As if the machinations around the Tory leadership had not been bewildering enough, today brought the final bizarre twist - for the time being - as the great hope of the libertarian right, junior minister Andrea Leadsom, who had made it on to the final shortlist to be put to the party’s membership, tearfully threw in the towel after the weekend’s “motherhood” row brought condemnation raining down on her.
The litany of political corpses is staggering: London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, knifed by Michael “Oiky” Gove, Liam Fox the token comedy candidate falling by the wayside, Stephen Crabb wisely withdrawing just before it was revealed he had been “sexting” a woman who was not his wife, and over at UKIP the cowardly exit of Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, leaving someone else to clear up the mess.
And now added to that list is Ms Leadsom. Let me put this directly: if she thought that the criticism of her remarks made to Rachel Sylvester of the Times was “shattering”, then heaven help us all that she did not get any closer to 10 Downing Street. Better that she admit her shortcomings now, rather than going through the charade of a leadership ballot, which will now, it seems, not take place after all.
What else might stop the Leadsom bid going forward? The continuing revelations over the embellishment of her CV cannot have helped, her released tax return is already attracting comment over its apparent discrepancy with her minister’s salary (plus it is only for one year, prompting questions she may have something to hide), and all the time the spotlight is also falling on the groups and interests lining up behind her.
Was there a “Project Smear”? No. This was merely a figment of the fevered imagination of the likes of Iain Duncan Cough, seeing movement in the shadows when all that happened was that Ms Leadsom, by stressing “But I have CHILDREN”, set off a storm of controversy which is part of the new normal for the media. Her supporters have no complaints, although they will no doubt invent them in the retelling.
What does this mean for the office of Prime Minister? Young Dave may be on his way within a few days. Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, has confirmed that Theresa May is the next leader of the Conservative Party, and is therefore the new Prime Minister. Technically, the Tories could have secured a second candidate in order to put two to the members, but have decided against it. There’s democracy for you.
That shifts the pressure on to Labour: Theresa May’s policy speech earlier gave the distinct impression that she was looking to call an early General Election. Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal underscores that. Unless Labour can sort their leadership row, and quickly, they will immediately find themselves on the back foot.
Remember, the Tory Party is the party of the establishment. And the establishment always finds a way of looking after itself. What happened today confirms it. That is all.