Formerly pro and anti-Brexit national newspapers have united in their support for Theresa May as rival Andrea Leadsom has become mired in controversy over comments made to The Times about motherhood.
The title published an interview with Leadsom on Saturday which had the headline: “Being a mother gives me the edge on May- Leadsom”.
The story led broadcast news bulletins on Saturday morning and prompted Leadsom to tweet a message directly at the Times journalist who interviewed her, Rachel Sylvester, which said: “This is the worst gutter journalism I have ever seen. I am so angry – I can’t believe this. How could you?”
Armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt, a supporter of the energy minister’s leadership bid, said The Times report was an attempt to “smear” Leadsom.
The Times responded by releasing an audio excerpt of the interview which appeared to back up its reporting
— The Times of London (@thetimes) 10 July 2016
Leadsom said in a statement: “Over the course of a lengthy interview I was repeatedly asked about my children and I repeatedly made it clear that I did not want this to be a feature of the campaign.
“I am disgusted at the way this has been presented.
“I want to be crystal clear that everyone has an equal stake in our society and the future of our country. That is what I believe and it is what I have always believed.
“I have repeated my instructions to my campaign team that this campaign must at all times be principled and honourable.”
But Sylvester stuck to her guns, and told the BBC: “What was so striking was she introduced the issue of family, I didn’t raise it at all.
“In fact I said to her in terms of the difference between her and Theresa May did she think it was continuity and change or Brexit versus no Brexit and it was she who introduced the question of family and she clearly thinks that’s a big selling point for her, particularly with the Tory grassroots, but it wasn’t I who introduced but she did.”
Sylvester’s account is backed up the audio (see full transcript below).
Leadson told the Daily Telegraph in an interview published today: “I’ve already said to Theresa how very sorry I am for any hurt I have caused and how that article said completely the opposite of what I said and believe.”
The Brexit-supporting Sun, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph have now both joined the Daily Mail in backing May as the next Tory leader (despite the fact she favoured a Remain vote in the EU referendum campaign). And the formerly Remain-supporting Mail on Sunday and Times have also endorsed May.
The Daily Telegraph’s endorsement will be seen as most significant as it is the most popular newspaper among the 150,000 Conservative Party members who will vote in the leadership election. The second most popular newspaper among Tory party members, the Daily Mail, was the first national newspaper to endorse May.
Newspapers have cited May’s experience as being the key factor. The Daily Telegraph said on Saturday: “a proven record of experience is critical”.
Leadsom interview transcript:
Rachel Sylvester: “What’s the main difference between you and Theresa in terms of the country?”
Andrea Leadsom: “I think I absolutely understand how the economy works and can really focus on turning it around. In terms of personal qualities I see myself as one, an optimist, and two a member of a huge family, my kids are an important part of my life, my sisters my two brothers…So very grounded and normal…
RS: “Does your family inform your politics?”
AL: “Oh totally yes.”
RS: “During the debates you repeatedly said ‘as a mum’. Do you feel like a mum in politics?”
AL: “Yes. I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’ because I think that would be really horrible but genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.
“She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.”
RS: “So it really keeps you focused on what are you really saying?”
AL: “It means you don’t want a downturn but never mind ten years hence it will all be fine, my children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.”