Britain will soon have its second female Prime Minister. We have to wait till September 9th to find out who that is though, as the Conservatives’ 150,000 members decide between Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom. “We have an all-female shortlist with no positive discrimination or anything, isn’t that fantastic?,” declared Leadsom. “It’s only taken us a quarter of century to come around to the idea that the resident of Number 10 doesn’t need to be metrosexual, suffer from male-pattern baldness or have gone to Eton,” writes Claire Cohen about the two Prime Ministerial hopefuls, both of whom are in their 50s and were educated at state schools.
Theresa May starts off as the frontrunner, buoyed by her support from MPs in the second ballot. She won 199 votes, against 84 for Leadsom. The Home Secretary said that this proved she can help the Tories “come together” under her “strong leadership”, but her weakness in this campaign will be her support for remaining in the European Union, which may prove unpopular among the Leave-leaning grassroots. More than 40 MPs are now backing a call by former party chairman Grant Shapps to shorten the race so it concludes within weeks in order to swiftly pick someone to lead Britain in the months after the Brexit vote, but May has given that short shrift: “I have said all along that this election needs to be a proper contest.”
The Home Secretary won’t be resting easy though as the Tory leadership race has been notorious for how rarely frontrunners go on to win, with David Davis and Michael Portillo being recent examples. She also is under fire over her continued refusal to confirm that EU migrants in Britain as part of her Brexit talks, with Fraser Nelson taking her to task in today’s paper. “To apply to be prime minister she needs to show that she understands Brexit, she understands people – and that she’s capable of calming an unsettled country,” he writes. “Until she drops her indefensible ambivalence towards the status of Europeans, many of those who’d normally be inclined to support her (myself included) will find it impossible to do so. It would be tragic if the woman who invented the phrase “nasty party” were to end up hanging it around Conservative necks once more.”
Andrea Leadsom will be pleased to have reached the final round, after fears that questions about her CV, and the bombastic march her supporters led up Whitehall, would put MPs off at the last minute. But Michael Gove ensured she got through by coming in third with 46 votes. The Justice Secretary won two fewer votes than he did on Tuesday for the first round, in a sign that some MPs had decided to back someone else, while backers now admit that his decision to “put the boot” into Boris Johnson cost him support. They also blamed a leaked message showing his campaign was urging MPs to vote Gove to stop Leadsom for “kiboshing” his chances of becoming Prime Minster. As the final two start their battle to be Prime Minister, follow today’s events on our liveblog.
The Home Secretary’s team will seek to hammer home their candidate’s experience over the coming weeks, with May slamming the “inexperienced” Leadsom’s plans to allow EU nationals already in the UK to remain here after Brexit, suggesting that it meant foreign criminals could not be deported. Meanwhile Andrea Leadsom has aimed her pitch directly at the Tory grassroots by pledging a vote to legalise fox hunting, a review of the HS2 rail line and stating that she believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, rather than between a same-sex couples. As we say in our leader: “let battle commence“.