Theresa may, but it’s Project Smear for loathsome Leadsom says Steve Beauchampé.
It took less than two weeks for the leaders of the EU Leave campaign to be ousted from the heart of the seismic change which had briefly threatened to overwhelm UK politics. Boris Johnson didn’t even reach the starting line in the contest to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister, Michael Gove failed to make the final cut, Iain Duncan Smith is backing the wrong horse, only Andrea Leadsom retains any involvement, if only just.
Meanwhile Nigel Farage has resigned as UKIP leader whilst his former colleagues remain on the margins of British politics after their 4.9 million votes at the 2015 General Election were rewarded with but one parliamentary seat.
Leadsom’s leadership campaign began lamentably, with disputes over both her CV and her comments about motherhood gifting her many adversaries at Conservative Central Office and amongst the wider party sufficient ammunition to portray her as untrustworthy, unreliable and out of touch, particularly with female voters (some even using her remarks as an opportunity to call for her to quit the contest). The complete opposite of the narrative that is being constructed around the Tory establishment’s candidate, Theresa May.
Keeping Leadsom on the defensive is key to this strategy so expect much more of what Leadsom proponent Iain Duncan Smith has already coined Project Smear and a black ops campaign, which would hardly be surprising given that those guiding May’s coronation include the very people who used similar fear and scare tactics so successfully in the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, the 2015 General Election and repeatedly against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
It is highly unlikely that Michael Gove would have made the sort of elementary mistakes Leadsom has so the party hierarchy must be mightily relieved that the Justice Secretary was eliminated from the contest before it reached a vote of party members where his intellectual skills might have made for an uncomfortable contest as far as the Remainiacs are concerned.
By contrast, all May needs to do is to be seen to rise above the fray, call for unity and One Nation Conservatism while her supporters in the party and the media to do the kicking and sledging. Portraying May as a moderate is perhaps disingenuous not least given her views on both immigration and surveillance, but compared to Leadsom’s particularly hardline right wing ideology on issues such as employment rights, business regulation, gay marriage and blood sports such a depiction is just imaginable.
But Theresa May is either a very lucky politician or someone who has calculated the situation brilliantly. Because despite her near invisibility during the EU referendum campaign, instead of taking her share of the blame for the defeat, with Cameron forced from office early and Chancellor George Osborne’s leadership credentials ruined (at least for now), May has emerged as the Leave side’s most senior figure, her authority and credibility bolstered by serving six years as Home Secretary.
To the party establishment, taking control of the terms and timescale of Britain’s EU withdrawal is paramount. May will deliver that largely to the agenda of others, whilst being allowed to present it as her own triumph (because a triumph is what it will be sold to us as whatever deal is concluded). Yet she will have many favours to pay for her good fortune.
High on the list will be the future of Osborne, who, after initially suggesting that he might remain as Chancellor, has more recently been angling for the post of Foreign Secretary, most likely grateful to be rid of what might prove to be a very challenging finance portfolio as the UK extricates itself from the EU. So don’t be surprised if we ultimately end up with a government little changed in either senior personnel or policy from its predecessor, whose core function will be dealing with the ramifications of withdrawal.
And once that process is complete, given the ideologies of those most likely to be overseeing it, there may be a significant proportion of voters feeling yet more frustrated and disenfranchised, people for whom the Leave vote brought little discernible positive change to their circumstances. and prospects. But these will primarily be voters in the traditional Labour heartlands of the North and the West and East Midlands, never likely to vote Conservative, and meaning that it will be the Labour Party who ultimately pay the electoral price for their savage disappointment.
In Britain it seems that death and taxes are not life’s only certainties, but also that that those who hold the reins of power ever so tightly always come out on top. Plus ca change?