Theresa May was a "Margaret Thatcher clone" who never pushed her own agenda during her tenure as a councillor for Merton, in south London. The newly-anointed prime minister and Conservative Party leader spent eight years as a councillor for the borough before overcoming two election defeats to finally became an MP in 1997.

After working for the Bank of England between 1977 and 1983, May was elected to the council, which encompasses Wimbledon, where she once lived with husband Philip May, in 1986. She was chairman of education (1988–90) before serving as deputy group leader and housing spokesman (1992–94).

Merton council tweeted their congratulations to May after Andrea Leadsom's shock withdrawal from the race to succeed David Cameron paved the way for the home secretary to move into Number 10.

Geraldine Stanford, who shared the Town Hall with May, told IBTimes UK what it was like to be sat opposite the new PM. Stanford was one of the new Labour councillors elected in 1990 when the party took back control from the Tories.

Geraldine Stanford
Geraldine Stanford recalled Theresa May's time as a councillor

She joked how she regretted the council had kick-started the political career of a Tory minister and recalled how May opposed almost everything Labour proposed.

"She was never vocal about things specifically and did not put herself forward," Stanford, who is still a councillor, said.

"She just got on with whatever she was given. We always felt in the Labour group that she was kind of a Margaret Thatcher clone. Whether she will continue that that strong approach as prime minister, who knows?

"I think she wants to be inclusive but we have already seen her determination after she clearly said she was going to follow through on Brexit."

As the Conservative Party get used to life under a new leader, Labour finds itself in revolt after former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle announced her bid to supplant Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Whoever prevails, Stanford predicted a rough time for the new leader of the opposition.

"By the time I joined the council in 1990, Theresa had already been a councillor for some years." she added. "When we took over that year she joined the rest of the Tories to oppose us. At the time Labour was trying to stagger on trying to clear up the various messes that the Tories had made.

"I think the Tories were pretty miffed at being ousted after something like 13 years in power and she carried on trying to oppose everything we put forward. But I would not say she made any more enemies than other councillors."

Conservative councillor Oonagh Moulton, who missed out on serving alongside May but campaigned alongside her, said the local party branch was "thrilled and excited" she got the top job in British politics. She said May had a track record of delivering on what she promised and should not be known as "Thatcher number two".

"She is very much rooted in the community and that is why, 30 years later, people still recall her and what she did for them," Moulton said. "Theresa would not just say something, she would follow through on it. She is not a soundbite politician. She wants to get the job done."

On those Thatcher comparisons, Moulton said there were similarities between the new PM and the Iron Lady. "Theresa is pragmatic,"Moulton added. "She said herself there would be comparisons to Thatcher but I think she was unique.

"Margaret Thatcher, for me, was a strong woman who would not have wanted to be copied and I don't think Theresa would want to be compared to her. Theresa May is her own person, she is someone who you can't pin a label to. She's not right wing or left wing.

"Both of them are strong, opinionated and good at making decisions. Like Thatcher, Theresa has a supportive husband by her side but she will not want to be known as Thatcher number two."