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Iron Lady Theresa May showed her steel in week that would break others

From Vogue fashion shoot to defiance in the face of terrorism, Theresa May is a Prime Minister for all seasons

By Rosamund Urwin

This has been a week of contrasts for Theresa May. It started with style - her interview with US Vogue was published alongside a much-scrutinised fashion shoot - and ended in solemnity: on Wednesday night she addressed the nation about the Westminster terrorist attack, before reportedly visiting some of the wounded at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital yesterday.

Praise has been heaped on the Prime Minister for her handling of the aftermath of the atrocity, especially her speech to Parliament on Thursday, in which she declared the country was "not afraid". "Our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism," she told the Commons. "We know that democracy and the values it entails will always prevail."

Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, called her words "both unifying and defiant", while her own party was similarly effusive. Nusrat Ghani, the MP for Wealden, said: "She displayed a calm strength and a pride in our values which is resolute."

Amy Gray, a Conservative candidate who ran in Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 2015, added: "On Wednesday night I was feeling quite wobbly. My office overlooks Big Ben, and so I had been evacuated from the building. And then the PM came on and struck exactly the right tone. This was spine-stiffening stuff: we will go to work, we will get on the trains.

"I think when you hear Theresa saying that, it comes from the weight of six years as Home Secretary. She knows who is out there, and if she is carrying on as usual, we should be too."

Even though Westminster was in lockdown, May insisted on going to her weekly audience with the Queen on Wednesday evening, telling her aides she would not be cowed by terror, and leaving Downing Street at 6pm.

Resham Kotecha, who has worked with May for almost five years at Women2Win, an organisation May co-founded, believes the PM's best attributes shone through this week.

"She is not the type of Prime Minister who will charm the pants off you, but she is the kind who will lead this country with strength," she said. "She was so calm, which is what London needed from her, and her strength was infectious."

Julian Knight, the Tory MP for Solihull, agreed: "She is very prime ministerial. There's a solemnity to her character which is becoming in that post at a time like this."

Knight supported May in last year's leadership contest from the beginning: "After the Brexit vote, she was what was needed - she had gravitas."

During any leadership campaign, MPs come knocking, asking candidates what they will receive in return for their backing. "Theresa said 'nothing'," recalled a Tory MP. "She cut through the crap and said, 'I'm the best person for the job - you should support me in the interests of the country.' And she was right. She was the only adult in the room."

Even now, May remains a relative unknown, here and abroad. If asked about her interests, most voters would probably only mention her colourful kitten heels.

Her interview with US Vogue was about honing her image and putting our Brexit PM in the international spotlight.

"This was a great way to make her accessible, to show her human side," said Kotecha. "And it was reaching out to a different group who won't be watching Question Time every week."

While we had the three stages of her predecessor David Cameron - the hug-a-hoodie caring Conservative, the PR-led leader with his tight inner circle and finally the over-ambitious gambler - May's image is solid, not built on shifting foundations. "Good governance is at its heart," said a Tory MP. "Quite a counterpoint in this media age."

May remains untested at a general election and ruled out calling a snap vote that could have put to bed questions about her legitimacy.

She not only hasn't gone to the country, though - she didn't even get the nod from the membership, since her rival Andrea Leadsom (who is whispered to be relieved not to be PM now) dropped out.

But many Conservatives believe that despite being a reluctant Remainer (if now a Brexiteer with all the zeal of the convert), she would have won the backing of the membership.

"I phoned up 15 of my senior, party-member constituents when candidates were emerging," an MP said. "Thirteen went with Theresa. If it had gone to a vote, I'm sure Theresa would have won, even against Boris, because Brexit had changed the job description."

Gray added that she was "TM for PM all the way- there were a lot of us quietly mobilising, making phone calls and planning events for her".

This reflects May's loyal following among women. A number of political journalists have said she lacks the network that helped bring Cameron to power.

But perhaps those journalists weren't looking in the right place: May may not have many parliamentary pub buddies, but she does have disciples.

"Many female MPs wouldn't be where they are without May," said Gray. "At the last party conference, she made sure to be at the Women2Win reception and everyone was thrilled. She was treated like a rock star there."

When Kotecha stood in Dulwich and West Norwood in 2015, May spoke at her fundraiser. "Theresa networks differently from many MPs," she said. "She is reserved, but very supportive. She doesn't shout about the work she does supporting female MPs and candidates. She's been doing that for 11 years - back then, getting women ahead in politics was not a fashionable cause. The work she did there was often with no credit publicly."

Surviving six years as Home Secretary - the poisoned chalice of ministerial briefs - is a feat. "It's a huge job, and it's not flashy," noted Gray. "A lot of it we don't see, like with MI5 and the police, what they do to keep us safe."

Gray thinks - though poles apart politically - that May is in character like Clement Attlee. "His leadership style was 'let's get on with the job'," she said. "And he rose through the ranks as May did. She started as a councillor, then was a backbench MP, then Home Secretary."

Kotecha thinks this week will mean the nation understands May better: "I'm pleased the country is getting behind her - that's what she deserves."

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