Theresa May is the candidate to beat in the Conservative leadership election, after winning the support of 60% of the parliamentary party.
However, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader last year showed that members do not necessarily vote for the candidate favoured by MPs.
Andrea Leadsom now has about six weeks to woo the Conservative membership, who are likely to be more rightwing, middle class and affluent than the average voter.
She will have to appeal to these 150,000 people to get the job of prime minister, and convince them that she can win over the whole country when it comes to a general election.
To beat May, the following strategies will be crucial:
Reiterating her fight for Brexit
Leadsom’s trump card is that she fought to take the UK out of the EU, in contrast to May who played a low-key role in the remain campaign. Leadsom was not as prominient as the leading Brexit duo – Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – but she raised her profile with measured and convincing performances in two television debates. As a Brexiter, she will be able to argue that her heart is in taking Britain out of the EU, with no fudges or retreat from what the public has voted for.
On top of that, she will probably claim to be in tune with the national mood, given that a majority of people opted for Brexit, allowing her to argue she has a high chance of winning the general election. Her supporters are already saying she will appeal to Labour-voting and Ukip-voting Brexiters as she was “willing to put her head on the block” to fight for leaving the EU.
Highlighting May’s failure to bring down immigration
The EU referendum was lost by the remain side mainly on the issue of immigration. It is therefore a golden opportunity for Leadsom that her opponent has been home secretary for the last six years and has failed to hit the target of getting net migration down to tens of thousands a year.
May has given many speeches sounding tough on immigration, but her pro-Brexit opponent will be able to question whether she really wants to bring down numbers. While EU migration was outside May’s control, non-EU migration makes up half of the total and was not brought down as promised by the Conservative manifesto.
At the same time, Leadsom has struck a note of reasonableness by promising that all EU citizens currently in the UK will be allowed to stay. In an attempt to outflank her, May has been forced into the harsher position of not guaranteeing that EU citizens can stay and claiming Leadsom that would allow foreign criminals to remain in the country.
Classic rightwing policies to appeal to Tory members
The Tory membership have voted for candidates on rightwing platforms in the past, including Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. Leadsom has already begun to set out some of these traditional Conservative policies, including a vote to repeal the foxhunting ban and a review of the HS2 high-speed rail project, which is loathed by the Tory shires. She also stressed she was not happy with gay marriage legislation and mentioned the “very clear hurt” it had caused to many Christians. Same-sex marriage caused a huge row in the Conservative party early in David Cameron’s tenure as prime minister, and it could benefit Leadsom to reawaken it.
A charm offensive on the rubber chicken circuit
May is not known as the most charming of politicians. She is a fairly reserved character and pitches herself as competent rather than chummy. In contrast, Leadsom has a winning manner and is a confident media performer. Her campaign chief Tim Loughton says she plans to visit all corners of the UK during the coming weeks, which is likely to involved touring Conservative associations for speeches, hustings and dinners. The Tory grassroots have been feeling highly neglected in recent years, having reportedly been dismissed by the party’s chairman, Andrew Feldman, as “swivel-eyed loons” – although he denied making that comment. Leadsom could be the person to make them feel loved again by their leader.
Adopting the anti-elite narrative of Ukip
Leadsom is hardly anti-establishment, having worked in the world of finance for 25 years. However, she has already begun to adopt the Vote Leave and Ukip narrative that leaving the EU is a victory for ordinary people against the elites. To beat May, she will need to cast her rival as “Continuity Cameron”, a part of the government that has paid insufficient attention to the concerns of the public on issues from the NHS to immigration and depressed wages. This has begun already, with her supporter Peter Bone saying: “She has been out in the real world, working. People are crying out for non-establishment figures. This is not just about governing now, its about winning the 2020 election. Who would be better? I think its Andrea Leadsom.”