There can be no objection to journalists trawling through Andrea Leadsom’s CV. That’s part of what we do – and the Energy Minister is rapidly discovering the downside of being a relative unknown. Theresa May’s back story is well known. Leadsom’s is not – and she is getting her first taste of the intensity of scrunity that senior politicians must expect. It will not be a comfortable experience.
But scrutiny is one thing; prejudice is quite another. Iain Dale was right to suggest this in his column this morning that much of the media coverage of Leadsom’s campaign has been feral. Support for same-sex marriage is a litmus test of social acceptability among the class that helps to shape our political culture, and there is a sense in some of the reporting of her reservations about it that her position is not merely wrong but somehow wicked. Nick Boles’s famous text to other MPs can also be read in this way. Leadsom has also been asked while being interviewed on TV if God speaks to her. There was a rationale for the question, but it is one that some who hear about it will miss.
My point is not to complain about this worldview, but to highlight a consequence of the way it’s being applied – with much of the media apparently hunting in a pack. A significant slice of Conservative Party members will hold roughly Leadsom’s view on same-sex marriage. A larger proportion may not be practising Christians (though many will), but will value the role of the churches. They may like what they see of Leadsom’s passion for strengthening families.
Less than a month has passed since a large slice of the media mis-read the EU referendum. This is partly a consequence of much of it being concentrated in relatively comfortable parts of central London. Like the scholars in the Yeats poem, “All think what other people think;/All know the man their neighbour knows.” The consensus of the Westminster Village thus becomes self-reinforcing. I thought that Leave might win, but believed that Remain probably would. This was at least partly a consequence of viewing the country from inside a prosperous part of the M25.
In other words, the more media mocking that there is of Leadsom, the more likely it is that many Party members are to feel that she is being bullied – and that her values, which are theirs, are being ridiculed. If parts of the media want to promote the cause of the candidate they don’t want rather than the one that they do, they should carry on doing exactly what they have been doing for the past few days.