Think about Andrea Leadsom’s target audience

Most of the progressive side of social media is frothing in collective disgust at Andrea Leadsom’s comments in today’s Times (£).

There is no doubt that they were absolutely disgusting.

After explaining that, as a former banker, she understands “how the economy works and can really focus on turning it around” — unlike, by implication, the home secretary — she stresses that she is a “member of a huge family and that’s important to me. My kids are a huge part of my life, my sisters and my two half brothers are very close so I am very grounded and normal.” Mrs May, of course, has spoken of her heartbreak at realising that she could not have children.

In case the contrast is not clear enough, Mrs Leadsom goes on: “I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’ because I think that would be really horrible, but genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.” There is also an empathy that comes from motherhood, she suggests, “when you are thinking about the issues that other people have: you worry about your kids’ exam results, what direction their careers are taking, what we are going to eat on Sunday”.

Lest you think the Times might be making it up, here’s the audio:

It should go without saying that whether you have children or not, whether that’s by choice or not, has no bearing on whether you care about the future of our planet. However, what Leadsom did was made even nastier because she knew perfectly well that Theresa May and her husband had not been able to have children. The pain of infertility is really tough to go through, as you come to terms with the fact that your life is going to be different than you thought it would be. It gets harder as you see your contemporaries all having children and embracing family life. Leadsom disproves her own argument, that being a mother gives her more empathy.

This has been the year of “I never thought I’d see the day when…” as all sorts political earthquakes shock us on a daily basis. This was particularly true last night for me. I never thought I’d ever want to give Theresa May a hug, but I did.

There are three things that strike me about Leadsom’s comments.

First, for someone who values motherhood so much, she’s not so keen on maternity leave.

Secondly, her reaction was to throw up her hands in horror and accuse the Times of not playing fair despite the fact that she clearly said what they said she said. Does this remind you of the behaviour of the Leave campaign? They just cried foul when they were caught out on lies and accused others of scaremongering when they spoke what we now know perfectly well was the truth.

Thirdly, suggesting that this is all about Leadsom’s naivety and lack of experience infantilises her unnecessarily. She’s not stupid. She has had a long career at a senior level. She’s been in politics for long enough to know exactly where her words would be carried. She didn’t care about those of us who would be horrified by her comments. Her target audience is round about 75,000 people, round about half the membership of the Conservative Party. Let’s face it, the clue is in the name. They aren’t progressive people. Quite a lot of them hold views that wouldn’t have been out of place in the century before last.

If the guy on the tube was right, her priorities, including “waging a war on political correctness” are pretty scary for anyone who happens to fall in any marginalised group. It’s easy to see how she could set back decades of progress towards equality. Concerns have already been raised over her connections to groups who preach an explicitly anti-gay message.

Leadsom is reaching out to that part of the Conservative Party for whom the thought of equalities legislation is about as welcome as waking up to a cat with an upset stomach. Saying something pretty controversial that taps into the same sort of base instincts that Vote Leave successfully manipulated, and getting it on to the top item on the BBC News may well lead her to think that today is a good day for her campaign.

The Conservative leadership race is not in any way inspiring. It’s fair to say that either of the candidates as Prime Minister is enough to make any liberal wince. On one hand you have the Home Secretary who wants to snoop on all our emails and was behind the racist “Go home” vans and on the other you have Andrea Leadsom, who thinks it’s ok to use whether someone has children as a political weapon. Where will Conservative members, naturally leaning towards Brexit and therefore Leadsom, make their choice?

The job of unravelling this country’s four decade association with the EU and dealing with the associated economic turmoil is not going to be an easy one. You have to wonder if Michael Gove did himself and Boris a favour by getting them both out of the race.

Tim Farron is right that the people who make this decision are by no means representative of the population. The sooner we have an election the better.

UPDATE: Jonathan Calder’s memory is better than mine – he’s remembered that Leadsom’s campaign manager Tim Loughton had a go at Sarah Teather for not having children.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Was this a mistake or a cunning ploy; because it will play well with a section of society who are a major part of the Tory party membership.

    Unpleasant as it may be bashing minorities of any type play well with more people than we would like to admit exist.

  • Ruth Bright 9th Jul '16 - 4:00pm

    Well done Caron. Knew you would write the definitive piece on this business.

  • Frankie, that was kind of my point…

  • Caron I’m sure in public it will be played as a mistake, but I’m expecting similar mistakes to occur as she dog whistles the Tory faithful. To think some people thought they could deal with the new nice Tory party, never existed never will, no matter what that nice Mr Cameron says. I expect the next one will be Sharia May, already being bounced round orderorder.

  • I’m not so sure it will play well to any audience. It comes across as too callous and more than a little snide. Having said that, I find May’ s enthusiasm for snooping and “go home” vans repugnant.

  • Glenn try dropping into it will open your eyes, but not in a good way.

  • It is a sorry state of affairs when I find myself thinking that Theresa May is the less bad of the two options.

    Perhaps another election now would be a good thing, but I fear that the collective insanity we are battling with would vanish just because an election were called: there is no guarantee that we wouldn’t have people campaigning on how eurosceptic and tribally-nasty they can be.

    In the very short term, I am stumped as to what we can do to tilt the scales away from Leadsome.

    From a diversity perspective I am also concerned that she seems hell bent on attacking lots of groups one would want to affirm, and (like Margaret Thatcher) be quoted as a reason for not electing women, when she is actually (just) a reason for not electing extremists.

  • Alisdair McGregor 9th Jul '16 - 5:47pm

    It’s a really sorry state of affairs when “lesser of two evils” is the basis on which I have to hope that a certain candidate ends up leading my country.

  • Richard Cooper 9th Jul '16 - 5:55pm

    Th gloves are off and the knives are out!

  • Tony Dawson 9th Jul '16 - 6:00pm

    @Richard Cooper :

    “The gloves are off and the knives are out!”

    I am surprised Michael Gove left anything in the cutlery draw!

  • Tony Greaves 9th Jul '16 - 6:18pm

    The nasty party is going to have a nasty leader and we are going to have a nasty PM. Seems that one of them is nastier than the other…

    It’s the modern tactic. Say something outrageous to get to the bigoted core support. Then pretend you are horrified at being misquoted it to get victim sympathy from the rest.

    Tony Greaves

  • Sadly I’ve seen too many comments from people who believe Leadsom is the better of the two. Heaven help us all whoever gets in.

  • William Townsend 9th Jul '16 - 6:59pm

    May is probably a leader that the public could put into Number 10 if she wins and then calls an election, which is unlikely and if Labour are still a mess. Leadsom may with a fair wind win the Tory party but I doubt she could win the country. Both make me nervous as both have unpleasant views on freedom and privacy. Which ever wins and if Corbyn stays then an open door will exist for the LibDems to make a serious comeback at the ballot box as all thre will be too much for a large percentage of the electorate to stomach. Lots of “ifs, buts and maybe’s”

  • Maybe Leadom’s dog whistle is intended to be heard by UKIP supporters as well as Tory members, ready for a snap election when she wins the leadership? I’m sure many of them are on the same wavelength with regards to marriage etc.

  • Ruth Bright 9th Jul '16 - 9:23pm

    Interestingly enough the dog whistle is all over the place here. I am sure the Tory faithful like the idea of a mature, provincial family lady who has “done” motherhood (note the past tense) but were they were presented with a younger female candidate (like Chloe Smith) who is actually expecting I suspect they would be absolutely horrified!

  • nvelope2003 9th Jul '16 - 9:28pm

    William Townsend: Corbyn has been leading the labour party since September 2015 but apart from some local by-election gains there has been little sign of any improvement in support for the Liberal Democrats but Labour has done well in Parliamentary by-elections and local elections. Despite the unrelenting hostility of the Conservative Press it seems the voters quite like Corbyn, possibly because he seems a refreshing change from the sort of politicians they have had to endure for many years and because they want a change from the sort of policies those politicians support.

  • The Times omitted the question asked immediately before Leadsom’s reply, something like ‘Do you see yourself as the mum of politics?’ That explains quite a lot.

  • Jackie CHARLTON 9th Jul '16 - 9:58pm

    Leadsoms’ comments were appalling but as some have said this has got her on the front page of The Times, with a smile, all over the BBC and other news channels and on social media (we are all here!!). She is a disaster for feminists but an angel for those 150,000 who will have the opportunity to elect her. LibDems are gaining momentum especially in local elections and we also have a collective movement going forward together. Won’t make headlines but a drip, drip message is an important plus for us.

  • Just a little bored with the Tory election – how will our parliamentary party vote in regard to Trident?

  • Martin Land 9th Jul '16 - 10:29pm

    Sunday Times say 20 Tories will quit parliamentary party if she wins. I could name a few….

  • Strange,last year when Yvette Cooper made similar comments about Liz Kendall not having kids we didn’t have this explosion of outrage.

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Jul '16 - 11:22pm

    Martin Land
    “Sunday Times say 20 Tories will quit parliamentary party if she wins.”

    Uhuh. If we’ve learned anything from the Referendum campaign, it is surely to give absolutely no credence to unsubstantiated claims of this sort. (Or should we expect Osborne’s emergency budget imminently…?)

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th Jul '16 - 12:11am

    Martin Land and Malcolm Todd: I am giving up wishing for Tory splits…

    Past prime ministers without children (not an exhaustive list):
    – Palmerston
    – Disraeli
    – Arthur Balfour
    – Campbell-Bannerman
    – Ted Heath

    What’s interesting is that the time-gaps in this list get longer as you get nearer the present; it is tempting to assume that with the advent of mass media, the role of one’s family in presenting a palatable image to the national or party electorate has grown…

    Maybe the present isn’t always more liberal than the past?

  • Not quite sure your right about Palmerston Matt

    In 1839, Palmerston married his mistress of many years, Emily Lamb, Countess Cowper, following the death of her husband. She was a noted Whig hostess and sister of Lord Melbourne. They had no legitimate children, although at least one of Lord Cowper’s putative children, Lady Emily Cowper, later Countess of Shaftesbury, was widely believed to have been Palmerston’s.,_3rd_Viscount_Palmerston#Marriage

    but yes I suppose that would be more liberal 😉

  • Peter Watson 10th Jul '16 - 10:39am

    @Mark Argent “In the very short term, I am stumped as to what we can do to tilt the scales away from Leadsome.”
    Get Nick Clegg to back her. Simples.

  • jayne mansfield 10th Jul '16 - 10:40am

    I have not felt this conflicted since I watched, ‘ What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’

    The voting record of both women is appalling . Neither seem to have an ounce of empathy for those in less fortunate circumstances, including other women and their children.

  • @john
    What’s more, just a few weeks ago many of the people who are now attacking Leadsom were pleading with ageing Leave voters to forget about their own interests and put their children and grandchildren first. Apparently it’s OK for parenthood to have an influence on your political outlook some of the time but not at other times.

    The only thing I find “disgusting” about Leadsom’s comments is the fact that she is in a two-horse race with a woman who has expressed sadness at her own family’s fertility problems. For that reason alone she should not have said it. But I’m not disgusted by the actual idea of parents having “a stake in the future”. Over the years, I’ve often idly thought that it’s a relief Vladimir Putin has such a stake. Is it wrong to think that?

  • I have another reason against Leadsom. She is in favour of bringing back grammar schools. That is so divisive. It does nothing for the less skilled and less academic people in our nation who are among those most affected by any economic difficulties. It ignores the link between immigration and prejudice, where employers often take on immigrants because they cannot find people with the right skills or aptitudes among those living nearby.

  • jayne mansfield 10th Jul '16 - 12:31pm

    @ Stuart,

    If I may be so bold, I believe that Leadsom’s target audience were socially conservative, members of the conservative associations who will be voting for a new leader.

    It seems to me that along with her Sunday Roasts, she is appealing to the Kinder Kuche, Kirche members who don’t do irony. If the membership of my local Conservative Association are typical, she is certainly not appealing to the young.

  • Ronald Murray 10th Jul '16 - 2:34pm

    They are indeed a dodgy bunch, was it worth wrecking our party by going into coalition with them. Andrea Leadson stands for everything we despise in Scotland. The loadsa money southern england home counties Tories. Where money is king. Leadsom has alledged Scots are scroungers. (tempted to send her a tea towel which lists a small number of scottish achievements). On the other hand Teresa May who approves of Sharia Law and pushed through the Investigatory Powers Act which neither Police or Security Services asked for. Which I am told the SNP and Labour abstained on the vote. Pity Boris is out at least he is entertaining. As for Dave who wrecked the economy out of fear of UKIP. What a great country.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Jul '16 - 2:49pm

    I would draw readers’ minds back to 6 months ago and look at political blogs, newspaper articles and TV and radio discussions addressing the Tory succession after Cameron. Teresaa May is lying third or fourth depending on which one you read – Andrea Leadsome is nowhere – at least tenth or lower.

    Those discussions were held (with a considerable degree of consensus) in terms of perceived ability as well as popularity. We now face the prospect of a choice between the fourth- and the tenth-best Tories to become our Prime Minister. Of course, we are meant to have a representative parliamentary democracy so that it should not matter too much which top politician becomes prime minister. However, as the Chilcott Report has emphasised, the truth is that our archaic procedures and pathetic lack of real accountability means that Quintin Hogg’s truism of ‘an elective dictatorship’ is as true now as it was when he first coined the phrase. 🙁

  • Sue Sutherland 10th Jul '16 - 4:12pm

    Whoever wins she is going to say “The Conservatives have come together and selected me and now we are going to help the disadvantaged and unite the country”. While Labour is fighting itself it’s up to us to nail the lie so we need a terrific social media campaign and many letters to local papers so the Tories don’t get away with it yet again.

  • Mark Goodson 10th Jul '16 - 5:38pm

    Leadsome’s thinking is not just vile but purile. Presumably the more children you have, the bigger your stake in the future. Perhaps she’d like no votes for the childfree and then one vote per child you produce?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Jul '16 - 1:08am

    Caron this is a good article , if a little charitable to the Times and its reporting and interview !

    Having heard the audio tape of what Leadsom said , I believe her comments to be in response to questions asked , but that does not mean that her comments are anything but outrageous !

    Clear , a whole host of reasons she is not the right person to be leader or prime minister .

    If we ever want to work with Tories we should dread her !

    If we want to beat them we should welcome her !

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '16 - 7:56am

    Mrs Thatcher claimed to believe in individual choice, saying so many times.
    How does Leadsom know that her children will have children?
    Governments’ policies in this area risk leading to gross diminution of human rights. Please see Charlie Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator, a high birthrate was needed to provide lots of infantry soldiers who died in huge numbers. The ‘orphans’ in Romania during and after the Caesescus were not orphans, but the consequences of the President’s desire for a high birthrate despite a widespread lack of adequate food or adequate housing. The attempts by Indira Ghandi and her son to restrict the birthrate in India via a sterilisation programme led to abuse. Please also see the writings of lawyer, Senator, President Mary Robinson about Ireland and cases in the European Court of Human Rights. Think about a rape victim who was not allowed to leave the country, contrary to the freedom of movement laws of the European Union. During the coalition Liberal Democrats persuaded David Cameron to say at PMQ that FGM is torture. Once he knew about it he agreed.
    Safeguarding individual freedom needs constant vigilance.

  • Ruth Bright 11th Jul '16 - 9:37am

    How interesting that Tony Dawson mentions Quintin Hogg. Quintin Hogg was supposed to have lost the Tory leadership partly because of being a Dad. He fed his little girl very publicly at a party conference and there was a huge backlash against him for showing off!

  • Mrs Leadsom has now withdrawn her candidacy according to the BBC

  • Funny how all those who advocated LEAVE have withdrawn or resigned – even the UKIP deputy leader has refused to stand as Nigel Farage’s successor. Maybe none of them believed in what they were saying and did not expect anyone else to believe them either and were horrified when they found they had won ?

  • Richard Underhill 24th Jun '17 - 9:15am

    I saw Newsnight yesterday, early because Glastonbury took their usual slot. Andrea Leadsom is just being herself, lots of Tories do think like that. She should get out more. She should also consider that her Prime Minister, David Cameron, identified the national interest and campaigned for it in a referendum while she rebelled against her party leader and putting at risk substantial proportions of the UK’s export trade and invisible earnings. At least Nigel Farage was honest when he said that some businesses do not export and are therefore not (directly) affected. The fall in the pound immediately after the referendum vote was sharp and has continued. Chocolate anyone? Publican Tim Weatherspoon’s opinion should be seen in the same light, but if he wants to export beer to Germany he should know that the UK won a case in the European Court of Justice about the Bavarian beer purity law. Also good news for Belgian exporters.

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