One of the rules of modern leadership contests is that at some point there is an almighty row about whether one of the candidates is just better than the other because she happens to have had children of her own. Labour reached that stage on 6 July 2015 when Helen Goodman wrote a piece saying she was supporting Yvette Cooper because she was a mother, which the Liz Kendall camp took exception to. The Tories reached it almost exactly a year later when Andrea Leadsom gave an interview to the Times in which she said she had a ‘real stake in the future of our country’ because she has children.
One of the effects that comments like this has is to provoke childless women in politics to argue, furiously, that they too care about the next generation and that the candidate’s good luck in having a family has the same sort of impact on their political judgement as any life experience. It’s tempting to write that piece again, but I’ve got such a packed day of decadent childless selfishness ahead of me that I’ll refer you to the one I wrote a year ago.
What’s more interesting is the political impact of this culture war that Leadsom’s comments have unleashed. Firstly, Leadsom claimed as soon as the interview was published that she had said the ‘exact opposite’, attacking Rachel Sylvester for ‘the worst gutter journalism I’ve ever seen’. Sylvester is one of the most respected journalists in Westminster, and coolly produced the audio and transcript of the interview, which showed her asking Leadsom if she felt ‘like a mum in politics’, given she had repeatedly referred to her motherhood in the referendum debates. Leadsom replied: