In what must be the shortest-lived leadership campaign in the history of the Conservative Party, Andrea Leadsom has just announced that she's dropping out. She said in her resignation statement that there was not "sufficient support" from her colleagues - perhaps a nod to how many of them said that they would quit the party if she won. She said she wants "the immediate appointment of a strong and well-supported Prime Minister". And that woman, she said, must be Theresa May.
In the four days since the formal leadership race began, it became painfully obvious that Ms Leadsom was simply unfit for the job. She messed up an interview with The Times, saying she didn't want to attack Theresa May for being childless but going on to do just that. She then made an awful situation even worse by accusing Rachel Sylvester, her interviewer, of making up quotes. Sylvester then released the audio. Yesterday we had the incredible spectacle of a woman who wants to be Prime Minister holding up a piece of paper reading a statement about her messing up a newspaper interview. She held the piece of paper, presumably, to make she she would not mess up the statement about messing up. This morning, we read that the whole episode reduced her to tears.
So how would she handle Prime Minister's Question Time? Or a summit with Vladimir Putin? One of her campaign managers told me that she pulled out after receiving 'huge and targeted abuse from some colleagues' . There is much bitterness from her allies at what they see as a dirty tricks campaign run by No10, and rough treatment in the media. I'm afraid it was a small taste of what a Prime Minister can expect.
Michael Gove will today wish that Ms Leadsom has arrived at this conclusion on Wednesday last week: had she pulled out then, the Tory Party would now have a genuine choice. Now they have a coronation, of a woman with a mixed track record in the Home Office and unsavoury ideas about whether it's acceptable to use European Union nationals as bargaining chips. There will be much bitterness over that.
There is also much bitterness amongst other Tories that a candidate so hideously unprepared for top-level politics was ever put forward by Tory MPs as a candidate for the highest office in the land. Graham Brady, the Tory MP who oversees the party race, has said that "there is no need to rerun the election" and that 'we will be in a position to move forward quite quickly.' The only question now is when, not if, Mrs May will be the next Prime Minister.
Here's what Andrea Leadsom had to say when she stepped down today:
This morning I have written a letter to Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee and I would like to read it out to you.
The best interests of our country inspired me to stand for the leadership. I believe that in leaving the EU, a bright future awaits where all our people can share in a new prosperity and freedom and democracy. The referendum result demonstrated a clear desire for change. Strong leadership is needed urgently to begin the work of withdrawing from the EU. A nine-week leadership campaign at such a critical moment for our country is highly undesirable. Business needs certainty. A strong and unified government must move quickly to set out what an independent UK’s framework for business looks like. It is also essential that current EU workers in the UK and the businesses that employ them, know where they stand. The Conservative party was elected only last year with a strong manifesto. We now need a new prime minister in place as soon as possible, committed to fulfilling that manifesto as well as implementing the clear instructions from that manifesto. Theresa May carries over 60 per cent of support from the parliamentary party. She is ideally placed to implement Brexit on the best possible terms for the briti9sh people and she has promised she will do so.
For me personally, to have won the support of 84 of my colleagues last Thursday was a great expression of confidence for which I am incredibly grateful. Nevertheless, this is less than 25 per cent of the parliamentary party and after careful consideration, I do not believe this is sufficient support to lead a strong and stable government should I win the leadership election. There is no greater privileges than to lead the conservative party in Government. I would have been deeply honoured to do it. I have however concluded that the interests of our country are best served by the immediate appointment of a strong and well supported prime minister, I am therefore withdrawing from the leadership election and I wish Theresa may the very greatest success. I assure her of my full support.