11 Jul 2016

Theresa May to be PM after Leadsom supporters lose faith

Andrea Leadsom has withdrawn from the Tory leadership contest. Theresa May is our new Prime Minister.

Quite how the handover will be managed and timed is going to be sorted out between Mr Cameron and Mrs May and The Queen. There are strong suspicions that Mr Cameron will do one more Prime Minister’s Questions. He could move house this week or early next week. A trip to Africa is probably not happening. His swansong appearance at the G20 in September won’t happen.

Mrs Leadsom gathered her team of closest supporters together at 11am this morning to tell them that she was throwing in the towel. The rationale given on the doorstep of a Westminster house just after noon was that the country needed stability and she didn’t have enough MPs supporting her. But that was something that had been true from the outset.

In truth, her campaign was becoming a succession of oddities and calamities. Some MPs who supported her were losing faith. Her biggest catch, Boris Johnson, was not sounding like a man who was intending to charge round the country beating the drum for her.

Theresa May was in Birmingham when the news started leaking out. The Home Secretary, the Prime Minister in waiting, was giving a speech about her agenda for government.

She can’t stray that far from the Tories’ 2015 manifesto or she would have to ask for a fresh mandate in another general election. But she did outline a plan to try to cap excessive boardroom pay.

Allies say Theresa May would’ve hated a series of hustings round the country. She’d have had to play to the gallery a bit and maybe make promises to the Tory Right which she wouldn’t naturally make.

Moments before Andrea Leadsom’s announcement one of her most ardent MP supporters was telling me that Mrs Leadsom would clear out the top echelon of Whitehall if she came to power: Mark Carney, the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, the top EU-focused officials, “the lot,” he said.

When I asked Andrea Leadsom on Thursday about Mr Carney’s future she criticised him as lacking in impartiality, someone who’d made mistakes, someone who should be investigated by the Treasury Committee but (somewhat hard to believe) someone she would keep in post.

All those jobs look a bit more secure now.

One supporter, Sir Edward Leigh MP, turned up rushing to the street where Andrea Leadsom spoke too late to see her. He said: “this is appalling.” It was a strange echo he said of when he rushed to No. 10 trying to get Margaret Thatcher not to step down. He got to her but failed. This time he didn’t even get to speak.

The country now knows who will be governing through the EU negotiations. After much massive change, one bit of certainty.

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