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Saturday, 9 July 2016
Andrea Leadsom sparks row over 'motherhood' comments
A row has erupted after Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom was accused of suggesting that having children made her a better choice to be prime minister.
The Times quoted Mrs Leadsom as saying having children means she has "a very real stake" in Britain's future.
But the mother of three tweeted that she was "disgusted" with the interview.
Times journalist Rachel Sylvester has defended her article saying she was "baffled" by Mrs Leadsom's reaction.
Mrs May, who has no children, has launched a "clean campaign" pledge and in a tweet on Saturday she invited Mrs Leadsom "to join me in signing it". Her campaign team has declined to comment on the story.
The Times headlined its front-page lead story "Being a mother gives me edge on May - Leadsom."
It quoted the energy minister as saying Mrs May "possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be part of what happens next".
Rachel Sylvester: "Do you feel like a mum in politics?"
Andrea Leadsom: "Yes. So...
RS: "Why and how?"
AL: "So really carefully because I am sure, I don't really know Theresa very well but I am sure she will be really really sad she doesn't have children so I don't want this to be 'Andrea has children, Theresa hasn't' because I think that would be really horrible.
"But genuinely I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.
"She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children, who are going to have children, who will directly be a part of what happens next.
"So it really keeps you focused on 'what are you really saying?'. Because what it means is you don't want a downturn but 'never mind, let's look ahead to the ten years', hence it will all be fine. My children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two."
In a statement, Mrs Leadsom said she was "beyond anger and disgust" at the newspaper's front page.
"The reporting of what I said is beneath contempt," she said.
But Ms Sylvester told the BBC the article was "fairly written up" and she was "baffled by that rather aggressive reaction".
"I asked her a very straight forward question... She raised Theresa May.
"I asked her directly 'what are the differences between you and Theresa May?'. She said 'economic competence and family'... she clearly thinks that is a big selling point with her."
Ms Sylvester added that she thought Mrs Leadsom was "naïve to make that comparison and not think it would become an issue".
The Times, which backed the Remain campaign in the EU referendum, has said it is backing Mrs May to become the next Conservative leader.
Mrs Leadsom defended herself saying: "In front of the Times correspondent and photographer, I made clear repeatedly that nothing I said should be used in any way to suggest that Theresa May not having children had any bearing whatever on the leadership election.
"I expect the Times to retract the article and the accompanying headline."
Antoinette Sandbach, Conservative MP for Eddisbury, who is supporting Mrs May, told the BBC Mrs Leadsom had shown "a lack of judgement".
"Women have fought long and hard to be treated equally," she said.
"Everybody has different life experiences - of course it gives you a perspective but we are talking about someone who has to lead our country... I really think we should be looking at the issues facing the wider country."
Treasury minister David Gauke - who supports Mrs May - said "an apology is due".
He tweeted: "I'd like to think this is a case of verbal clumsiness, not calculation. If the latter, yuk."
But former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe said Mrs Leadsom's words were probably misconstrued.
She told BBC Radio 5 live: "Even the most experienced politicians, even prime ministers themselves can be misquoted, misinterpreted, misunderstood, make some careless phraseology. It happens all the time."
It comes after Mrs May challenged her rival in the race to Downing Street to sign up to a "clean campaign pledge".
Mrs May said both candidates should ensure the campaign stays within "the acceptable limits of political debate".
She said the public was tired of "people acting like politics is a game" and vowed to put forward a "positive vision for the future", saying the two of them should also agree not to work with other political parties or their donors.
Mrs Leadsom and Mrs May will battle it out to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, after two rounds of voting by Tory MPs reduced the number of contenders to two.
After the second MPs' ballot, Home Secretary Mrs May finished with 199 votes and Energy Minister Mrs Leadsom 84.
Conservative party members across the country will now decide the winning candidate, with the result due on 9 September.
Conservative leadership election
Ballot papers sent out mid-August
Ballot closes at noon on Friday 9 September. Votes will be counted electronically
Conservative Party members can vote by postal ballot or online
"Qualifying party members" of more than three months' standing can vote. In practice, anyone who joined the party by 9 June
The spending limit set by the Conservative 1922 Committee is £135,000