Andrea Leadsom’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference should make everyone thankful that she didn’t become Prime Minister.

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Andrea Leadsom.

Yesterday the surprise runner up in the Conservative Party leadership race, Andrea Leadsom, made her first major speech as the Secretary of State of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. Speaking to the Conservative Party conference, she set out her vision for post-Brexit Britain — whilst everyone breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t become Prime Minister.

Leadsom began by bringing up the example of the person selling bottles of English countryside air, seemingly as her pick as our best rural export. Although there is indeed a company selling bottled countryside air for £80 a jar, they have estimated they only sell around three hundred jars per annum. So slightly baffling that Leadsom thought it sensible to mention in her speech. One would hope that her post-Brexit strategy for our rural exports is based on something better than this.

She then went on to talk to complain about how the lack of mobile phone signal in the countryside meant that she couldn’t play Pokemon Go. This was meant as evidence for her commitment to the rolling out of superfast broadband throughout rural areas of Britain, but surely she could have thought of a better example?!

Finally, she used the old Conservative Party Conference favourite of talking about how we export food to countries who have invented the food in question.

Leadsom said: “We’re selling coffee to Brazil, sparkling wine to France, and naan bread to India.’ Of course she tactfully failed to mention the amount which is coming the other way. But, nonetheless continuing the commitment to British produce held by her predecessor at DEFRA, Liz Truss. It was of course Truss who came up with the memorable line at the 2014 Conservative Party Conference: “We import two-thirds of our cheese. That. Is. A. Disgrace.” Needless to say, Truss’s speech was replayed many times other, and the same will undoubtedly occur with Leadsom’s this time around.

All this from Leadsom, without properly addressing the integral role that migrant labour plays in the functioning of the rural economy. According to her, the shortfall can be completely made up by employing British youths. Not likely. This simply went further towards proving her evangelical attitude towards Brexit. Clearly Leadsom, just like fellow Brexiteer Liam Fox, won’t accept any free movement of people, even if it is integral to the survival of UK businesses.

This speech just proved that Leadsom wasn’t in any way qualified to become Prime Minister. How she nearly managed to, is beyond me.

Could Open Britain be the beginning of a new political party?

If you have been following the aftermath of the EU Referendum then you may have heard of an ostensibly new group Open Britain, a cross-party group made up of politicians who backed the losing remain campaign.

Open Britain was officially launched with a article in yesterday’s Sunday Times written by Conservative MP Anna Soubry, Labour MP Pat McFadden, and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, whilst the group is also backed by several other high profile MPs including Nick Clegg, Dominic Grieve, and Chuka Umunna. Effectively, it is a relaunch of the Stronger In campaign and is aiming to pressure Theresa May into a deal which puts the UK as close to the EU as possible, without actually being members.

In their article in yesterday’s Sunday Times; Soubry, McFadden, and Lamb argued strongly that the referendum result didn’t reflect a desire to shut Britain off from the rest of Europe:

We do not believe that a vote to leave the EU was a vote for a closed Britain. We believe that we are at our best when we are open — open-minded, open for business, open to trade and investment, open to talent and hard work, open to Europe and the world. That is what we are campaigning for.

It had already been suggested in early July that senior pro-Europe figures across the three main parties were openly debating the idea of a new pro-Europe and pro-business political party, a so-called ‘party of the 48 per cent’. However, this was back when there was still a chance of Andrea Leadsom becoming leader of the Conservative Party, which would have led to both major parties being in the position of having a leader with views at odds with the majority of their party’s MPs. Since the ascension of Theresa May to the office of Prime Minister, talk of a split in the Conservative Party has calmed significantly. However, there is little doubt that the Prime Minister made some enemies in the process of her Cabinet reshuffle, with most of the Conservative modernisers sacked from government. Although all is calm at the moment, who knows what could happen once the Brexit negotiations properly begin. As for the Labour Party, when Corbyn wins in September (clearly Owen Smith has absolutely no chance), the splits in the party will simply be exacerbated further, and it is difficult to see the current Labour Party ever properly reunited.

Potential rebels from these parties would have little appetite for simply joining the Liberal Democrats. Many Labour MPs have particular animosity for the Liberal Democrats following a series of bloody by-election fights over the years. In any case, the Liberal Democrat brand remains significantly tainted following the five years of the Coalition Government and despite Tim Farron’s best efforts, the party look to be making little headway in changing this. Therefore, the only option would be to form a completely new party.

Although Open Britain has been launched simply as a grassroots campaign to get a good deal for Britain in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, there seems a decent chance that it could develop into something much more. There were stories during the referendum campaign of how progressive politicians from all the main parties had enjoyed working together during the campaign, and that the prospect of further cooperation in the future had been mooted.

With Jeremy Corbyn set to remain as Labour Party leader, it looks inconceivable that the Labour Party will avoid a split. Whilst although the Conservative Party is currently relatively calm, Theresa May has the unenviable task of balancing the Brexit negotiations so that they aren’t seen to favour the Remain or Leave side of the debate. If the deal she negotiates favours the Leave side, then don’t bet against some of the keener pro-EU Conservative MPs to defect to a new pro-EU grouping in the House of Commons. The UK political system is somewhat unique in that all of the parties are relatively big tents, with the effect of this meaning that there is always potential for defections.

Ultimately, although Open Britain begins as a grassroots campaign group, it may yet morph into a new political party.

Why is Andrea Leadsom in with a chance of becoming our next Prime Minister?

                                                    Photo: Matt Dunham / AP.

With the first ballot of the Conservative leadership race taking place over the course of Tuesday, it is looking increasingly likely that the final two candidates which party members will get to choose between will be Home Secretary Theresa May, and energy minister Andrea Leadsom.

With Theresa May being one of the most high profile politicians in the UK, albeit one who took somewhat of a backseat during the referendum campaign, it is no surprise that she is a frontrunner for the party leadership. Likewise Michael Gove, Stephen Crabb, and Liam Fox have all spent time in the Cabinet, and although less experienced than May at least have some tangible experience of government from which to draw. As for Leadsom, she has served in junior ministerial positions in the Treasury and the Energy Department but has never held a Cabinet position. Indeed few people had heard of her before she took centre stage during the two main televised Brexit debates. Rarely has someone with less experience stood a real chance of becoming Prime Minister so early in their political career. Leadsom was only elected to the House of Commons in 2010 making her far and away the least experienced of the five candidates for the leadership.

Not since 1963 have we had a Prime Minister who has not first served as either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, whoever wins the Conservative leadership election will technically be the least experienced Prime Minister since 1963. However, Theresa May’s six years as Home Secretary easily make her qualified for the role, whilst Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, and Michael Gove have all served at least two years in the Cabinet. Despite this, Andrea Leadsom seems to currently have a better chance than any candidate, bar Theresa May, of being Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister by September. Currently Leadsom stands in second place, behind May, in terms of MPs who have pledged their support to her campaign. If, as expected, Liam Fox is eliminated from the race after Tuesday’s vote, then it would stand to reason that his supporters will gravitate towards supporting Leadsom. This will put Leadsom in pole position to see off the challenges of Michael Gove and Stephen Crabb to take on Theresa May in a ballot of the full party membership.

Current polling suggests that May is the favourite and would comfortably defeat Leadsom in a ballot of the full party membership. However, any full membership vote on the leadership will not take place until September, which gives a significant amount of time for things to change. Being the favourite at an early stage rarely seems to be helpful in party leadership elections. Just ask Boris Johnson and David Miliband and I am sure that they will tell you the same. Therefore, to suggest that Theresa May as our next Prime Minister is a foregone conclusion would be incorrect.

Traditionally the wider Conservative membership has been significantly more Eurosceptic than the parliamentary party, and so following the vote to leave the European Union it stands to reason that the Conservative membership would want a leader who campaigned for the UK to leave the EU. With Leadsom boasting the support of influential Eurosceptic figures in the parliamentary party such as Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan-Smith, John Redwood, and Steve Baker then it seems that she has a strong chance of being the Leave supporting representative on the final ballot paper. Given the desire of many members that a Leave supporter takes charge of the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, this would surely give Leadsom a strong chance of victory. Add to this the fact that Liam Fox is struggling to garner significant support and that Michael Gove will now be forever haunted by his betrayal of Boris Johnson, and Leadsom would seem to be the only viable candidate from the Leave side of the Conservative Party. Therefore, she has an extremely good chance of becoming the next Leader of the Conservative Party and our next Prime Minister.

This surely raises serious questions about the whole process of choosing a leader. Leadsom has very little experience of government with just two junior ministerial roles to her name and no Cabinet experience at all. Surely she is not experienced enough to become Prime Minister. The same could be said of current Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn who had no ministerial experience at all prior to his election as Leader of the Labour Party. However, there is a huge difference in responsibility between becoming Leader of the Opposition and becoming Prime Minister. David Cameron was not particularly experienced when he first became Leader of the Conservative Party. However, his five years as Leader of the Opposition allowed him to gain the requisite experience to serve as Prime Minister upon his election in 2010. Leadsom would not be afforded this luxury and would instead be thrown straight in at the deep end as Prime Minister. She is by no means ready for this. From what I can gather, Leadsom has hardly set the world alight during her time in Parliament thus far. During her stint at the Treasury as City Minister, she was variously described as ‘a disaster’ and ‘the worst minister we’ve ever had’. It is said that this poor spell at the Treasury led to George Osborne blocking a promotion to the Cabinet and requesting Leadsom’s transfer to another department, which culminated in Leadsom becoming a junior minister in the Energy Department. This evidence is hardly a ringing endorsement of her credentials to be our next Prime Minister.

Despite having limited experience within government, Leadsom will likely point to her experience outside of politics as qualifying her for the role of Prime Minister, or in the event of a close loss, then the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Over the course of the EU Referendum and her campaign for the Conservative leadership, Leadsom has made much of her twenty-five years experience in financial services. Some of Leadsom’s claims have suggested that she has experience in finance that would qualify her for the post of Chancellor of Prime Minister due to an understanding of the economy. However, evidence suggests that this is not the case. Robert Stephens, a colleague of Leadsom’s during her ten years at Invesco Perpetual has stated that her role was mostly an administrative role which involved negotiating the pay of senior fund managers, but certainly didn’t involve any actual financial management or economic analysis. Therefore, it is debatable whether Leadsom actually is as qualified as she claims, and her statements risk misleading voters regarding her qualifications for senior governmental posts.

Leadsom becoming our next Prime Minister would also raise serious questions in terms of democracy. I would argue that the overall majority gained by the Conservatives at the 2015 General Election was far more an endorsement of David Cameron as Prime Minister than it was an endorsement of the Conservatives as a governing party. Indeed, much of the post election polling seemed to find that many people preferred policies put forward in the Labour Party’s manifesto yet voted Conservative anyway because they much preferred David Cameron to Ed Miliband, and felt that David Cameron and George Osborne were better placed to manage the economy than Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. I would argue that another general election should be held in order to give legitimacy to the new Prime Minister, yet all of the leadership contenders have stated that they will not be doing this. They see the election result as an endorsement of the party rather than David Cameron. Seeing as Theresa May, Michael Gove, and Stephen Crabb all held Cabinet positions at the time of the 2015 General Election then the victory could perhaps be extended to them, and lend them some legitimacy. However, until about a month ago, very few people had actually heard of Leadsom. Therefore, if she were to take office as Prime Minister without first gaining legitimacy through a general election then surely this would be an abuse of democracy?

Ultimately, the problem with Andrea Leadsom becoming Prime Minister is one of experience. How can someone possibly become Prime Minister solely on the back of a couple of moderately successful television appearances talking rubbish about Brexit? It is completely absurd that she is now in this position and that as of the first round of voting, sixty-six Conservative MPs believe that she is the most qualified of the five original leadership candidates to become Prime Minister. What is more worrying is that when the choice of Conservative leader goes to the wider party membership there is a relatively good chance that the Conservative rank-and-file select Leadsom as their favoured candidate rather than May, in large part because Leadsom backed Brexit. This would be a mistake. Her politics aside, Andrea Leadsom does not have the requisite experience to be our next Prime Minister and it is crazy that she has even come under real consideration.