Exit Andrea Leadsom: should she have kept mum?
If you have to be a mother to lead a country, the playing field might as well be razed
Andrea Leadsom after she withdrew from the race to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and British prime minister on Monday. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images
Is being a mother the most important qualification for a leader? What about the leader of a country? Could being a mother make you better at it?
Mother of three and erstwhile contender to be the next de-facto British prime minister, Andrea Leadsom seemed to think it would.
“I feel that being a mum means you have a real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake,” she told the Times newspaper at the weekend before she quit the race for the Tory leadership.
This unleashed the dogs of mammy war and almost distracted the great British electorate – yes the one that decided to Brexit – from the fact that Angela Eagle (no kids) is going head to head with Jeremy Corbyn (three kids) for the Labour leadership.
Corbyn is, of course, a dad, so is David Cameron. So is Tony Blair, Enda Kenny, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama; the list could go on. We wonder if those men put being a father at the top of the old CV? Perhaps they should. It might bag them Leadsom’s vote. After all, she loves a family guy.
Leadsom said she was pressed into making the comparison between herself and the other Tory leadership contender, Theresa May, who has no children, by a journalist on the London Times. She has since apologised. “I was pressed to say how my children had formed my views. I didn’t want it to be used as an issue. Having children has no bearing on the ability to be PM. I deeply regret that anyone has got the impression that I think otherwise.”
She has now, of course, resigned from the Conservative leadership race. So that’s that then. Issues of motherhood have surely been kicked out of the park? They would have if the British media hadn’t smelled blood. Well, what were you expecting letting two women have a crack at the top job? Blood comes naturally with an all-female terrain. Deal with it.
Media organisations seeking comment, and pollsters seeking prediction, can’t seem to let an issue lie until they have sought a few inches from the Mumsnetters, the women who lap up the comment threads on the “UK’s most popular parenting network”.
Look, we’ve all been there. No one is judging here – well, maybe Leadsom was.
Becoming a mother makes you ridiculously judgmental of other less-perfect children and their far-less perfect mothers. Mumsnet will help you scratch that itch. It will also give you advice on how to scratch a myriad of other more fungal itches. (Log on to find out more.)
Alternatively, open a bag of crisps, prop the baby up on the sofa and turn the telly up to 11.
When you’ve finished wallowing in the loveliness, but utter boringness, that baby has brought, you might examine how on earth being a mother will help you govern a country.
Yes, you are used to cleaning up shit. That might come in handy at Cabinet.
Yes, you are used to ignoring tantrums in public areas. Always good at conference time.
Yes, you spend every mealtime mediating between truculent teenagers. Yes, that might come in handy in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Give all mothers a minute with Alastair Campbell and we can spin you a tale of the unique qualities that motherhood brings to the table of national leadership. Alternatively, just give us a minute in bed. No, not with Alastair Campbell.
If you have to be a mother to lead a country, the playing field might as well be razed, because last time I looked, few women have got to combine leading their country with being a mother.
Margaret Thatcher was a mother. Indira Gandhi was a mother. Golda Meir was a mother. They were exceptions, but they proved a rule that not even Alastair Campbell could spin.
Motherhood is not benign. Motherhood is definitely not benevolent. Motherhood is not the be all and end all. It is just one thing women do among many.
The Leadsom issue may have given motherhood artificial status at this juncture. A cruel twist in a cruel game. All the populace is seeking is a level playing field where vaginas and what might or might not emerge from them is utterly irrelevant.
The nation state is in a period of transition, so just breathe deeply. No one ever said giving birth would be pain free.
It certainly hasn’t been for Leadsom.