Tuesday 6 December 2016

MPs attack Andrea Leadsom over ‘vile’ comments on Theresa May’s 'really sad' lack of children

Ashley Cowburn

Published 09/07/2016 | 10:10

Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May
Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May

Andrea Leadsom has come under fire from senior Conservatives over the "vile", "insulting" and "wrong" suggestion that being a mother meant she had a "a very real stake" in the future of our country – as she talked about Theresa May's "really sad" lack of children.

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The incendiary comments were published just hours after the Home Secretary had pledged to fight a “clean campaign” and urged her rival to “do the same”. Speaking yesterday Ms May, who is hedging her bets on being the “unity” candidate in the contest, said the “public are tired of people acting like politics is a game, so a clean campaign is what our party and country deserves”.

Ms Leadsom, who has two sons and a daughter, was asked in an interview with The Times whether she felt “like a mum in politics”.

“Yes. 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 said.

“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.

“It means you don't want a downturn but never mind 10 years hence it will all be fine, my children will be starting their lives in that next 10 years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.”

Her comments sparked outrage from fellow Tory MPs. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: “I am childless. I have nieces and nephews. I believe I – like everyone else – have a very real stake in our country."

Anna Soubry, minister for small business, industry and enterprise, said the interview “shows Andrea Leadsom is not PM material".

"She should do us all a favour including herself and step aside ... we need a PM [with] real experience at the highest level, proven competence, a safe pair of hands, a compassionate on nation Tory… AL [Andrea Leadsom] way out of her depth," she tweeted.

Conservative MP Sir Alan Duncan said: “I'm gay and in a civil partnership. No children, but 10 nieces and nephews. Do I not have a stake in the future of the country? Vile.” 

And Sam Gyimah, another Tory MP, added: “Wrong and insulting for Leadsom to say those who are childless care less about the future. Being a parent doesn’t qualify you to be PM."

Deputy Commons Leader Therese Coffey, another supporter of Mrs May, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that “Andrea is a friend, I know she's not a malicious person". But she also added: “I don't think it matters whether somebody has children. The next prime minister, what matters is what they are going to do for every child in this country.

"I believe Theresa May has got the proven leadership, she has got the qualities, she could be prime minister tomorrow.”

Just last week Ms May had spoken about how her and her husband, Philip, were affected by being unable to have children. Ms May told the Daily Telegraph she likes to keep her “personal life personal” but says that she and her husband “dealt with” the fact they couldn't have children and “moved on”.

“I hope nobody would think that mattered,” she said. “I can still empathise, understand people and care about fairness and opportunity.”

Ms Leadsom, a junior energy minister who entered the Commons six years ago, responded to the story claiming The Times had misreported her comments.

“Truly appalling and exact opposite of what I said. I am disgusted,” Ms Leadsom said on Twitter.

The 53-year-old added in direct message to the interviewer: “This is despicable and hateful reporting. You must now provide the transcript – this is beyond disgusting…this is the worst gutter journalism I’ve ever seen. I am so angry – I can’t believe this. How could you?”

Emma Tucker, the Times' deputy editor, went on to release a partial transcript of the interview with Ms Leadsom and an audio recording.  

But Penny Mordaunt, the Armed Forces minister who is one of Ms Leadsom's most high profile backers, said the report was an attempt to "smear" the leadership contender.

Ms Mordaunt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I'm afraid this is an attempt, I think, by a paper that has declared for the other candidate to smear Andrea.

"We have had a pretty unedifying contest so far, including people trying to prevent Andrea getting on the ballot paper.

"From my understanding of the interview, you could not have come away from that interview with the impression that The Times have clearly decided to write a headline on, which is something that she did not say.

"Andrea is a mother and she has done a huge amount of work on parents and infants, that's a major part of who she is and the social reform agenda she pushes."

The Independent was unable to reach Ms Leadsom’s team for a comment.

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