I met Andrea Leadsom for a meeting once. I had arranged it with her on a policy topic I can’t now recall, and was delighted when she agreed. Her very tall researcher picked me up from Central Hall and took me into the Commons. He was charming and I felt relaxed about the meeting ahead. Until I sat across the table from Andrea. Then I knew it wasn’t going to be nice from then on.
She launched instantly into a strange attack on the Alternative Vote and asked me to defend the voting system the country had rejected a few years previous. I laughed my way through this, thinking it was banter of some sort, but she wouldn’t let up. I had worked on that campaign (I assume she googled me on this) – how could I defend working on something that I could now no longer defend? This ended up taking up most of the meeting, a painfully in intellectual conversations about voting systems, with her researcher joining in on thenwhole thing so that it was two on one. It was one of my most dreadfully awful Westminster meetings ever, a notably unpleasant encounter.
We never got round to discussing whatever it was we had arranged to talk about in the first place. There was, as it happens, some parting chat on Europe. She told me leaving would be madness and that proper Brexit would be insane. So much for defending things one once believed in.
I never write about meetings with politicians because I think it’s generally unprofessional, but in this instance we are talking about someone who could come from nowhere to run the country, so I can’t keep my mouth shut. Also, we’re getting all sorts of stories about others in the running to be prime minister that strike me as unfair, when Leadsom is one of the worst MPs I’ve met from personal (albeit very limited) experience.
Just so I’m making this as unpartisan and non-personal as possible, here’s a list of just some of the MPs I’ve met for work purposes who are completely charming and all business: Michael Gove, Diane Abbott, George Eustice, John McDonnell, Anna Soubry, Jon Cruddas. I violently disagree with many of those people on a whole range of things, but I could never say anything against them on a one on one level. That’s the thing – most Members of Parliament are very likable in person. It’s part of their job. That’s why the unpleasant ones really stick in your mind; the ones who want to quibble about nothing (unless you wish to argue that the Alternative Vote, three years after the rather decisive referendum against it, is a matter of the highest importance).
It’s up to the Tory membership to pick the next prime minister. I hope they pick May, but if there has to be a Leaver in the final two, please let it be Gove. I really don’t think Andrea Leadsom is up to it, as much as from a gender equality perspective having two women as the final runoff for the Tory leadership would be quite nice. With the country melting, mostly due to people who campaigned to leave the European Union without really believing it was a good idea, we need someone who knows what they’re doing.