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In a subsequent interview, she told Robinson that her principal motive for entering politics was to correct “injustice”. If she had been asked to explain how she defined injustice, and what made the difference between an unjust society and a just one, I think she would have struggled to do it. This is not just because it is hard for anyone, even an accomplished political philosopher, to sum up the nature of political justice in a sound-bite. It is also because she hasn’t got a worked out view on the matter. She could respond with the usual platitude that everyone agrees to: it’s unjust that some people are not able to fulfil their potential and others are, and how she would like to achieve a society where everyone could do so. This not an idea which enables anyone to define a clear notion of social justice, or even to summon up a political vision that differentiates Conservatives from Socialists. But I don’t think an interviewer would get anything much more sophisticated or elaborate from Mrs May.

If you asked Mrs Thatcher that question, you got a lecture on the nature of human freedom and its relation to justice. Mrs Thatcher knew exactly what she thought made one set of arrangements fairer than another, and she was very eager to demolish what she thought were phoney claims that some costly government programme was a requirement of social justice. That was why she made comments such as “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” She thought that most political programmes to transform society in the name of social justice turned out to involve sacrificing some people’s interests for the benefit of others. Talk of “social goals” or “the overall social good” was a way of covering that up. We had obligations to take care of ourselves, and to help other people. We had no obligation to an abstract entity called “society”, because it doesn’t exist.

Theresa May would never make that sort of claim. Her lack of a Thatcherite ideology — or indeed any ideology at all — is not necessarily a bad thing. It makes her undogmatic, pragmatic and flexible, and willing to tailor policies to circumstances, virtues which Mrs Thatcher certainly did not have, at least in her later years. Mrs May looks for what works, not what fits with a preconceived set of ideas. That’s why she is now going to be able to ditch the policies which are thought to have led to the Conservatives losing seats at the recent election, and to adopt others which she and others think will win those seats back.

When she is convinced that her cause is right, Theresa May can be very determined, even obstinate. It is a tribute to her resolution that the loathsome Abu Qatada was finally deported back to Jordan for trial. She must have been told a thousand times that it couldn’t be done, that the Human Rights Act made it impossible to deport Qatada to a country where he faced the risk of being tortured or having evidence extracted by torture used against him. Many ministers would have just accepted that advice and moved on to something else. She refused to accept it. Her insistence that a way could be found to send Qatada back never faltered, and was eventually crowned with spectacular success.

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