If you’d told me a month ago that two women would shortly be battling to be Prime Minister and there would not be one thing that I liked about the situation, I would have thought you’d had too much Beaujolais. Followed by a hallucinogenic chaser. I never thought I’d be half hoping that Theresa May would become PM even if it is solely on the grounds that she’s better than the alternative. And yet here I am, and there are May and Leadsom, engaged in a scramble to the top. Part of me doesn’t want to think any more at all, about any of it. And yet I’m still contemplating why this feels so bad.
And then I hear the news that Leadsom’s prime qualification for PM, her big advantage over May as far as she’s concerned, is that she’s a mother. To quote Leadsom “genuinely I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country. A tangible stake”. I’m 44 and don’t have children. The chances of me becoming a mother are roughly the same as the chances of me winning the lottery, particularly since I don’t buy tickets. In essence what Leadsom is saying is that this makes me less able to empathise, that it makes me less able to think about the future, because I won’t have a stake in it. Thanks, Andrea. Thanks for that.
Now there is the fact that this is hideously insensitive. There’s also the fact that being hideously insensitive makes Leadsom more likely to win a campaign for Tory leadership, not less. But what really alarms me about this is that it seems Leadsom can only invest in the future if that future involves her direct descendants. When it boils down to it, this is a selfish attitude. Personally, I fear for what is happening in Britain because of the effects it is having on society as a whole. And I do see that society as a whole. I worry that anyone who is slightly different, whether that be a difference of race; class; sexuality; age; health or gender will suffer as our political and economic systems implode. I worry that people will suffer prejudice against them and that they will experience genuine hardship through no fault of their own but by sheer luck of the draw. I fear for these people. The fact that they aren’t my direct descendants is neither here nor there. They are fellow human beings and I’d rather they didn’t suffer.
Contrast this with Leadsom, who seems to think that you will worry more about your future if you have children, as if the only way one can empathise is by projecting forwards into your own personal lineage. And in this it seems to me she is highlighting the worst of the Tory party – they will protect their own, they will care about their own, they will see nepotism as normal. They will not be able to understand how you can really genuinely care about the future of society as a whole rather than just your own part of it. It harks back to fiefdom.
Mulling this over, it’s not that I want a female PM per se. It’s that I thought that for us to be in this situation, where not one but two women had got to the top in politics, we would have a more egalitarian society. I would have thought that managing to juggle motherhood with this would be a positive. That having two women reach the top would show that women do not have to chose between career and family. But what Leadsom and May demonstrate is that actually, we have the same political class. The women that succeed are drawn from the same fairly narrow sector of society as many of their male counterparts. True, they are not the products of Eton, but their privilege nonetheless stacks up. And Leadsom’s comments about motherhood confirm this for me. We aren’t entering an age in which we are judged by merit rather than class, age, race or gender. We’re going back to a time when all that really mattered is who your parents were and how much privilege they managed to gain for their own very small part of the social spectrum.