UK Politics

One word in defence of Andrea Leadsom

BY Iain Martin | iainmartin1   /  9 July 2016

After the events of the last week – and Reaction breaking the news about concerns over Andrea Leadsom’s CV – I might be thought the last person suitable to offer one word in her defence. But these are unusual times, so here is one word in her defence: withdraw. Here’s two: withdraw immediately. Here’s eighteen: withdraw immediately from the Tory leadership race, you are out of your depth and you are scaring Britain.

Leadsom is – despite ‎the criticism raining down on her head over her comments in The Times about Theresa May’s childless status – a nice person, and one of her friends needs to have a word urgently. Withdrawing would save her from more scrutiny and pressure which will only intensify, a lot. This summer a Prime Minister is being chosen. That being the case, the idea the media or the voters should tip-toe around this as though she is a vulnerable work experience person is nuts.

It is glaringly obvious that Andrea Leadsom is completely unprepared to become Prime Minister, and it is an act of cruelty to push her forward for it. The press has only started on her CV. When her old boss defends her as completely truthful in relation to her spell at Invesco Perpetual one can only marvel that until recently she had listed herself as having the top person’s job title. That may be an honest mix-up, which she recently corrected when pressed.

Worse, I suspect, is what is to emerge about the Barings weekend in early 1995, for which Leadsom has created the misleading impression she was some kind of leading player. Many hundreds of staff in banks and firms across the City were called in that weekend, to check exposures and call clients. The real action was in the room at the Bank of England with the Governor. No-one I can find – having just finished a book on the City – can remember her in the room, or recall her being meaningfully involved at the highest level. Yet her quotes in the Commons and elsewhere made it sound quite clearly as though she was a key player that weekend alongside Eddie George.

On the question of row about the The Times interview, the last thing that a new candidate with limited experience should be doing is giving an interview to Rachel Sylvester, one half of the duo that a former Fleet Street political editor of my acquintance used to term “The Dangerous Sisters.” It is a journalistic compliment. Rachel and Alice Thompson are highly skilled interviewers who have a gift for getting people to burble on until they say somethig highly revealing.

Having agreed to the interview, the moment they approached the question of motherhood, Leadsom should have been on her guard. Here be dragons. This is a transcript of what ensued:

Rachel Sylvester: Do you feel like a mum in politics?

Andrea Leadsom: Yes. So…

RS: Why and how?

AL: So really carefully because I am sure, I don’t really know Theresa very well but I am sure she will be really really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’ because I think that would be really horrible. But genuinely I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children, who are going to have children, who will directly be a part of what happens next. So it really keeps you focused on ‘what are you really saying?’. Because what it means is you don’t want a downturn but ‘never mind, let’s look ahead to the ten years’, hence it will all be fine. My children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.

Leadsom’s comments were incredibly naive, and not in a nice way. Those who have no children but who wanted them – or who have one child when they may have wanted more – are well used to the casual insensitivity of some – some – of those with large broods. It is almost always men who blunder here, revelling in their fertility and good fortune and forgetting that ‎their words can cut others like a knife. I note that on social media those defending Leadsom’s claim that being a mother gives her an advantage as a potential Prime Minister seem mainly to be angry, shouty Ukippy men going on about political correctness gone mad.

Lots of less boastful and more modest Britons, I suspect, will hear the Leadsom latest and wince or worse. At a moment when the UK needs experienced leadership, the Tories have contrived to put someone unsuited in a position where she has a chance of becoming Prime Minister in September. Leadsom’s failure in that interview was a failure of manners and basic common sense, illustrating again that she is a novice being used by the Tory Right for its own purposes.

As I said, she would be better off withdrawing.