Our consistent view has been that as a Remain supporter Theresa May could only gain the full legitimacy she needs to serve as Party leader and Prime Minister by contesting a leadership contest in a ballot of Party members. She agreed.
But she will now have serve without having obtained it. Michael Gove will not step in to replace Andrea Leadsom, now that the latter had dramatically withdrawn from the contest, even were he eligible to do so under the rules. Although May would probably have defeated Andrea Leadsom in the ballot, we will now never know. This is not the start that the former wanted. And it will do nothing to quieten calls for a general election.
A ConservativeHome priority throughout this election has been the delivery of Brexit. In our view, Leadsom could not have managed it as Prime Minister from a base of 84 votes, when May gained more than double that number. There was a serious danger that Leadsom would not have been able to form a coherent Government, that there would be a real crisis in the markets, and that Brexit would have folded. To her great credit, her statement acknowledges this.
Her withdrawal thus ends the danger of a political and economic crisis of the first order, but it will leave a sour taste in many Tory mouths. Some of Leadsom’s supporters will doubtless now propagate a stab-in-the-back account of events, claiming that their candidate would have won the election had she not been destroyed by the media. If enough Conservative MPs cling to it, May’s premiership will be troubled from the start.
However, the core of the matter is that Leadsom, since making the final ballot, has felt just a touch of the media heat that more senior Ministers experience daily. It is harsh and frequently cruel and can be unjust – though Saturday’s Times interview was most certainly not: she was quoted fairly, squarely and accurately – and Leadsom has evidently decided that the top post in British politics is not for her, at least at the moment.
Since this is so, her decision is a wise one – especially since the new Prime Minister faces the greatest moment of national challenge since 1940. So now that it is to be May, she needs to be appointed as swiftly as possible. Party members, the voters, the markets, investors, business, our allies abroad – all want as much certainty as they get can as quickly as they can get it, and rightly.
ConservativeHome congratulates May. We supported her candidacy last week on the basis that only she can deliver Brexit, and that this serious, dutiful, public servant will deliver Grown-up Government. Now she must step up to the terrifying responsibilities that she must assume – forming a workable Cabinet, shaping a unity Government, leading on trade, reassuring Scotland, sorting Brexit.
May is a Vicar’s daughter who will know her way round the Bible – and British history too. When a mere slip of an undergraduate, she told friends that she would be Prime Minister. Now she must walk humbly in the post. Perhaps she will remember the verse that perhaps our greatest monarch, then a Princess, recited when the news came that she would be Queen. She knelt, and said: A Domino factum est illud et est mirabile in oculis nostris.