Andrea Leadsom’s rise from junior energy minister to insurgent prime ministerial candidate lasted just 12 days before it ended on Monday when she realised support from 25% of Conservative MPs was not enough “to lead a strong and stable government”.
The 53-year-old Brexit advocate said her decision to withdraw from the Conservative leadership race was because “Theresa May … is ideally placed to implement Brexit on the best possible terms for the British people and she has promised she will do so”.
But there was evidence that she felt hounded out of the race. Tim Loughton MP, her campaign manager, complained of an “onslaught of often very personal attacks from colleagues and journalists” and “spin and underhand tactics against decent people”.
Leadsom’s withdrawal came a day after she admitted a row over her apparent claim that she would be a better prime minister than May because she was a mother had left her feeling “under attack, under enormous pressure … It has been shattering.”
Her withdrawal ended an unlikely tilt at Downing Street that chilled some parliamentary colleagues as it thrilled others. Leadsom had risen to prominence alongside Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage as a figurehead of the victorious leave campaign in last month’s EU referendum.
But last week her fellow minister Nick Boles had reflected alarm in parts of the parliamentary party at the speed of her rise when he told Tory MPs he was “seriously frightened about the risk of allowing Andrea Leadsom on to the membership ballot”. Her run delighted supporters such as Norman Tebbit who voiced approval when the former City banker allowed herself to be cast as the next Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister, whose portrait adorns her office wall.
Leadsom launched her bid to win the premiership after she felt Johnson had reneged on a deal to state publicly that she would have one of the “top three” cabinet positions if he became PM.
“No tweet, no letter,” she reportedly told him in an angry text two weeks ago. “Clearly you don’t want to go ahead on the basis we agreed. I’ve submitted my nomination papers.”
Then after Michael Gove’s decision to run caused Johnson to abandon his ambitions, pro-Brexit MPs flocked to Leadsom, some appalled at Gove’s treachery. She won 66 votes (20%) against 48 (15%) for Gove in the first round of voting and 84 votes in the second round, knocking out Gove and leaving her as the only candidate standing who had backed Brexit. But she still had far fewer backers than May’s 199 MPs.
Leadsom’s argument that only she should lead the country because May did not represent the 52% majority who voted leave in the referendum won her the backing of Thatcher’s PR adviser Lord Bell, the Ukip funder Arron Banks and Ukip’s former leader Nigel Farage.
Banks has predicted the return of a rebranded “Ukip on steroids” if Leadsom did not win. There was less welcome support from Britain First, the far-right party, which praised the Aylesbury-born former City worker as a “patriotic, Christian opponent of political correctness”.
Her campaign was quickly undermined by a series of blunders reflecting her inexperience at Westminster, having only joined parliament in 2010. First came a row over her CV when questions were raised about her integrity. She published different versions of her job title at Barclays, where she worked in the 1990s. She first said she was financial institutions director, and then a later version of her CV added the word deputy. She stated she was a senior investment officer at the fund management firm Invesco Perpetual for 10 years, though she was only authorised as an investment manager for a three-month period.
There was an awkward “Rally4Leadsom” march when a small gaggle of supportive MPs walked towards parliament chanting: “What do we want? Leadsom for leader! When do we want it? Now!” Then she gave what was billed as “a major speech on the economy”, which one TV reporter said was “more a series of optimistic hopes and soundbites”.
But the tipping point came in an interview about how her status as a mother of three children gave her “a very real stake” in Britain’s future, a move that appalled many who felt it was an attempt to highlight May’s childlessness. The Times quoted her as saying May “possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be part of what happens next”.
Leadsom tried to claim the paper had misrepresented her and accused the Times of “gutter journalism”. But soon afterwards she apologised to her rival “for any hurt I have caused”.
By contrast, the high point of her EU referendum campaign was a BBC debate at Wembley Arena where she stood out as the strongest of the leave debaters in front of a crowd of 6,000 people.
There was huge applause when she said: “Twenty-seven member states cannot even organise a takeaway curry, let alone what they are going to do on free trade deals with the rest of the world.”
Fraser Nelson, the editor of the right-leaning Spectator magazine, praised her “cheery, confident grace”, while Isabel Hardman, a columnist on the magazine, anointed her “the best performer on the out side”, skilled at deploying “strong, short one-liners”.
After the referendum on 23 June, focus on her policy positions grew. In 2012, two years after entering parliament as MP for South Northamptonshire, she called for “no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights”for workers in companies with three or fewer staff.
She said she wanted to repeal the ban on fox-hunting. She abstained on the gay marriage vote. In a 2008 blogpost about the importance of marriage, she wrote: “The self-indulgence and carelessness of non-committed adult relationships is, as we’ve just seen in the extreme case of Baby P, proving fatal to the next generation.”
Leadsom once said that she had wanted to be an MP since she was 13 when she attended Tonbridge Girls grammar school in Kent. Her parents had divorced when she was four and she was brought up by her mother, who at the time was training to be a nurse. “She raised us to believe the world doesn’t owe you a living,” Leadsom said during her leadership campaign.
She studied political science at Warwick University and then spent more than 25 years working in finance in the City of London. It was that experience she cited when asked about the economic impact of Brexit three days before the poll and said: “There will not be an economic impact.”
She became a minister in 2014, first as economic secretary to the Treasury and then after the 2015 general election in the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
In 2011, her second year in parliament, she set up Fresh Start, a group of MPs setting out “to research and build support for realistic and far-reaching proposals for reforming the EU”.
It was talking about one of her strongest-held beliefs, the importance of infant brain development in social outcomes, that dented her chances of winning more than the 84 votes she received in the second round, according to some MPs.
Leadsom used a hustings to talk about the issue at length, which one MP said went down like “cold sick”.
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