After the dust settles, Theresa May emerges to lead the UK

The World
Britain's new Prime Minister Theresa May

Britain's new prime minister is Theresa May.

Neil Hall/Reuters

For the second time in the nation's history, the UK will be led by a woman — and as it was the first time with Margaret Thatcher, that woman will be from the Conservative Party.

Former Home Secretary Theresa May will take office following the resignation of David Cameron in the aftermath of the decision by UK voters to leave the European Union.

Other candidates for the leadership fell away after a series of political betrayals and unexpected reversals. In contrast to more flamboyant politicians like Boris Johnson, May is known for as a competent and low-key performer.

"She's a very steady politician, she's very calm," says the BBC's Jane Garvey. "Some people might say she lacks charisma — but I think that is about the harshest thing you could throw at her."

May has served for years as the Home Secretary, a post with responsibility for policing and anti-terrorism legislation. Traditionally, it has been a post that has ended careers: Many of the decisions a Home Secretary is forced to make are highly divisive and unpopular.

Although a Conservative Party member, May attracted praise from many liberals for her decision to confront Britain's police union over the issue of racial discrimination and police brutality. Garvey believes this speech transformed her image as a politician.

"She basically told them they had to get their act together. ... She said change your ways — and if you don't I will change them for you. There's no doubt this is something that she is prepared to tackle."

According to Garvey, May's gender has received suprisingly little comment in the British media. "It depends on the generations," say Garvey. "When I was a 14-year-old school girl in 1979, I stayed up all night to see Margaret Thatcher become Britain's first female prime minister. But my teenage daughters? To them, it's just 'yeah, why not?' We can't quite see what the problem is."