Andrea Leadsom is continuing to make the maximum mileage out of her remarks that being a mother made her a better candidate for the premiership than her rival Theresa May, who has no children.
As I say in my blog yesterday https://wordpress.com/stats/day/deceivingus.wordpress.com?startDate=2016-07-11
Leadsom’s comments in an interview with The Times were coolly calculated, designed to raise an issue that would run well with the section of the Tory party she was trying to attract, give her the publicity boost that a less well known candidate needs and deflect attentions away from questions about the accuracy of her CV.
She – aided by some of the most skilful political PR operators in the country – is now using the criticism of her remarks to present herself as the outsider who is the victim of establishment dirty tricks.
Leadsom wants to ensure that the message on motherhood is still out there while maintaining the moral high ground; and in the last 24 hours she has used two tactics to do so.
First, we have seen the classic non-apology apology, so beloved of corporate executives. Leadsom appears to be expressing regret when she tells the Daily Telegraph that she had “already said to Theresa how very sorry I am for any hurt I have caused.”
Note that she is not apologising for the comments but simply any offence they might cause – and as May’s aides noted, they did not think Leadsom had meant to cause offence. So Leadsom is apologising for something she had not done.
Leadsom then insisted that she did not believe motherhood should play a part in the leadership campaign – though it was her choice, as the interview transcripts have shown, to raise the subject in the first place.
And despite the clear evidence to the contrary, she is still insisting that the article in The Times “said the opposite of what I said and believe.”
This is a key element of the second element of the strategy – that is to present Leadsom as a victim and outsider, who the Tory establishment is trying to destroy.
So she attacks The Times for gutter journalism and says she feels “under attack, under enormous pressure – it has been shattering;” meanwhile her supporter tour the television studios, complaining about dirty tricks.
Former Tory leader and keen supporter Ian Duncan Smith has says there has been “a lot of sniping, a kind of black-ops operation to denigrate her reputation.”
The strategy is clearly working. She is keeping herself in the headlines, ensuring she is seen as the outsider and victim while controlling the agenda.
And those senior Tories who want to criticise her are not now quite certain what to do. In an excellent article in The Times today, Clare Foges, David Cameron’s speech writer from 2011-15, warns that “Vilifying Leadsom will only make her stronger.”
She points out that “anyone hoping to halt the progress of Leadsom should be wary of piling in too heavily” as this would reinforce he position as the anti-establishment candidate; as political experience is complicit in a stitch up against the people, anyone lacking that experience is “bestowed with valuable outsider status;” and that any attempt to caricature Leadsom as an extremist, liar and homophobe will “only underline her underdog status in a way that may appeal to some Conservative party members.”
The coming day will show if and how May’s advisers and supporters can develop a strategy to regain the initiative that Leadsom has so cleverly seized.