This article was originally published in JMA by myself.
In the run up to the EU referendum, many people had not even heard of Andrea Leadsom. Going from a sideline Member of Parliament, she gained much prominence after appearing in a debate alongside Boris Johnson, Angela Eagle, Nicola Sturgeon and others — as a representative of the Brexit camp. Upon standing for the position of Conservative leader, she quickly became a popular name among many Brexiteers; Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Vote Leave leader Arron Banks had all supported her.
Yet this short-lived burst of significance took its toll on Leadsom. Not too long after being one of two competitors for the leadership race, she was hit by a barrage of criticism by the mainstream media, and even those within her own party sought to undermine her. Now, she has announced that she will step aside in the leadership contest.
Initially, Leadsom came under intense scrutiny regarding her work history — and for allegedly putting misleading job titles on her CV. Following this, a Channel 4 News interview saw her face hard interrogation about her Christian faith; something that would otherwise be expected to be a private matter in the UK was put under question. Asked whether she felt “God speaks to her” was a way of putting her on the spot.
Yet the breaking point came after allegations of her politicising the fact that she had children, and Theresa May didn’t. In an interview, she suggested that being a parent would make her a suitable candidate for Prime Minister. She then made a reference to the fact that Theresa May was childless (she and her husband are unable to have children due to infertility issues). This was quickly portrayed as a national scandal, that Leadsom was purposefully attacking May.
It appeared on the front cover of many major newspapers.
That’s right, out of all the pressing issues in today’s world, this comment was the most vital to report over others. It’s not hard to see a smear campaign was being run against Leadsom.
Leadsom was certainly feeling the effects of this. Daily Telegraph journalist Allison Pearson reports that Leadsom sounded as if she had been crying when they spoke on the phone. She also sounded horrified and distraught when previously speaking about the way her words were taken out of context. In a way, it’s understandable that she felt immense pressure; it was never going to be easy for her. Going from an MP with little prominence, to being a potential Prime Minister is like stepping into a different world. No doubt she found it hard to adapt to the difficulties of this position, where any detail of your personal life, or any comment you make can be used as a weapon against you. Sadly for Leadsom, this reality hit her hard.
While her inexperience perhaps made things more difficult, the smear against her was definitely a more decisive factor in her decision to withdraw. Especially as the smearing came from within her own party too. About twenty Conservative MPs had threatened to step down if Leadsom became Prime Minister. Indeed, she would have caused problems for Europhile Conservative ministers, who are perhaps still holding on to hope that Britain could remain in the EU, or form a compromise deal with the single market upon leaving.
And with a comparatively positive image painted of Theresa May, the furore swirling around Leadsom boosted May’s campaign. As a more politically orthodox candidate, and with numerous mass media outlets pledging their support to her, including The Sun and The Times, it was never going to be too difficult for Theresa May to become Prime Minister.