MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May set out her quest to tackle social and racial injustice on Tuesday, hoping to shift the focus of her Conservative party’s annual conference away from rifts over Britain’s exit from the European Union and her leadership.
After a bruising start to the party’s annual meeting in the city of Manchester, May will try to reset the agenda after remarks on Brexit policy by foreign minister Boris Johnson that deepened divisions in her top team of advisers.
She said an audit will be published on Oct. 10 spelling out the “uncomfortable truths” of life in Britain, showing how people of different racial backgrounds are treated in the health, education, employment and the criminal justice system.
Her ministers will also announce policies to try to prove critics wrong and show that her government is working, including measures to toughen sentences of people streaming or browsing extremist material, and to increase nurse training.
“In doing this ground-breaking work we are holding a mirror up to our society,” May said in a statement.
“My most fundamental political belief is that how far you go in life should be based on your talent and how hard you work – and nothing else.”
But in early morning broadcast interviews, May was repeatedly asked about her relationship with Johnson after he set out four personal red lines for the Brexit negotiations to unravel more than 40 years of union.
“I don’t set red lines,” May told BBC television, describing her cabinet of top ministers as united over Brexit.
“Leadership is about ensuring that you have a team of people who aren’t yes men, but a team of people of different voices around the table so that we can discuss matters, come to an agreement and then put that government view forward, and that is exactly what we’ve done.”
May promised to build a “country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few” when she became prime minister just over a year ago after Britons voted narrowly to leave the EU and her predecessor David Cameron stepped down.
But she has had to shelve many of her domestic policies – such as social care and corporate reforms – since losing the Conservatives’ majority in parliament in a June election. That setback has undermined the party’s confidence in her ability to lead it into the next election, due in 2022.
The preliminary findings of the audit showed that the unemployment rate for black, Asian and minority ethnic people of working age is nearly double that for white groups, while more than nine in 10 headteachers are white, the government said.
The findings, the government says, can help better target training and mentoring programmes.
“The idea itself is not new,” May said.
“Charles Booth’s maps of rich and poor areas in Victorian London drew attention to hardship that was too often hidden – but this focus on how ethnicity affects people’s lives will present findings that are uncomfortable.”
Additional reporting by Kate Holton and William James; Editing by Mark Heinrich