BETTY Boothroyd has warned that British politics is “toxic” and bereft of respected leaders as the Tory party prepare to make history and elect the country’s second female prime minister.
The former Speaker’s withering critique of the fallout from last month’s momentous decision to leave the European Union came as Home Secretary Theresa May and Angela Leadsom – a prominent Brexit campaigner – won sufficient backing from Conservative MPs.
Mrs May remains the overwhelming favourite to succeed David Cameron despite backing the UK’s membership of the EU – she secured 199 votes while Mrs Leadsom, the little-known Energy Minister prior to the EU referendum, won 84 endorsements.
However this surge of support was sufficient to end the leadership ambitions of Justice Secretary Michael Gove who has been at the centre of controversy since sabotaging the campaign of Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London. He won 46 votes, two less than in Tuesday’s first round.
Yet the next premier will face a tough task winning the public’s trust after Dewsbury-born Baroness Boothroyd lamented the political paralysis compromising Britain’s ability to prepare for its EU exit.
“Parliament is paralysed by a lame-duck Government who have lost the country’s confidence. We have a leaderless and divided Opposition who are the despair of those who expect better of the Labour Party,” the country’s first female Speaker told the House of Lords.
“Many decent people feel that they are outsiders in their own country: forgotten also-rans in what they perceive as a race for obscene wealth by many fat cats in big business, finance and property development.
“There is no Churchill in the Tory party to lead us, and Jeremy Corbyn is no Clem Attlee. He falls far short of the leadership Attlee displayed when the country pulled together to save our way of life in 1940. Alas, I am afraid that statesmanship is in short supply. Politics has become toxic...”
Baroness Boothroyd, 86, also warned that the electorate was “sick to the stomach” of the “sloganising” that became such a disturbing feature of the EU referendum while lambasting the Government’s failure to anticipate a Brexit vote.
“That is no excuse for legislation based on a first, second and third reading of the Daily Mail,” she added. “Our duty now is to help our country through these perilous times so that we may eventually reach the sunny uplands that we have been promised.”
There had been speculation that Mrs May might be given the keys to 10 Downing Street immediately to provide some political stability after Mr Cameron’s resignation. However support for Mrs Leadsom – a prominent advocate of fracking in North Yorkshire – exceeded expectations despite controversial claims that her CV had exaggerated her previous banking career in the City of London.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who is backing Mrs Leadsom, said she had “real steel” but within the “velvet glove of compassion” as Britain prepares for its first female leader since Margaret Thatcher.
He added: “Today we have two strong women candidates going to the country, we will have a woman prime minister. It says to women all over the country ‘you can get to the top’.”