As Michael Gove was voted out of the leadership race on Thursday, there are now just two contenders left – Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May. This means that the next Tory leader will be a woman, making her the first female Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. But the question remains, which of the two is better suited for the role?
In Thursday’s ballot, May received 199 votes whilst Leadsom won just 84. However, it is suggested that she is still able to gain the necessary support to overtake May by September – especially since the vote on September 9th is opened to all Conservative members.
Leadsom was a prominent figure during the Leave campaign for the referendum, appearing in two TV debates, during which she was highly praised for her well-reasoned arguments. Several MPs, including Nicky Morgan, believe that the best person to lead this country during the upcoming negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU is a Brexit voter, as they will fully understand the motives for people voting leave and truly want a full exit from the EU. As a result, this favours Leadsom as May was a Remain supporter. However, May believes that Britain does not need a Brexit-supporting Prime Minister, as the exit from the EU will only be a small part of the duties of the next leader. The day-to-day running of the country and domestic issues will still need to be dealt with. Additionally, a pro-EU Prime Minister may help to unite the Conservatives and the public after a divisive referendum, as both Leave and Remain voters will feel as if their wishes are being respected.
May has been in politics for much longer than Leadsom, having become an MP in 1997, whereas Leadsom was elected in 2010. This greater experience may mean that she is better able to cope with the challenges of being the Prime Minister. May has experience of being a senior Tory, as she is one of the longest-serving Home Secretaries in British history, having held this position since 2010. However, she has been criticised for failing to cut net migration down to 100,000 a year as was promised by the government. On the other hand, Leadsom currently occupies a junior position as the Minister for Energy and Climate Change. She claims this is no disadvantage, as she had many jobs in the financial sector before entering politics, including being a Barclays investment banker, working at a fund management company and founding her own charity. This real-world, finance experience could be more valuable, as she understands the needs of businesses. However, this is something May has too as she used to work at the Bank of England.
Andrea Leadsom has been accused of tax avoidance using offshore accounts and as a result she has been pressurised to publish her tax returns. However, she has not said that she will do this if elected. Theresa May, on the other hand, said that she would. This has led to an untrustworthy image being painted of Leadsom, which is particularly harmful in this uncertain time when the public need to feel as if they can trust the leader of the country. She has also previously supported scrapping all workers’ rights for employees in very small businesses. Whilst this contradicts with her current promises to protect workers’ rights, it does lead us to question if the protection of the particularly vulnerable is a priority for her.
A likeable personality and an ability to reassure and persuade the public is needed to lead a country successfully. Critics of Theresa May say that she lacks charisma, making her unsuitable for this role. She has also been criticised for failing to guarantee the rights of EU nationals to stay in Britain following the referendum, when what these people need now is reassurance and certainty.