Theresa May .jpg
British Home Secretary Theresa May speaks in central London, Britain, 16 June 2016 following the death of Labour MP Jo Cox, who died after being shot and stabbed in the street outside her constituency advice surgery in Birstall, West Yorkshire.
Photograph: EPA/PHILIP TOSCANO / PA UK AND IRELAND OUT

Home Secretary Theresa May is set to begin her term as Britain's first female leader since fellow Conservative Margaret Thatcher left office in 1990.

Inevitably, some British and international media have dubbed her another "iron lady" like Thatcher. Others have pointed to her biographical similarities with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

With a sometimes stern demeanor, her reputation as a strict upholder of law and order, and a love of fine shoes, May, 59, has plenty of friends in the ruling Conservative Party.

Her strength of character is epitomized for many by a confrontational speech to a hostile, male-dominated audience of Police Federation members in 2014.

May told the police officers their working culture must change. She cited officers who, while investigating a woman's report of domestic violence, "accidentally recorded themselves calling the victim a 'slag' and a 'bitch'."

"It is the same attitude expressed when young black men ask the police why they are being stopped and searched and are told it is 'just routine'," May said, adding that such an attitude "betrays contempt for the public these officers are supposed to serve."

May will need similar fortitude if she is to fulfil her promise of pushing ahead with a Brexit while keeping Britain in the European single market but increasing control over EU migration - something that most EU leaders have said is off the negotiating table.

She supported David Cameron's failed campaign for Britain to vote to remain in the European Union in last month's referendum, but she kept a low profile in the campaigning.

The Oxford-educated home secretary started her career at the central bank, the Bank of England, and entered politics by volunteering for her local Conservative Association.

The daughter of a Church of England vicar, she has been married since 1980 and has no children. She announced in 2013 that she has type-1 diabetes.

May was elected to parliament to represent the southern English constituency of Maidenhead in 1997 and still lives in the area, according to her official biography.

She first joined the Conservatives' shadow cabinet in 1999, rising to home secretary in a Cameron-led coalition government following a general election in 2010.

May says she has led the government's work to "free up the police to fight crime more effectively, secure the borders and reduce immigration, and protect the UK from terrorism."

But she has been criticized for failing to keep her government's promise to reduce Britain's annual net migration to below 100,000.

In a campaign speech on Monday, she largely avoided migration, which many analysts believe was a crucial issue in the Brexit referendum.

She mentioned only that "some have found themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration."

In 2014, the Financial Times said May, like Merkel, is a "non-ideological politician with a ruthless streak who gets on with the job."

May told other media she has a passion for cricket, cookery books and cooking, and was a "goody two shoes" at school.

And, while neither welcoming nor rejecting comparisons to Merkel, she clearly respects the German chancellor.

"If you look at somebody like Angela Merkel and think of what she's actually achieved, you know, there are still people who don't rate her, are a bit dismissive, perhaps because of the way she looks and dresses. And she goes walking in the Tyrol and all that sort of stuff," May told The Telegraph in 2012.

"What matters is, what has she actually done?" May said. "And, when you look at her abilities in terms of negotiation, and steering Germany through a difficult time, then hats off to her."

The Guardian has called May "inscrutable" and a "sober-minded politician who also happens to like shoes."

She seemed to confirm that image when she announced her leadership candidacy on June 30 wearing a pair of black, high-heeled shoes with a dark blue and green tartan trouser suit.

May told reporters she was "not a showy politician."

"I don't tour the television studios. I don't gossip about people over lunch," she said. "I don't go drinking in parliament's bars."

"I don't often wear my heart on my sleeve," May said. "I just get on with the job in front of me."

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