After her first week in office, Theresa May has yet to put a well-heeled foot wrong. In any new job, first impressions are everything and May has ticked almost every box: she’s appeared confident, assured, relaxed, and authoritative – not an easy combination to pull off. And she had a busy week, with a vote on Trident, international trips and meetings with European leaders. But her biggest challenge by far was her first Prime Ministers Questions. Not only because it was this performance at home, rather than her diplomatic encounters abroad, that would be watched more closely by the British press and her political fans and foes alike, but because it would be the first real test for Theresa May outside of her comfort zone.
After six years as Home Secretary, we know that Theresa May can hold her own on a major stage and can command Parliament on matters of national importance. We’re used to seeing a serious politician, in control of her brief and with a laser-like focus on the core issues. What we’ve never seen from her, is the kind of wit and speed of delivery required at PMQs, the willingness to relentlessly and brutally sling mud or worse at your opponent, all whilst firing up the MPs on the benches behind you, and giving them reason to cheer. All eyes were watching to see which May would we would get: the one we are used to, or something different?
Well, we got both. She was herself – controlled and precise – but she was different too. She went on the attack, pulled no punches and totally wiped the floor with Jeremy Corbyn. She was witty, ruthless and also slightly terrifying. If Corbyn thought he might get an easier ride with May than he did with Cameron, to whom the sneering superiority of PMQs came pretty easy, he can think again. Her performance rallied her backbenchers no end, whilst those on the Opposition benches became quieter and quieter, unsafe in the knowledge that when it comes to PMQs, May will only get better.
There is no doubt that Theresa May faces enormous challenges over the coming weeks, months and years. Economic figures that emerged this week show British business confidence has been knocked hard, and PMQs is not the be all and end all. But she started as she means to go on – fully in command.