I don’t claim to be any kind of political expert, and there’s probably a lot I could learn and understand better; but I do find the whole thing fascinating, and have been glued to BBC news ever since the results of the EU referendum were announced. Yesterday’s drama only intensified my interest in our political situation. I expected Theresa May to win the Conservative leadership contest, but not like this. I don’t know what Andrea Leadsom was thinking; she should never have entered the race to start with. Perhaps she was buoyed up by the success of the Leave campaign and thought her work there could translate into leadership – evidently not.
Leadsom’s comments about her motherhood and Theresa May’s lack thereof were poorly thought out and really rather silly. I don’t think she was trying to be malicious – rather she was trying to be sincere, but her obvious political naivety caused her to say the wrong thing to the wrong person – a shrewd journalist – and that was the end of that. I do see the point she was trying to make but she was undeniably condescending towards May, and when your opponent is as strong as May you can’t afford to say silly things like that.
I’m not a Conservative but I have always had a sort of distant respect for Theresa May. I have not always liked her (though recently she has made a point of being more likeable) but I have always seen her as capable and professional, and these are two qualities that are needed to be both a party leader and the Prime Minister. I think she will be a good Tory leader and a good PM, even if I don’t agree with her on everything.
There is of course the fact that she is a woman, and this is a good thing. It really is remarkable – she will be only the second female PM in Britain. Ever. Leadsom’s comments on motherhood prompted the media to ask if that issue would ever be raised if she and May were both men, and I don’t think it would. Most male PMs have had children, likely because most of them were middle aged and married – but it’s never been an issue or a factor in their campaigns. The other day there was a very smart article on The Pool about the gender issues surrounding Leadsom’s comments, and this sparked this train of thought for me. Does it matter that Theresa May is a woman? In political terms, no, it doesn’t. She is the leader of the Conservatives and PM-in-waiting, and that’s it. But at the same time it does matter. I realise it’s part of her personality, but I think part of the reason she is so respected is because she makes a point of not being over-emotional or getting too personal in the public eye, even when she was on Desert Island Discs. This could be seen as her ‘acting like a man’, i.e. not being an emotional girl, and staying in professional mode as much as possible. Old fashioned sexist men don’t like emotional women. They don’t like tough women either, but at least they might respect them (ahem, Ken Clarke). The thing that Theresa May needs most is respect; that and credibility, but they often go hand in hand.
People will always comment on her clothes, but hopefully that won’t detract from the work she does as Conservative leader and Prime Minister. Despite being a member of a different party I am genuinely very pleased that we will be having another female PM; and the possibility of Hillary Clinton and even Angela Eagle gaining power is also wonderful, even if they too are flawed. But of course they are – they are human. And they are better than the men that have come before them.
We are at a turning point in politics, both here and in the US (let’s not even get started on that), and having some women in charge for a change would be a positive step. As a Labour member I am nervous about what comes next, and whether Corbyn will be overthrown (please let him be!) but I am also excited for this new phase in our political life, whatever happens. Change isn’t easy, even when it’s for the best.