Tory leadership frontrunner Theresa May 'bloody difficult'

  • 06/07/2016
Theresa May (Reuters)
Theresa May (Reuters)

Theresa May, the frontrunner to replace British Prime Minister David Cameron, is "bloody difficult" and without much experience in foreign affairs, a senior Conservative lawmaker has been caught on camera saying.

Ken Clarke, 76, a minister in the governments of Conservative leaders Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher, criticised several of the candidates for his party's leadership in a conversation with another former minister broadcast by Sky News on Tuesday.

He was speaking as Conservative MPs began voting in the contest to replace Cameron, who said he would step down after Britons voted last month to leave the European Union.

"Theresa is a bloody difficult woman but you and I worked for Margaret Thatcher... She won't be any more difficult than that," he said in the clip to former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind.

It was not clear if he knew he was being filmed.

Ms May has been interior minister for the last six years, the longest period of any politician for a century in a job which is often described as one of the cabinet's most challenging roles.

"I get on all right with her and she is good," said Mr Clarke, adding that he expected he would "wind up voting Theresa" after possibly lending his vote to work and pensions minister Stephen Crabb in the first round.

"She's been at the Home Office far too long, so I only know in detail what her views are on the Home Office. She doesn't know much about foreign affairs."

A spokesman for Mr Clarke, himself a candidate for the party's leadership in the past, said he would not be commenting on the clip, which was filmed in Sky's studios.

Female members of parliament rounded on Mr Clarke on Twitter.

"For 'difficult woman' read knows her own mind, un-clubby, no pushover," said opposition Labour lawmaker Liz Kendall, to which Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry responded: "Let's celebrate 'difficult' women!!'" Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson tweeted: "Amen, sisters."

One of the five candidates will be eliminated on Tuesday evening, followed by subsequent rounds of voting on Thursday and next Tuesday until just two remain.

The leader will then be elected by about 150,000 Conservative Party members.

Mr Clarke, a Conservative lawmaker for 46 years whose former roles include Finance Minister, said he did not think junior minister and Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom was actually in favour of leaving the EU.

Ms Leadsom, who is expected to make the final two with May, said in 2013 she did not think Britain should leave the EU.

"It was only three years ago, she has had a Pauline conversion.

"She does have experience in the city ... She is not one of the tiny band of lunatics who think we can have a sort of glorious economic future outside the single market. So long as she understands that she's not to deliver on some of the extremely stupid things she's been saying."

If Ms May or Ms Leadsom wins, Britain would have its second female Prime Minister after Ms Thatcher.

Ms Clarke said he did not believe party members would vote for Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who was a surprise entrant to the contest last week after withdrawing his support for fellow Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson, effectively ending the former London Mayor's hopes.

"I remember being in a discussion about something we should do in something like Syria or Iraq and he was so wild," said Mr Clarke. "With Michael as Prime Minister we would go to war with at least three countries at once."