So, twenty six years after the demise of Margaret Thatcher, the UK is once again to have a female Prime Minister. The Tory Party, so often portrayed as the bastion of traditional conservativism, made up of Bullington Club toffs, has once again created the opportunity to position itself as a progressive, modern political force.
On paper, Theresa May looks like a shoe-in. An MP since 1997 she held a range of positions in the Shadow Cabinets of William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard before being made Home Secretary after the 2010 general election. She is widely regarded as one of the most successful Home Secretaries, a position which has been a graveyard for many politicians before her. Compare and contrast that to Andrea Leadsom, a relative novice having only been an MP since 2010, and never having served in Cabinet. The parliamentary party has given Theresa May an overwhelming vote of confidence with 199 MPs backing her against 89 for Andrea Leadsom.
But it would be unwise to see this as a one horse race. There are a number of features about Andrea Leadsom that will appeal to Conservative Party members. She supported Brexit, while Theresa May did not. She’s a practicing Christian, favours a return of fox hunting and is deeply sceptical about gay marriage, and is, crucially, endorsed by Boris. Many Conservative Party members will favour these qualities. Indeed, rumours abound that supporters of Theresa May in the parliamentary party were sufficiently concerned about Andrea Leadsom that there was tactical voting to help Michael Gove get through to the final ballot of the party membership, the reasonable calculation thus being that Michael Gove would have little chance of being elected. Clearly, such tactics failed.
If Andrea Leadsom does get elected we would have the bizarre situation where the leaders of both the Conservative and Labour Parties do not have the majority support of their parliamentary colleagues, an event without precedent in recent memory.
Having got through the parliamentary stages of the leadership contest in just a week we now have the prospect of a two month hustings campaign as both Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom seek to gain the support of the party membership. This is going to feel like a long two months. Still, come September, the first challenge for the new PM will be to compose a Cabinet and wider ministerial team that can quickly reunite the party after what has been a deeply bruising and divisive few months. But perhaps their most important immediate task will to be to avoid the label of “Margaret Thatcher Mark Two”.
And the chances of a snap general election? While both candidates have said they won’t hold an election, it would be unwise to rule anything out in these turbulent political times.