Brexit Britain On Course For First Female Leader Since Margaret Thatcher

Guy Bentley | Research Associate, Reason Foundation

The race to be Britain’s next Prime Minister is set to come down to a choice between two women for the first time in history.

In the first round of voting for the Conservative Party leadership, Home Secretary Theresa May topped the poll with 165 conservative members of parliament (MPs) voting for her and energy minister Andrea Leadsom receiving 66 votes.

After the United Kingdom voted for Brexit June 23, David Cameron announced his intention to stand down as PM and leader of the Conservative Party, triggering a contest to replace him.

The Conservative Party’s leadership election works by MPs voting on the candidates until the field is narrowed to two. The remaining two candidates then face each other and ordinary Conservative Party members vote on who they prefer as their leader.

“I think we’ve had a clear steer so far that Theresa (May) and Andrea (Leadsom) are the best people to go forward to the membership,” said Leadsom backer and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

The contest is especially significant, as whoever wins the leadership of the Conservative Party will also assume the office of PM, since the Conservatives are the governing party.

If May and Leadsom are the final candidates, it will be the first time in British history a major political party has had an all-female list for its leadership. The subsequent result would produce the second female British Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher broke the mould and became the U.K.’s first female PM in 1979.

Theresa May is the bookies’ favorite. She has served at the top level of government for six years and is seen as a reliable pair of hands. But her support for the U.K.’s European Union membership in the recent referendum campaign could hold her back among grassroots members, the majority of whom are in favor of Brexit.

Andrea Leadsom was one of the leading voices supporting Brexit and was widely praised for her clarity of vision and performance during the TV debates. Before coming into politics Leadsom spent 25 years working in finance. Colleagues, however, are weary of her inexperience as she was only elected to parliament in 2010.

Leadsom’s fellow Brexiteer Michael Gove came in third place with 48 votes and is viewed as the more experienced of the two. But Gove is suffering from the perception that he betrayed his friend and former Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Johnson was set to declare his bid for the leadership with the full expectation Gove would be supporting his campaign. But in a last minute decision, Gove declared his own candidacy and said Johnson was not fit to be PM and that he was the best person for the top job in British politics.

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