Theresa May represents the experienced, pragmatic safe pair of hands in the straight choice with Leadsom.
Let us judge them by the company they keep, is an old political epithet. And if we apply it in this case it does help illuminate the twin choices for Tory leader. In the first corner we have Theresa May, supported by Hesseltine & Ken Clarke. In the second corner we have Andrea Leadsom, supported by Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard.
It isn’t hard to see which candidate represents the moderate, modernising left of the Conservative broad church and which does not. IDS & Lord Howard represent the wing of the Tory church which has ‘something of the night’ about it. They’re the ‘kiss of death’ to election winning Conservatism. Neither of them ever led our party to anything close to election success. But they’re popular with many ‘grass roots’ Tories. Their endorsement of Leadsom thus matters. But the biggest question however arising from all of this is ‘who is Leadsom?’ She has only been an MP since 2010, and a junior minister for two. She has zero cabinet experience and prior to the #brexit campaign had zero profile nationally (even within the Tory party at large).
By comparison Theresa May is a known quantity. A remainer (big plus for me), the longest serving Home Secretary for 50 years & one of only four women to hold a great office of state. Experience at the top level defines her brand. A woman able to break the boys club of Westminster. And in the past she’s flexed her muscles and acted independently of expectations. For example, May won huge kudos when she refused to extradite autistic Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon to the USA. Add in the fact that there hasn’t been a single major terror attack on her watch, her appeal seems obvious.
Further, her appeal as a successful top level cabinet minister isn’t lost on Tory party members. In a straight fight between May and Leadsom I’d be surprised if the membership opted for Leadsom. Theresa has the edge. Specifically on immigration issues.
Whereas Leadsom can only talk about ‘taking back power’ and ‘reducing immigration’, May can actually point to policies she’s implemented to achieve precisely that. May won significant membership praise when she introduced the onerous minimum salary thresholds for non-EU citizens wanting to work in Britain. Putting aside whether or not you agree with that policy, the point is it’s hugely popular with grass roots Tories.
In the broader picture Theresa, alongside David Cameron and Osborne where early drivers of the modernising agenda. May coined the phrase ‘nasty party’, a lightening rod phrase that has forced many Tories to appreciate how toxic their brand had become. May supported equal marriage, was among the first to apologise for the horror of Section 28. May is the modernisers candidate in any straight first with Leadsom.
“Twice we went to the country unchanged, unrepentant, just plain unattractive…twice we got slaughtered,”-Theresa May
If our party is to pick up the pieces following the Brexit madness, and build on Cameron’s success in obtaining a majority it’s vital we elect the right leader. The ‘right leader’ needs to be someone pragmatic enough to realise when our party needs to change, but principled enough to deliver on core policies which define us. So reducing immigration to manageable numbers, but continuing to push a more socially liberal Toryism. Less ‘Cornerstone Conservatives’ more ‘Tory Reform Group’ Toryism. We can’t go back to fighting the social culture wars of the Thatcher-Major era. We need to embrace the socially liberal Britain we find about us; combining that with the home-owning popular capitalist Tory Democracy. May, I believe is the candidate best able to achieve this going forward.
Leadsom by contrast is stuck in a Thatcherite past; obsessing over free market economics while having nothing to say about social policy. What does Leadsom think about abortion rights for women? Or LGBT protections delivered during the Blair era? Is she an advocate for greater paternity leave? Who knows, because Leadsom is entirely unknown. But with backers like IDS & Howard, I can sniff out where her thinking lends itself.
This is a straight choice now: do we want to continue modernising our brand or slip back into a rightist comfort zone? Elections are won or lost in the centre ground of politics, and I refuse to believe Leadsom is capable of appealing to centrist more liberal minded audiences. Theresa by contrast has in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.
For this liberal Conservative remainer it surely must be #Theresa4Leader