Naive, shattered: tear-stained Leadsom backs down
Published 12/07/2016 | 02:30
Friday afternoon at a Travelodge in Milton Keynes, and Andrea Leadsom was girding herself for the battle ahead. Setting out the qualities she would bring to the office of prime minister, she said she would make "the ideal leader".
Barely 48 hours later, Ms Leadsom was a tear-stained ghost of that would-be PM; the fight and the will knocked out of her by the fearsome reaction to a few ill-chosen words about her opponent, Theresa May, in an interview with 'The Times'.
By yesterday morning, it was over. Having gathered her parliamentary supporters at what was to have been her leadership campaign headquarters, she told them she no longer wanted to run and was withdrawing immediately from the race, leaving Ms May unopposed.
Shock and disbelief stared back at her from the faces she was addressing. One of those listening, Tim Loughton, blamed fellow MPs who had "chosen to further their own ends by putting smear above respect" in their desperate desire to prevent the Tory leadership contest going to a ballot of party members.
Officially, Ms Leadsom was quitting because she did not have the support of enough MPs - which she had known all along - and because, she said, a nine-week leadership contest would be "highly undesirable" for the country.
In the final reckoning, though, it was Ms Leadsom's self-confessed naivety that proved the decisive factor. She had been naive about what she could safely say to journalists, naive about just how dirty the leadership race would be, and perhaps most importantly, naive about the toll it would take on her family.
There had been just too many tears as she spent Sunday with her husband and three children. She decided it was not worth it.
Last week, when Michael Gove was still a contender for the Tory leadership, Ms Leadsom was already facing questions about her integrity, with some of her opponents suggesting she had exaggerated the seniority of some of her jobs in financial services.
Her supporters angrily talked of an orchestrated campaign to smear her name, but she survived the crisis, coming second in the final ballot of Tory MPs on Thursday.
The next day she had agreed to two newspaper interviews.
When 'The Times' pressed her on how motherhood had shaped her views, she suggested she had a bigger "stake" in Britain's future than Ms May - who must be "really sad" to be childless.
The front page the next day carried the headline: "Being a mother gives me the edge on May - Leadsom."
She was accused of "back-stabbing" by Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, and Ms Leadsom found herself apologising to Ms May.
She read out a statement insisting she was "disgusted" at how her comments had been portrayed. But she was honest enough to admit she had been "guilty of naivety".
Iain Duncan Smith accused Ms May's supporters of "black ops" against Ms Leadsom, suggesting the questions over her CV and the attacks on her comments to 'The Times' were part of a high-level, coordinated campaign to strangle her campaign at birth.
After an awful Saturday, Ms Leadsom was interviewed on Sunday by Allison Pearson of 'The Telegraph.
When Ms Pearson asked Ms Leadsom when she had last cried, she confessed: "Twenty minutes ago." She had spent the weekend feeling "under attack, under enormous pressure", she said. "It has been shattering."
Was she considering throwing in the towel?
Her slightly robotic answer was that she wanted to act "in the best interests of the country".
By Sunday night, she had decided it wasn't. After talking it over with her husband, Ben, she came to the conclusion that she and her family would pay too high a cost.
Yesterday morning she went to her campaign HQ in Westminster, where she shocked her unsuspecting team by telling them her campaign was over. (©Daily Telegraph, London)