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.