Odd ending in the contest to become the next British prime minister

The search for the next prime minister of the UK ended abruptly when one of the two remaining contestants Andrea Leadsom withdrew from the race leaving Theresa May. May will take over from David Cameron on Wednesday, showing how quickly these transitions take place in the UK when compared to the US.

Why did Leadsom suddenly withdraw? It is not clear. In a statement, she said that a long-drawn out contest for the leadership would destabilize the country, which would be amusing for us in the US where leadership races these days run into years. But apparently there were other factors as well.

Leadsom had been shaken by the scale of the response to a newspaper interview in which she suggested being a mother meant she had a larger stake in society than May.

She admitted she had been left in tears at the weekend after a stream of colleagues said she was inexperienced and had been insensitive.

May does not have children of her own. Suggesting that having children makes one more committed to society is absurd but when compared to the kinds of attacks that we are seeing in the US on the personalities and families of candidates, it seems pretty mild. British politics and the media have a reputation for being somewhat raucous so her reaction to the criticisms about her statements on the value of motherhood surprises me.

I wonder if she had other reasons for leaving and used these as an excuse because this whole thing strikes me as rather odd. Cameron resigned because he was in favor of staying the EU but he lost the referendum. But May was also in favor of remaining while Leadsom campaigned to leave. The party rules were that the members of parliament would select the two finalists who would then be voted on by the 150,000 party members on September 9. Those members, especially those who would have liked a leader who supported leaving, have now had that choice taken away from them at the last minute.

It is possible that the party establishment, for whatever reason, worked behind the scenes to force Leadsom out quickly.


  1. jcsscj says

    The oddest and also most suspicious part to me is also that now the members are not allowed to vote.
    This indeed smells like strong arming of the establishment.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    Indeed, to anyone who ever watched Yes, Minister, it’s hard not to see the smiling face of Nigel Hawthorn.

  3. cartomancer says

    The difference between Cameron resigning over the Brexit result and May not resigning is that Cameron was the one who arranged for us to have this whole ghastly referendum in the first place. The fiasco was of his making, whereas May, though she campaigned on the Remain side, was simply caught up in it.

    Though I must say again, and it is a point often not appreciated by non-UK observers, this is not primarily about who gets to be the next Prime Minister. It is about who gets to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. Since they have a parliamentary majority at the moment, she gets to be PM by default.

    When viewed as a Tory leadership battle, it makes more sense. Leadsom is quite a fringe candidate, May is at the heart of the party establishment. Leadsom has precious little support in the ranks of the parliamentary party, May is well regarded across the spectrum. I suspect Leadsom stood aside because she realised that she was never going to win and didn’t want the black mark of having failed to do so against her -- stepping aside this way opens the door to future prominence, whereas fighting a losing battle to the bitter end would have marked her out as a troublemaker and damaged her future prospects.

  4. Mano Singham says


    But Leadsom cannot be such a fringe candidate since she beat out Gove and the other two to qualify for the run-off. And why would her chances be so obviously remote? I had not seen any polls about her support with the 150,000 members who would vote. Also Jeremy Corbyn won the party leadership due to rank and file member support without much backing among the MPs. Could she have not tried to do the same?

  5. fentex says

    It is possible that the party establishment, for whatever reason, worked behind the scenes to force Leadsom out quickly.

    That makes little sense, if the “establishment” didn’t want her to win all they had to do was make sure she got fewer votes in a internal election this coming week.

    It is more credible she simply realised she didn’t want the job. Who would? Cameron is going down in history as a colossal failure but there’s room for more to destroy their names along with him. Leadsom probably doesn’t have the required arrogance which May has to believe taking the job is really a good idea.

  6. DonDueed says

    Second-last paragraph: “staying the UK” should be “staying in the EU”, I believe.

  7. cartomancer says

    Mano, #4

    Leadsom is a fringe candidate when compared to Theresa May. The difference in their previous experience is substantial. Leadsom has only been an MP since 2010, and has only had ministerial experience at a middling level (Minister for Energy at the DfECC and Economic Secretary to the Treasury) while May has been at the heart of the party for twenty years and is the longest serving Home Secretary we have ever had. I have to confess that I had never heard of Leadsom before this leadership contest started up (although media presence is perhaps not the best indicator).

    She beat Gove because Gove is incredibly unpopular among the parliamentary Conservatives right now, in large part thanks to his stabbing Boris in the back. Also because Gove has almost no charisma or public presence and most of the British populaiton despise him too thanks to his regressive education policies over the last five years. Gove managed to get only 14% of the MPs’ votes in both the first and the second ballot. Leadsom got 20% and 25%, May got 50% and 60%. A party leader who only commands the loyalty of a quarter of her MPs is in serious trouble. I have no idea how popular she is among grass roots Tory members, but I would suspect that a lot of them haven’t even heard of her either, where May is a household name.

    Though even if she were popular with the grass roots members, that wouldn’t matter much. The Conservatives do not have the same process for selecting their leader as Labour do. Theirs is weighted far more towards the parliamentary party, and if the Tory MPs can decide on a leader then the result does not have to be ratified by a general members’ vote, where a Labour leader must be voted on by the party as a whole. It must be remembered that the Conservative Party began as a party of aristocratic landowners and has retained its elitist, authoritarian protocols, whereas Labour began as a party of disaffected trade unionists and, despite Blair’s best efforts, has retained more of a populist structure in its procedures.

  8. mnb0 says

    “I wonder if she had other reasons for leaving ”
    What about “no chance to win and wanting to avoid a humiliating loss”? Check the results of the elections -- May had a huge lead.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    cannot be such a fringe candidate since she beat out Gove

    A tub of lard would have beat out Gove. It’s hard to overstate his unpopularity even among his colleagues.


    A party leader who only commands the loyalty of a quarter of her MPs is in serious trouble.

    Absolutely. I was surprised, when Leadsom backed out, that she didn’t make more of that. It would have been the perfect opportunity to twist the knife in Labour’s guts, led as they are by a man who commands the loyalty of barely a fifth of his MPs.

  10. Nick Gotts says

    Another possible reason for Loathsome’s withdrawal is that she had clearly “enhanced” her CV (resumé in American?) to suggest experience at a higher level in the financial services area than was actually the case. Naively, she seems to have been surprised that her claims were closely examined. Probably she did come under establishment pressure to withdraw or face concerted attack on this matter and her Times interview -- maybe also other matters that have not become public -- so as to reduce uncertainty (“The Markets” have reacted well to May’s selection) and not to risk the Conservative Party membership choosing the wrong candidate (i.e., her). Probably she’s also been offered a considerable promotion as a reward for withdrawal.

    It’s interesting how little media comment there has been in the UK on the rather obvious fact that May is a “default” PM: Cameron had to resign; Osborne (number two in the government as Chancellor of the Exchequer) was as closely associated with both the decision to hold a referendum and the remain campaign as Cameron; Johnson was knifed in the back by Gove, doing for both of them; Leadsom is both naive and unlikely to reconcile the pro- and anti-Brexit wings of the party; the other two candidates were Fox, who previously had to resign a government post for corruption, and Crabb, who is a complete unknown.

  11. Nick Gotts says

    Further to #11. It’s also possible (not probable in my view -- successful politicians more often take advantage of events than rely on cunning conspiracies, which are always liable to be discovered or otherwise go wrong) that Leadsom was a conscious or unconscious stooge from the start, pushed forward to ensure Gove did not get into the final two, then withdrawing as agreed (if conscious) or left high and dry by her supposed supporters (if unconscious).

  12. Mano Singham says

    Robert Mackey wonders whether Rupert Murdoch may have had a hand in nudging May out. Murdoch was in favor of Brexit and once May said that she would carry it through, he thought she would be better for his interests.

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