Andrea Leadsom has become the latest Cabinet minister to suggest that they would like to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister. After DfID Secretary Rory Stewart declared his own ambition for the top job, Leadsom used an appearance on Good Morning Britain this morning to reveal her interest. The Leader of the House of Commons says she is ‘seriously considering’ entering the race after her failed attempt the last time around:
‘I’ve supported her for the last three years to get Brexit over the line. She has said she’s going, so yes I am seriously considering standing.’
In the 2016 leadership contest, Leadsom made it into the final two but later dropped out (following a row about comments she had made on motherhood) to pave the way for Theresa May to become Prime Minister. Since then, there has been a growing view within the Tory party that the fast speed approach to selecting a leader was a mistake – had there been a chance for a full contest Theresa May’s weaknesses as a leader would have been uncovered sooner rather than later. This is why there is a majority view that there must be time for a full leadership contest next time with hustings across the country.
So, would Leadsom stand a chance this time around? She is by no means viewed as a favourite for the job – but then again she wasn’t really viewed as a favourite in 2016. The reason Leadsom managed in large to make it to the final two was because Michael Gove turned on Boris Johnson – then viewed as the favourite – and decided to run himself. That decision led to both of their campaigns imploding. Leadsom’s team lacked experience and she made a series of errors that her allies blame on bad advice. There was the Leadsom for leader march and most notable her interview with the Times where Leadsom was accused of suggesting that having children made her a better choice to be prime minister than May who had no children.
When I spoke to Leadsom earlier this year on the Spectator Women with Balls podcast, she said that the level of scrutiny she has been put under had not put her off pursuing a career in frontline politics: ‘Since then, as you do, you kind of lie awake reliving a conversation thinking what I should have said was this but it makes me more determined than ever to do what I can to make this country a greater place.’
Leadsom allies say her pitch would most likely be based on the premise that she is a pragmatic Brexiteer. She could argue that she had stuck it out in Cabinet for the good of the country but personally would have done things differently on Brexit. In her role as Leader of the House, Leadsom has impressed colleagues by leading the way on reforming the complaints procedure for bullying – and taking John Bercow on in the Chamber. Her popularity amongst Tory members has also risen – at least compared to that of her Cabinet colleagues. In March, Leadsom topped the ConservativeHome Cabinet League Table.
Given that there is a growing view within the parliamentary party that the next leader must be a Brexiteer, it could be easier for someone like Leadsom to win support from Remain-leaning colleagues than a figure like Boris Johnson who is seen as divisive and unwilling to compromise on Brexit. Countering that is the surge in support for the Brexit Party. European Research Group members argue that only a Brexiteer untainted by May’s deal can win angry Leave voters back – under that argument it’s hard to see how any Brexiteer in the Cabinet would be viable. While Leadsom is not a frontrunner as of yet, the last leadership contest offers a reminder of how unpredictable things can get – it follows that she can’t be ruled out.