Britain is now certain to have a second female Prime Minister as Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May were announced as the final two candidates in the Tory leadership race yesterday. The result has cast obvious comparisons with the first, Margaret Thatcher, with both candidates being dubbed ‘Iron Ladies’ in waiting.
But while Mrs. May is the establishment’s – and the Remainers’ – candidate of choice, Mrs. Leadsom appears to have the backing of the grassroots, going 11 points ahead of her rival in the latest poll.
Mrs. May has been a strong front-runner in the MPs’ ballots all the way through the contest, winning 199 votes from her colleagues in the second round of voting last night. Mr. Gove was eliminated with just 46 votes, sending Mrs. Leadsom through as the second candidate with the support of 84 MPs.
This morning’s papers uniformly covered the leadership race, with the majority commenting on the fact that both candidates are females, but the left-leaning tabloid the Daily Mirror chose to ‘demonise’ Mrs. Leadsom by casting her as a “Tory Extremist”, and “Maggie II”.
Warning its readers to “Be afraid – very afraid,” the paper lamented: “Britain is to get its second female Prime Minister – and she could be as extreme as Margaret Thatcher.” It went on to highlight her Christian beliefs, her opposition to the fox-hunting ban, her unease over same sex marriage legislation, and her wish to see employment regulations relaxed for firms who hire four or fewer staff, among the reasons to oppose her.
As the Mirror judges one next potential PM let’s take a look at an example of their judgement. pic.twitter.com/cwiMhRni2m
— (((Ritchie))) (@Ritchie_I) July 8, 2016
But in doing so the paper perhaps failed to grasp that it is the 150,000 or so members of the Conservative party who will now have the final say, choosing between the two final candidates in early September.
Highlighting Mrs. Leadsom’s social conservatism is likely to play to her favour, while polling shows that she is already in the lead among Tory grassroots.
A new poll by the Brexit organisation Leave.EU, which is now backing Mrs. Leadsom thanks to her prominent role in the Leave campaign, gave Mrs. Leadsom a strong lead among Conservative party members last night of 56 per cent to Mrs. May’s 44 per cent. The organisation is confident in its prediction as it closely forecast the outcome of the EU referendum.
A spokesman for Leave.EU said: “Our referendum poll accurately predicted the outcome of the EU referendum on June 23rd, within 0.1% of the result. We have deployed cutting edge U.S. methods which profile ‘personality traits’ via social media analytics, to better understand how to poll in a more effective way.
“Leave.EU has over a million supporters reaches around 15 million people a week online – a bigger audience than any political party or movement. This supporter base is cross-party by nature, but connects us to around 20 per cent of Conservative Party members.”
The poll also predicted that Mrs. Leadsom’s leadership could boost the Conservative Party’s fortunes, as when supporters of other parties were asked if they would join or re-join the Conservative Party under her leadership, 41 per cent said they “almost certainly” would, while over half (53 per cent) said they would “consider” it. UK Independence Party (UKIP) voters in particular were open to persuasion.
In addition to the grassroots, Mrs. Leadsom is drawing support from a range of political figureheads, including UKIP’s outgoing leader Nigel Farage. The Brexit stalwart tweeted his support for Mrs. Leadsom following the announcement of yesterday’s ballot results, congratulating her for making the final two.
Congratulations to @andrealeadsom. Important the next Prime Minister is a Brexiteer – she has my backing.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) July 7, 2016
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mrs. Leadsom refused to rule out including Mr. Farage in negotiations to extract Britain from the EU – a position which many have said he has earned during his two-decade long campaign for a Brexit.
“I wouldn’t want to get into who would do what. What we need is somebody to lead the campaign who really believes in the opportunities,” she said.
Mrs. Leadsom already has the backing of her Leave campaign colleague Boris Johnson, who endorsed her candidacy saying: “She has long championed the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. She has a better understanding of finance than almost anyone else in parliament. She has considerable experience of government. She is level-headed, kind, trustworthy, approachable and the possessor of a good sense of humour.”
And arguing that she was the best person to lead the Brexit negotiations, he added that she had specialised in the “EU question”.
To Mr. Johnson’s support she can now add that of former Conservative Party leader Lord Howard, who told the BBC’s Today programme: “I’ve come to the conclusion that Andrea Leadsom is best placed to lead our country into this exciting new future that we have in front of us outside the European Union. She has the vision to see the opportunities which are there in front of us.”
He, too, endorsed her as a Leave candidate, saying: “I think it would be quite difficult to have a prime minister who voted with a minority rather than a majority of the British people in that momentous vote two weeks ago.”
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