THERESA May’s speech this week finally brought an end to Britain’s short-lived David Cameron phase. Cameron only had six years as Prime Minister. But, credit where credit’s due, the man really defined a generation.

In recent years, I often found myself sighing and muttering, “Welcome to Cameron’s Britain”. I still do, because saying it feels really cathartic (try it). For example, you see a seagull eating a dead pigeon carcass off a dirty pavement: “Cameron’s Britain”. The privatised train carriage is rammed full after endless cancellations, a commuter with a buggy can’t board and she’s forced to wait helplessly on the platform: “Cameron’s Britain”. Councillors earnestly debate whether to cut special needs services or school buses, with zero possibility of saving both: “Cameron’s Britain”.

Cameron’s Britain wasn’t just the phase of shoddiness, moral indifference and small-minded nastiness that we called “austerity”. Cameron’s Britain was about our collective failure to combat this horror. In Cameron’s Britain you felt frozen, seeing the signs of a dystopian failed state everywhere but feeling powerless to stop the rot.

Morally, Cameron’s Britain made it fashionable to sneer at the poor and the weak. Social class was the obvious dividing line. Cameron’s personal lack of interest in poverty, indeed his downright hostility to society’s so-called “losers”, was obvious even to his closest friends and allies. The man was certainly elitist. But not intellectually elitist: he stood for the elite of money and breeding, not the elite of thinking. Indeed, Cameron is a perfect example of how greed corrodes intellectual life as well as moral status.

Unlike the Tory Right, Cameron wasn’t obsessed with Europe. He promised the EU referendum out of sheer opportunism, never imagining that the electorate would turn against him. Cameron’s mind was too trivial to imagine that anyone could muster deep feelings about sovereignty.

Now, I suppose, we’re past “Cameron’s Britain” and we’re into something else. Theresa May’s Britain? Maybe it’s a bit early for that. But clearly there’s a pretty major shift, not between right and left, but within the right-wing bloc that runs the country. May called this a “quiet revolution” and “a once-in-a-generation chance to change the direction of our nation for good”.

First, and most obviously, Theresa May talked about Brexit, confirming that this would be a major shift in British politics (”hard Brexit”). May signalled her determination to see Brexit through even if it crashes the economy. To build the moral consensus for hard economic times ahead, she will turn to external enemies like Brussels and immigrants. To a lesser extent, she will also turn English voters against Scottish nationalists.

Many people see “hard right-wing” sentiment in May’s speech. This is half true. Certainly, May is instinctively authoritarian, heavily so. She made a career out of opposing Human Rights law, and now promotes explicitly xenophobic dirge.

However, May also attacked bosses who reward themselves at the expense of their staff, companies who cheat taxes, and directors who make massive dividends while knowing the company is going bust. She talked about the “good government can do” and rejected the “libertarian right”. She talked about “shifting the balance of Britain decisively in favour of ordinary working class people”. If Corbyn said those words at a Labour conference, the liberal press would be groaning about “ultra-leftism”.

May therefore stands on similar ground to Donald Trump in America, without the explicit sexism. She’s aiming to speak to working class voters who have been treated with indifference by “left-wing” parties pursuing middle class respectability. She’s trying to paint the Left as snobbish, stuffy and politically correct. And if anything stands for the Left’s snobbishness, stuffiness and political correctness, it’s the European Union.

The biggest variance between May’s UK and Cameron’s Britain is on the question of cuts. Of course, austerity will continue in practice. But the “morality” of austerity, the shoddy indifference of “Cameron’s Britain”, will end. The poor will have a role: and for May, she will make them the grassroots of a new British nationalism.

In Cameron’s Britain, poor people were cast as pariahs. They were forgotten, sent to the margins, and stigmatised by brutal regimes of poverty tests and benefit sanctions. Theresa May’s new order is equally authoritarian, but different. Austerity was always an ideological project designed to impose a free market vision on Britain. The Tories have now realised they can’t afford the project anymore, socially, politically or economically. So, having spent six years beating the poor to a pulp, the Tories under May are now grabbing them by the lapels, shaking them up and urging them to behave like “jolly good chaps”.

Cameron’s Britain made heroes out of oligarchs and shit celebrities, wastrels who never worked for a living. May’s Britain will be about compassion for the conservative working class who have suffered the brunt of free market globalisation, or so she hopes.

Theresa May’s new regime is probably the last thing Ruth Davidson wanted. The Tories’ main argument up north is that nationalists spend too much time harking on about constitution and not enough time fixing the economy. They’ve been proved right. The British nationalists around May, that is to say, have harked on about Europe and have put Britain’s whole economic model – with all its tremendous flaws – in jeopardy. So, bang goes the whole Scottish Tory narrative. It’s dead in the water. Scottish Labour, meanwhile, spend all their time shamelessly undermining Jeremy Corbyn.

The political grounds for Scottish independence have never looked stronger. Yes, we’ve got our own economic problems; it’s pointless denying them. We shouldn’t lose our own critical faculties and we should rigorously interrogate our own arguments to make sure that independence works for the poorest in society. But the case for Britain looks faintly desperate. Theresa May can’t turn the Tories into moral crusaders for the working class. She can, however, destroy the Tories’ undeserved reputation for economic competence. And as “hard Brexit” begins to take its toll, I think she probably will.