It’s official: Britain’s next prime minister will be a woman. The second round of voting by MPs put two top female politicians into the finals: Home Secretary Theresa May and Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom.
The race marks the first time two women have vied for leader, and comes 26 years after the ouster of Margaret Thatcher, famously known as Britain’s Iron Lady. This is becoming something of a trend in British politics. Nicola Sturgeon is Scotland’s first minister and Northern Ireland is led by Arlene Foster.
May, the frontrunner, received 199 of the 329 votes; Leadsom got 84. (Michael Gove, the justice secretary, was eliminated because he secured just 46 votes.) The decision now goes to the roughly 150,000 Conservative party members and a final result is expected September 9.
Although they are both women, they have taken very different paths to the top. May spent six years at the Home Office, and has long been expected to rise to party leader. While she campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU, she has since said, “Brexit means Brexit.” May, who the Financial Times calls a “pragmatic reformer,” is seen as a steady hand–someone who can unify the country after the financial, economic, and existential chaos of the Brexit vote.
Leadsom, who has not held a cabinet position but has the endorsement of former London Mayor Boris Johnson, is a former banker who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU. She has only been an MP for six years.
It’s not just their career paths that are different. In an age when the personal frequently becomes the political, attention has focused on the strikingly different family lives of the two women. May is viewed as a loner who, like Germany’s Angela Merkel, has no children; Leadsom is seen as more traditional, with three kids and advocating a return to fox hunting. The nationwide campaign is only a day old, but a double standard is already emerging. I’m not sure anyone would ask a male candidate about not having children.
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