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The Spectator's Notes

Andrea Leadsom’s line about children? Thatcher did it first

Also in The Spectator’s Notes: the meaning of Brexit; Mark Carney go home; the referendum and racism; David Cameron’s future

16 July 2016

9:00 AM

16 July 2016

9:00 AM

On Tuesday night in London, I spoke to Women2Win, a Conservative organisation dedicated to recruiting more women candidates. My title, suggested long ago, was ‘The Woman Who Won’. It referred to Margaret Thatcher. The day before my speech was delivered, another woman (and former chairman of Women2Win) won, so now there are two. Everyone seized the moment to compare and contrast them. There is a clear difference between Theresa May’s situation today and Mrs Thatcher’s in 1975. Mrs May, like Ted Heath in 1975, represents the side that just lost, Mrs Thatcher the side with a new idea about how to win. Mrs May is the establishment candidate: Mrs Thatcher was the insurgent. Part of the latter’s insurgency was her sex, which brought something new and challenging to political leadership. Today the cause of women in politics is so much advanced that a woman can be the ‘safety first’ candidate. A related difference is that Mrs Thatcher’s electorate for the leadership — only MPs — was more than 90 per cent male. Today, a woman would-be leader facing the same constituency has to appeal to her own sex as well as the opposite one. This makes her calculations more complicated and her stance more consensual. One reason Andrea Leadsom was ferociously jumped on for arguing that her motherhood was a qualification for leadership was that her words implied an attack on another woman, the childless Mrs May. In her contest with the unmarried Heath, Mrs Thatcher said publicly, ‘All this is so wretched for him … And unlike me he hasn’t a family around him from which to draw strength.’ She survived this dig unrebuked. If her opponent had been a woman, she could not have done.

Brexit means Brexit’, says our new Prime Minister, but that does not tell us what she thinks Brexit would involve. Given the immense resourcefulness of the EU in perpetuating itself, one must guard against solutions which appear to satisfy Brexit conditions, but leave reality little changed. They might resemble how France withdrew from the military command of Nato in 1966. This assertion of French sovereignty by De Gaulle involved, among other things, the withdrawal of non-French Nato troops from French soil. In reality, however, the secret Lemnitzer-Ailleret accords between the United States and France ensured that France remained bound into participation in Cold War hostilities. Over time, French self-exclusion became less and less significant. In 2009, President Sarkozy reintegrated France into the Nato command structure. An EU equivalent of this process might tempt a Remain-led government, but would be disastrous for trust. If Mrs May does not grasp this, she will gradually be weakened as disgruntled Brexiteers try to hold her kitten-heeled feet to the fire.


Critics say the Bank of England put itself under suspicion by entering the referendum fray. Now Mark Carney says its warnings are being borne out by the post-referendum economic reaction. He misses the point. By having made those warnings himself, even if he sincerely believed them, he became like a politician trying to win, rather than a public servant trying honestly to manage either outcome. The more loudly he tries to vindicate himself and attack the motives of his accusers, the more clearly this is proved. It would damage confidence if Mr Carney were to leave his job suddenly, particularly if the government pushed him; but surely he should quietly be booking a flight home to Canada by Christmas.

A friend, himself a Remainer, describes Jean-Claude Juncker to me as ‘the Sepp Blatter of the EU’. It is a brilliant comparison — although I hasten to assure Mr Juncker’s lawyers (and indeed Mr Blatter’s) that I repudiate any suggestion of corruption against either man. It captures that unmerited sense of ownership, that confident unaccountability, those menacing, charmless jokes. It also captures the nature of the two organisations as currently run and reminds us that, precisely because their leaders do not recognise it, they must change.

It keeps being said that racist ‘hate crime’ has increased as a result of the referendum. One must bear in mind how the public authorities define these things, as confirmed this week by Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Macpherson report on Stephen Lawrence set the current rule. It defined a racist incident as ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’. The police are instructed to log all such incidents as racist incidents. So you only have to have more people reporting what they see as racist incidents for an exactly corresponding rise in the number of recorded racist incidents. There is no independent way of judging whether these incidents really were racist (or indeed, ever happened at all), so the uninvestigated figures tell you nothing whatever, except about the number of people who, for whatever reason — good, bad, mad, political — complain. There have also been many incidents of Remain people insulting Leave voters. An artist friend, for example, whose eyesight is too bad to drive, was in a party painting rural landscapes. She was refused a lift to the painting site by one of her fellows because of the way she had voted. There is no way of logging this sort of behaviour with the police (unless the victim wishes to perceive it as racist), but it is just as unpleasant as someone who is rude to Poles. By the way, the worst threats of violence at present seem to be offered not by Leave racists, but by Corbyn fans against his challengers.

It will be so nice if David Cameron sticks to his promise and stays in Parliament. After some backbench recuperation, he would be an ideal foreign secretary and above-the-fray elder statesman. The timing of his departure also frees the Camerons from their obeisance to state education in time to get their son Elwen, aged ten, into Eton.


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