Theresa May shifts her party toward the center

Updated: 2016-10-06 16:43


  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small

Theresa May shifts her party toward the center

British Prime Minister Theresa May sits in her hotel room as she prepares her conference speech. [Photo by Carl Court/Reuters]

The United Kingdom's new prime minister, Theresa May, took advantage of upheaval among political opponents to shift her Conservative Party toward the center-and promised a stronger, more confident Britain that will take advantage of the Brexit to build trade relationships with major countries, including China.

In her first speech to the annual Conservative Party conference since taking over from David Cameron as prime minister in July, May said major infrastructure projects-such as the HS2 high-speed south-to-north rail link, for which Chinese companies hope to bid-will go ahead. So, too, will the construction of a third runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick airports, she said.

May told a cheering crowd she wanted to see a stable, confident Britain that can take advantage of its departure from the European Union to negotiate trade deals worldwide. She specifically mentioned China, saying the West Midlands-where her party conference was staged-was the only part of the UK that has a trade surplus with China.

China got another oblique mention when May said her government had approved the Hinkley Point Cnuclear power station, which has significant Chinese investment. She said she wanted to "make a big decision because the economy is strong".

May said her government will seize the center ground of UK politics-a reference to former prime minister Tony Blair, who rebranded the traditional left-wing Labour Party as New Labour, claiming the center and staying in office for an unprecedented three terms.

By contrast, the Labour Party has elected a far-left veteran activist, Jeremy Corbyn, as its leader. Analysts say that makes it unlikely Labour will succeed in a general election for years.

Other struggling parties include the Liberal Democrats, who shared power with the Conservatives in a five-year coalition until 2015 but whose 57 seats were slashed to a mere eight in the 2015 election that brought David Cameron to power.

UKIP, the fringe party that has only one elected parliament member, joined with rebel Conservatives to campaign successfully for Britain to leave the EU in June's referendum but is now in turmoil.