Theresa May becomes UK Prime Minister: 10 things she should do now

Prime Minister Theresa MayReuters

Theresa May is Prime Minister. The second woman to do the job, she has been Conservative Home Secretary for the past six years, after a long career in politics. At 59, she takes on the job with a wealth of experience. So what should she do now? Here are 10 ideas she should implement.

1. Address the persecution of Christians

This is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. From Iraq to North Korea and from Nigeria to Pakistan, there are sisters and brothers living in fear of their lives. Violence is an almost daily occurrence.

This is not a natural state of affairs. Politicians can do much to improve it and they must act. Theresa May can show bold leadership by giving a ministerial brief to someone whose job would include the promotion of religious tolerance and freedom across the globe, as well as championing specific interventions on behalf of persecuted Christians – especially in former British colonies such as India.

2. Create an immigration and asylum commission

UK rhetoric around immigration is, at times, poisonous. The prime minister herself has not been innocent of incendiary actions in this area. Now though, she has a chance to end inflammatory debates and begin a proper national conversation.

A commission made up of civil society groups, businesses, charities, lawyers, community representatives and – most importantly – immigrants themselves, would be welcome.

The asylum system is also in urgent need of a review. Not only is the UK not accepting enough refugees from the Middle East, but the system is seen as cruel and arbitrary. It's time to put our Christian beliefs about welcoming the alien and stranger into practice.

3. Review arms contracts

Just yesterday, as May was settling into Downing Street, some of us were digesting the latest video from Yemen – admirably produced by the Guardian, shining a light on this dreadful war.

As I've written here, Yemen has been forgotten, but it is a bloody conflict in which British arms seem to be playing a role. Meanwhile, as I argued here, we must urgently review our relationship with Saudi Arabia – a brutal dictatorship, given the British seal of approval. An ethical foreign policy has long been promised. It must now be delivered for the sake of the world and for our safety as a country.

4. Visit Church leaders

Churches are the backbone of many communities around the country. Cuts to services have been incessant over the past six years, and churches have picked up much of the slack. Through food banks, debt advice, homeless provision and much more, churches have quietly got on with good work.

Now is the time for the Prime Minister to take the short walk across Westminster Bridge from Downing Street to visit the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace. Justin Welby could tell her not only about the fantastic work done by churches, but he would offer much needed spiritual counsel. The rest of the UK's church leaders are ready and waiting for a constructive dialogue – they want to contribute to the common good all year round, not just be sought out in election season.

Other civil society groups should be given a full hearing. Charities, unions, other faith groups and organisations have not only the right to be heard, but the ideas to build a better society.

5. Abandon austerity

The defining narrative of the Cameron years was an obsession with reducing the deficit. This was pursued through austerity politics – cutting back public services and obsessively judging almost every government policy on the basis of how it would affect the deficit. Not only did this fail on its own terms (the deficit targets were constantly changed as they were missed) but it also brought misery to some of the poorest in the UK. Disabled people were hit unfairly, communities were threatened with break up by the bedroom tax, while little was done to address the actual causes of the public debt – the banking crisis of 2007/8. In 2014 Cardinal Vincent Nichols, England and Wales' most senior Catholic leader, described the impact of welfare reform as "a disgrace".

Even more pernicious was the reduction of our national conversation to one about the deficit and our economic productiveness as people. We are so much more than units of economic production. A new direction away from austerity politics allows a fuller view of what it means to be a British citizen.

6. Borrow and invest

With interest rates at record lows around the world, there has never been a better time for the government to borrow and to build. Grand projects such as the high speed rail link between London and the North West seem to disproportionately benefit London. Instead, areas which have long been deprived in Wales, the North of England, the South West and parts of Scotland should be given transport and infrastructure programmes.

Devolving power and money out of London is vital – and boosting the local economy through investment would make devolution more than just cheap talk. Letting local communities decide on some of their own spending while retaining a national overview of infrastructure could let the UK be 'one nation' again.

7. Get out of Westminster

Although there are many urgent matters to attend to, the Prime Minister is only one person. Far better than spending every waking minute at a desk, she should take a little time to get around the country.

Not only would she be refreshed, but she may well understand parts of the country better if she spent time in them. A summer tour of the Scottish Highlands, the Welsh Valleys, the great northern cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle and a visit to the Cornish coast could do her the world of good and show her the diversity of the country she now leads.

8. Create a Department for the Common Good

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Austerity has led to the false idea that our economic value is the only measure we should use to define success. When this is writ large, we see the fractured nation we now inhabit. This has been highlighted by the Brexit vote, where metropolitan areas voted largely to remain, while the pos-tindustrial provinces voted to leave.

By creating a Department for the Common Good (probably to replace the Department for Communities and Local government) Theresa May could ensure a radical shift in power and perception. Drawing on the ideas of Catholic Social Teaching, the department would put in place real subsidiarity – devolution of power to the most local level possible. It would also recommend measures that built solidarity, from ensuring big companies pay their fair share of tax to recommending solutions to the vast housing crisis we face. May has already shown an interest in this area by proposing worker representation on company boards. An ideal minister for this department would be Jesse Norman, whose biography of Edmund Burke gives him the perfect launching pad for many of these ideas of local democracy and accountability.

9. Build our relationship with Europe, America and the rest of the world

Despite Brexit, the UK must remain outward-looking. A new relationship with Europe is evidently needed. As well as reassuring EU and other nationals resident in the UK that they will continue to enjoy our full freedoms, May can begin to redefine our relationship with the world.

We can remain a critical friend of Europe and the EU. With a new American president set to be elected, May has the chance to build on the special relationship and encourage fairer trading practices, fewer disastrous foreign wars and more co-operation on tackling disease pandemics, famines, water shortages and conflicts which remain out of the public consciousness such as South Sudan.

She can also invest in a new relationship with the Commonwealth, which has been neglected for a long time. It has the potential to be a dynamic organisation, promoting trade, co-operation and increased human rights. May must show leadership in these areas.

10. International development and climate change

The New Prime Minister has the chance to put the UK back at the forefront of the low carbon revolution. The previous administration talked a good game on climate change while pursuing policies which didn't help (such as ending feed-in tariff subsidies for home owners selling solar energy to the national grid).

May can release the full force of British entrepreneurialism, government support and scientific know-how to tackle climate change, in the interests of the whole planet and many of its poorest residents.

Tackling tax dodging is an area where David Cameron talked a good game but failed to fully deliver. Christian Aid said: "He has failed to take the action he urged on others." This is another area where May has promised action. She must deliver.

At the same time, she must ensure not only that the 0.7 per cent guarantee of GDP continues to be spent on overseas aid, but that trade, tax and other areas of policy pay more attention to the global South and the impact that the UK can have for good or ill.