Andrea Leadsom was widely expected to be a high-profile member of Team Boris, in a deal that was going to be secured via a handwritten note handed over at a Conservative summer party.
And yet, the scrawled pledge – “Dear Andrea, Delighted that you’re in our top three, Yours Boris” – never made it into the hands of the energy minister, who decided instead to stand herself.
Now the MP for South Northamptonshire, who entered parliament in 2010, has leapfrogged Michael Gove to become second favourite with the bookmakers to be the next Conservative leader and prime minister.
In her six years in parliament, Leadsom has notably irritated George Osborne, not once but twice. First, as one of the ringleaders of a Tory rebellion pushing hard for the prime minister to agree to an EU referendum, she refused to budge during a last-minute call from the chancellor, although she denies swearing at him down the phone.
Later, Leadsom infuriated Osborne again when she suggested he apologise for attempting to link Ed Balls to the Libor rigging scandal.
Her support is now growing among MPs, some of whom see her as the best option among the Brexit backers, and others who see her as a way of preventing Gove from making it into the final two.
Anne Marie Morris, the MP for Newton Abbot, said she was backing Leadsom because she “straddled” an interest in social care and economic competence.
In fact, Leadsom spent more than two decades working in finance, including holding senior positions at Barclays. She has chaired charities focused on the bond between a mother and newborn baby and pushed hard for sex education debates in parliament.
When she was first elected, this mother of three would sit by her daughter’s bedside reading stories with her trainers on, ready if a text message arrived telling her to vote. She would be ready to kiss her daughter goodnight and then run down seven flights of stairs and across two busy streets to get into the chamber within the eight-minute deadline.
Leadsom was a leading figure early on in that Europe rebellion, which led to her involvement in the fresh start project that looked into how Britain could reform its relationship with the EU.
She was forgiven for her role in the rebellion and later promoted into ministerial positions although not up to a secretary of state position.
When David Cameron completed his EU renegotiations, she was an energy minister who was not impressed with the deal he brought back. That was why Leadsom campaigned openly against membership of the EU, supporting the official Vote Leave campaign without being at the heart of it.
Always an independent spirit, Leadsom made the most of the contest to raise her profile, starting with her involvement in the early Guardian EU debate, alongside Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg and Alan Johnson. From there she became a regular choice on television programmes and at organised events, eventually appearing on the BBC’s final show from Wembley.
Leadsom would have done a deal with Boris Johnson if he had promised her the position she was hoping for, but his reassurances were not enough, and were said to have been the final blow for Gove as well.
But Gove’s supporters were not quick enough in securing Leadsom on his team. By the time they asked, she had already put in her own application to become leader of the Conservative party, and is fast turning into a serious contender for the top prize.
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