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Battle of the Tory ladies: Britain set for its second female PM

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 9 July 2016, 4:37 IST

A clear winner in the battle to become the next leader of the Conservative Party and Britain's next prime minister, has emerged. In the secret ballot on 7 July, Theresa May, the home secretary, secured the support of 199 of 330 Tory MPs. In contrast, her challenger Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister, got 84.

In third place was justice secretary Michael Gove with 46 votes. He has now dropped out.

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But for all the headlines about "Maymentum", the leadership campaign is far from over. The finalists have weeks of battling ahead as 150,000 Conservative Party members make up their minds in a postal ballot due to end on 9 September.

The winner of the race will become only Britain's second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher. "May is a cautious politician who won't do anything that could derail her campaign, but Leadsom will be a strong challenger," writes Asa Bennett of The Telegraph.

Neither is likely to call an early general election - the next poll is not currently due until 2020. The tasks of implementing the Brexit vote, as well as coping with a probable recession, will be enormously challenging.

Top choice - Theresa May

She's been called a "bloody difficult woman" by Tory grandee Ken Clarke.

Britain's home secretary of six years has suddenly found herself a topic of conversation everywhere in the wake of the Brexit vote and prime minister David Cameron's resignation a fortnight ago.

According to The Economist, "May is not the sort of crowd-pleaser who wows party conferences; nor is she seen in Westminster as particularly warm or friendly. But she is generally respected by colleagues, party members and officials. Although socially relatively progressive, she is seen as being on the right wing of the party and she has long argued fiercely against excessive immigration."

The 59-year-old quietly supported remaining in the European Union but has said that she respects the outcome of the June 23 referendum and that she will seek the best possible deal for Britain as it negotiates its withdrawal from the bloc.

"In a period of chaos, May is seen as a safe pair of hands - her campaign is based largely around this," writes the Guardian.

May is seen as a pair of 'safe hands' and has been quietly anti-Brexit

She has taken a tough line on immigration, and until now wanted to pull the UK out of the European convention on human rights. She is also quite keen on pushing through the investigatory powers bill, known as the snooper's charter.

Her pitch: "We have immediate work to do to restore political stability and economic certainty, to bring together the Party and the country, and to negotiate a sensible and orderly departure from the European Union. But more than that, we have a mission to make Britain a country that works not for the privileged and not for the few but for every one of our citizens."

"I know that Theresa has the qualities and the character to take our country forward and, with her quietly determined, down-to-earth style, to re-unite us after the referendum, behind a plan to address the deep divisions in our society that it has exposed," says foreign secretary Philip Hammond.

Andrea Leadsom - vocal Brexiteer

Leadsom, 53, is made of different stuff from May. A Conservative through and through, she worked for 25 years in financial services before becoming a legislator in 2010.

Strongly pro-Brexit, she was one of the main MPs publicly supporting Michael Gove and Boris Johnson in the referendum campaign.

Leadsom has also thrown out lots of red meat to the Tory grassroots by pledging a vote to legalise fox hunting, a review of the HS2 rail line and by stating that she believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, rather than between a same-sex couples.

Asked by ITV about her views on gay marriage, she said there was "very clear hurt" caused by the legislation to many Christians and claimed the UK has "muddled the terms of marriage, civil partnership, registry office, church".

"I didn't really like the legislation, that was the problem, but I absolutely support gay marriage," she said.

Leadsom has the grassroot support, but her weakness is her lack of experience

Her biggest weakness is her lack of ministerial experience. An MP since 2010, Leadsom's shadow ministerial experience lasts little over a year.

Conservative MP Tim Loughton, her campaign manager, has played down her lack of cabinet experience, saying she would have "no problem stepping up to the job" having had a long career outside politics, adding: "She has done things outside of this place on so many different levels."

Her pitch: "I want to spread prosperity to every corner of our country. I want to help create more jobs, because we need to hear and heed those millions of our fellow citizens who feel and fear that their country's leaders are not worrying about them enough. Prosperity should be our goal, not austerity."

"Andrea Leadsom has that rare combination of deep compassion for those less fortunate than herself coupled with real world experience which has given her enormous ability to make clear and informed decisions when needed," former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said.

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First published: 9 July 2016, 4:37 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.