The perfect champion for the new Nasty party? Andrea Leadsom | John Crace

The would-be prime minister is in danger of turning the Tories into yet another party that thinks its leader is useless

The excitement was almost excitement. On the morning of the second round of the Conservative leadership election, Andrea Leadsom was to make a “Major” speech on the economy. We knew this because the invitation said so. Major with a capital M. Andrea was going to use all the expertise she had picked up working on the switchboard at the Aylesbury branch of Barclays to set out the economic future for post-Brexit Britain so we could all sleep easy once more.

Outside a small lecture hall in Westminster, supporters were handing out free T-shirts with #rally4leadsom printed across the front. Some people even took one. They’d be useful as dusters, if nothing else. Once Owen Paterson, Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers – with friends like these ... – had been shoehorned into the front row, Penny Mordaunt stood up to introduce Britain’s economic saviour. “Some people say that Andrea has come from nowhere,” she declared. “But you can only come from nowhere if you’re ready.” Gnomic doesn’t begin to cover it.

“I’m an optimist,” Andrea began, fixing her face into an inane smile. “I want a country in which everyone who aims high can achieve their dreams.” It was certainly working for her. From Chance the Gardener to within striking distance of becoming prime minister. Not for the first time in the past few weeks, fiction was rewriting itself as fact.

After every sentence, Andrea lapsed into yet another inane smile. Her advisers appear to have mistakenly informed her that smiling inanely is a sign of confidence and gravitas. Next, she said she wanted to banish pessimists. She didn’t say where. France, probably. “The forecasts for the economy have all been wrong,” she added, turning a chart showing the plunging value of the pound upside down. Before smiling inanely again. It was like a primary school prize-giving speech from someone who had been drafted in at the last minute after the first 12 choices had made themselves unavailable.

And that was that. In just under 12 minutes, the Major speech on the economy had been delivered. A speech so Majorly subtle it had appeared to be entirely content- and intelligence-free. Andrea beetled off without taking any questions – “I’d love to, but I’ve got a bit of work to do on my CV” – to take her place alongside Theresa Villiers at the head of a 200-yard march on parliament with her supporters.

“MPs at the front,” yelled Tim Loughton. Clearly, the news that Leadsom was meant to represent the unheard, anti-establishment voice of Britain hadn’t filtered down to him. “What do we want? Andrea Leadsom,” shouted a couple of hundred activists. When do we want her? Sometime before September. Villiers looked as if she would rather be somewhere else. Anywhere.

‘What do we want? Leadsom for leader!’ Supporters march on parliament

With her incompetence on the economy safely in the bag, Leadsom took to the airwaves to prove her woman-of-the-people credentials. Yes, she had met a few gay people, and some of them had been OK if you like that kind of thing, which she didn’t really, but what you had to remember was that marriage was strictly for Christians only and if God had wanted gays to get married he wouldn’t have made them gay. Foxes? She’d never seen one she hadn’t wanted to tear apart. Capital punishment? Don’t get me started. The Nasty party, the party for the grassroot, Ukip wing of the Conservatives, had just reformed.

Over in the committee corridor where the second round of voting was taking place, there were tellers for Leadsom and Theresa May, but none for Michael Gove. Either Mikey had taken out his remaining supporters in yet another act of homicidal fury or they knew the game was up. The answer turned out to be both. When Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, announced the result shortly after 4pm, Mikey had secured two fewer votes than he had when there were five candidates. Poetic justice for the justice secretary.

It would be Andrea who would go head to head with May when the ballot was extended to Conservative party members. “It’s the establishment versus the common man,” said one Andrea supporter, before hastily correcting himself. “I meant common woman. The Tory party can now unite, because both candidates are women.” Women: they’re basically all the same. As the Conservative party took another lurch back another few decades, IDS purred unhealthily: “Andrea has the velvet glove of compassion.” TMI.

Andrea practised her inane smile. Perfection. So inane that she failed to realise she was in danger of turning the Conservatives into a mirror image of Labour. A party in which the majority of MPs think its leader is useless.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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