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11 July 2016

Why it would be madness to bank on Andrea Leadsom by putting her in Downing Street

The Conservatives could emulate Labour by making a disastrous choice for leader, fears Ruth Dudley Edwards

Andrea Leadsom is in the running to be Prime Minister.
Andrea Leadsom is in the running to be Prime Minister. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

More than a fortnight has passed since pundits, pollsters and the press were made fools of by the United Kingdom’s electorate. Still, the end of the world seems not to be nigh!

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have stayed at home.

Despite the best efforts of some anti-democratic Remainers, who believe all of us Leavers are thick, uneducated bigots who shouldn’t have been allowed to vote, the referendum will not be overturned (as Euronob Peter Sutherland demanded on twitter), nor even re-run.

And despite the threats of Jean-Claude Junker, the President of the European Commission, and his inseparable buddy, Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, the EU will not be attempting to punish the UK for its temerity.

It is Germany that calls the shots, and Angela Merkel is listening to her exporters, who are begging that Britain be allowed access to the single market.

We urgently need a strong Prime Minister who will be a tough negotiator.

I hope the Conservatives aren’t about to emulate Labour by electing a dud.

I was one of the few people who had heard of Andrea Leadsom, whose name used to crop up regularly in Private Eye, mainly in connection with tax avoidance, so I was surprised when she suddenly became a major player.

I assumed Boris Johnson had decided to support her out of pique with Michael Gove, but in the light of a flood of revelations about her imaginative approach to truth, I find it hard to understand why so many MPs thought she was a suitable candidate for the biggest job in politics.

True, she campaigned vigorously for Leave, while Theresa May, the other contender, was a Remainer.

But Mrs May, the longest-serving Home Secretary since 1892, was on the Eurosceptic wing of Remain, is a straightforward and reliable person who does whatever job she is given competently and she has committed herself to delivering Brexit.

Mrs Leadsom, however, is very different.

Chunks of her CV, which presents her as having been a senior banker, were described baldly on the radio last week by a senior recruiter as lies.

To give a flavour of how she consistently and grossly exaggerated her record, here’s a quote from her 2010 maiden speech.

Referring to the collapse of Barings bank on a Friday evening, she said that “Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England, called together a small group of bankers, including myself, and we worked over the weekend to calm the fears of banks that were exposed to Barings”.

She repeated this during a hearing of the Treasury select committee the same year when she told Mr George’s successor, Mervyn King, that she had had “the dubious pleasure of working with [George] over a weekend to stop a run on the banks when Barings went bust”.

Eddie George had died before she made the claim, but people who had been with him that weekend had no recollection of her being involved, leading her to admit she hadn’t been “sweating it through the weekend” with Mr George, but had been asked to make calls from her office.

Like innumerable other bankers.

She had 13 months as Economic Secretary to the Treasury, where, according to a Treasury official quoted in the Financial Times, she was “the worst minister we ever had”, who “found it difficult to understand issues or take decisions”.

My friend the political commentator Douglas Murray, a far more committed Brexiteer than I am, wrote last week of his recurring nightmare that Andrea Leadsom could beat Theresa May for the job.

Perhaps, he said tartly, Conservative Party members “will regard CV-steroiding and off-shore tax-avoidance as normal behaviours in a Conservative leader”.

Douglas has spent enough time in the past with Mrs Leadsom to have reached the conclusion that she “is not an ‘exciting new voice’ in our politics but that familiar type of Conservative who mistakes not listening with steadfastness, and ignorance for principle”.

“I know what I believe and you’re not going to make me change my mind’, he concluded, “is a tolerable attitude from someone who knows what they are doing, but a terrible attitude for someone who knows next to nothing”.


Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards