A specific nightmare keeps occurring to me. It is an episode of Prime Minister’s Questions in which Jeremy Corbyn and Andrea Leadsom face each other across the dispatch boxes.
Unlike most of the world, including most of the Conservative party, I had heard of Andrea Leadsom before a week last Friday – indeed had spent some time with her – and already knew her to be that type of incurious matron to whom the Tory party is liable to be attracted. Back then it never occurred to me that she could make it further than MP.
But I had failed to take into account the malice of fate and the fact that the only thing remotely akin to the Conservative desire to find a woman with ‘firm views’ and hurl them forwards is the US Republican party’s desire to find a black man – any black man – and hurtle them into the Presidential race. Experience and suitability do not seem to matter. 'This guy used to be in pizzas, but he’s also black and Republican so let’s give him a run for President' is the US version of 'This woman seems remarkably incurious and ill-informed but she shares the sex of Margaret Thatcher, so let’s give her a run.' Some Tories I speak to assure me that Andrea will go down ‘really well’ with their grass-roots, and I don’t doubt she could. Some previously sensible people also assure me that she’ll be great in the top job.
I confess that at this point I begin to sway. The job of Prime Minister seems to me an unsuitable first big job in politics. Never a job to have to start learning on, this seems a particularly dangerous moment for the Conservative party to put forward such a frivolously unsuitable, untested and unimpressive candidate.
Now that MPs have indulged this race and put Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom before their members, are they absolutely certain that those members will not choose the ‘Leave’ candidate Leadsom over the vastly more experienced and suitable present Home Secretary who campaigned for ‘Remain’? Perhaps members will regard a ‘fresh face’ as a virtue. Perhaps they will regard CV-steroiding and off-shore tax-avoidance as normal behaviours in a Conservative leader. Perhaps they will later discover that the country thinks otherwise. Perhaps MPs think they are subtly controlling this whole process. And perhaps that is why I keep recalling conversations with Labour MPs before their last leadership race and their reassurances that this was just Jeremy’s turn to be in the race and that nothing more would come of it.
Now that Leadsom has gone through to the final two today the whole country will soon learn that Andrea Leadsom is not an ‘exciting new voice’ in our politics but that familiar type of Conservative who mistakes not listening with steadfastness, and ignorance for principle. ‘I know what I believe and you’re not going to make me change my mind’ is a tolerable attitude from someone who knows what they are doing, but a terrible attitude for someone who knows next to nothing. As I say, I predict nothing. But a Leadsom-Corbyn future certainly looks more likely now.