Want to look stupid and smug? Then play the 'as a mum' card
Published 12/07/2016 | 02:30
Andrea Leadsom yesterday announced her decision to stand down and support Theresa May. The right-wing newspapers backing May can take a breather.
Accusations of media bias arose over the weekend when 'The Times' published an interview with Leadsom that included controversial comments on motherhood. If Leadsom's unique selling point in her campaign to win the Tory leadership was anything to go by, then Leo Varadkar hasn't a snowball's chance of winning the vote for next Fine Gael leader, because he lacks "the edge" and has no "real stake in the future of our country".
According to Leadsom, "[I] genuinely feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She [Theresa May] 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."
In that case, it seems Alan Kelly also slipped up when he was high-fiving Ryan Tubridy on the 'Late Late Show' before the Labour leadership contest - he could have pointed out the strength of his role as a father, in contrast to childless Brendan Howlin. Leadsom would also clearly be perturbed that our Minister for Children is a childless gay woman.
The two ultimate contenders for the Tory leadership sat on opposite sides of the Brexit referendum. Leadsom argued that voting Leave would restore independence and sovereignty for future generations. Ironically, it was the youth of the UK who mainly voted Remain - and subsequently vilified their elders, such as Leadsom, for condemning them to an uncertain future when the elder Brexiters will be gone.
With her frequent "as a mum" remarks, Leadsom has let the cat out of the bag, exposing herself as one of those smug mothers who think that having children is a badge of honour and gives them 'an edge' over women who are unable to conceive or who have chosen not to have children.
Even her apology in 'The Telegraph' - "I've been under attack, it's been shattering" - overshadows her sincerity by morphing herself into the victim.
Her actions over the weekend only prove that Leadsom was not prime minister material; they also prove that, compared to her life in the financial sector, politics is a dirty and brutal arena. Or maybe both sectors are identical.
The resonance of Leadsom's remarks will ripple far beyond the Tory leadership contest.
But I doubt that the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, a Remainer, is wondering how she managed to achieve such huge public support without having given birth. Yet she would have had to engage with Leadsom had 'the mum' won the leadership contest, and know that she is considered to have "no real stake in the future" of the country. Similarly, the latest challenger to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of Labour is Angela Eagle, who is married to Maria Exall and has no children.
The German Chancellor for the last 11 years, Angela Merkel, also childless, will no doubt not be bothered by Leadsom's remarks - and may have met her match in Theresa May.
The idea of being more motivated by having children does raise some interesting issues. I often write opinion from the point of view of a mother, only because it is relevant to a particular parental debate.
But in my work life, I would not want to be defined as a mother. Frankly, children anchor you for at least 18 years. Starting and ending with sleepless nights. I can't see how they are a motivation for leading a country into social and economic success. If anything, they are a hindrance, unless you have a live-in housekeeper, professional childminders on shifts and a boarding school.
I am also pretty sure children would not want to be used in a tokenistic way for their mother's career ambitions. Children are private individuals, not family totems to be trotted out for political or professional gain.
As far as they are concerned, our job is to keep them healthy and happy, to educate and love them, but they should never be used to assert professional expertise over a childless person.
That just makes you look stupid and smug.
With her six years in one of the toughest cabinet roles and her broad support base, May is just as invested in the future of the UK as anyone else, with or without children.
And with Brexiter Arlene Foster as First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Sturgeon in Scotland and May as the new PM - and the UK looking like a disunited kingdom - there could not be more uncertainty in these waters.