mrs May, Mr Hammond held a series of positions under Mr Cameron, the most recent of which was foreign secretary. Mr Hammond is a much more traditional chancellor than his predecessor, George Osborne, who tended to blur the distinction between economic policy and party-political strategy, until he was undone by the result of the EU referendum. Mr Hammond will prioritise stability in order to mitigate the risks entailed by the process of taking the UK out of the EU. In the short term we expect this to involve a loosening of fiscal policy to support economic activity. Over the medium term, however, the new chancellor's "small-c" conservative instincts are likely to lead him to tighten again as the budget deficit begins to widen. Mr Hammond had to make an embarrassing budget U-turn in March 2017 after his proposed national insurance tax increase for the self-employed triggered a backlash among Conservative Party members and more widely.

David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson

Mrs May has made it clear that all major decisions about the UK's withdrawal from the EU will be settled by her office. Nevertheless, she appointed three high-profile "leavers" to the most important ministries, in which they will be expected to drive the Brexit process forward. Mr Davis heads a Department for Exiting the EU, Mr Fox is responsible for international trade and Mr Johnson is foreign secretary. This makes for an unorthodox-and unclear-division of labour in a pivotal policy area. Within three months of taking office public statements by all three had been contradicted by Mrs May, suggesting that policymaking in this area might sometimes lack clarity. This raises potential risks for the government in terms of effectiveness, but having supporters of Brexit in prominent positions will help Mrs May to fend off accusations of betrayal if the eventual UK-EU deal involves contentious compromises.

Jeremy Corbyn

A self-described democratic socialist, Mr Corbyn is the most left-wing politician to lead the main opposition Labour Party since the 1980s. He was resoundingly elected by the party's members in September 2015, and resoundingly re-elected by them in September 2016 following an attempt to oust him by his party's parliamentarians, most of whom are centrists and many of whom have refused to serve under him. Mr Corbyn has encouraged a surge in Labour's membership, comprised largely of young people who see in him an authenticity that more polished mainstream politicians lack. However, both Mr Corbyn and the Labour Party's membership are out of touch with the wider UK electorate, and the party appears to be heading for a disastrous performance in the June 2017 general election, ushering in a period of prolonged Conservative government. Labour's problem is that there is no obvious candidate to replace Mr Corbyn who might be capable of reviving the party's fortunes.

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