Andrew Pierce writes about Andrea Leadsom

Though many Tories regard the idea as absurd, Andrea Leadsom has been sustained throughout a patchy and profoundly undistinguished political career by an iron conviction that she’s destined for the top job. Indeed, she has long dreamed of following her heroine Margaret Thatcher into No. 10.

But today that ambition looks less likely than ever after she dropped a bomb on the Conservative Party and its leadership.

The bottle blonde was catapulted on to the front pages yesterday after treacherously knifing Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon over apparently ‘vile’ comments he made some six years ago.

Leadsom, a committed Christian who goes to Bible studies each week in Parliament, privately urged Mrs May to sack Fallon after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

On a mission: Mrs Leadsom with Mrs May in the Commons on Monday. Earlier she had told the PM of her allegations about Sir Michael Fallon

Her actions have appalled Tory MPs. ‘She talks about her Christian principles but waits six years to assassinate one of her own colleagues, who has been doing a better job than her,’ said one minister.

‘If the words upset her so much, why didn’t she complain at the time? She is a serpent who has been spitting out poison because she is out of her depth, and thinks it’s the only way to save her Cabinet job.’

It’s true most MPs assumed that Leadsom, who ran for the Tory leadership last year, would be dismissed in the next reshuffle as Leader of the House because of the irritation she causes Downing Street.

In June, she made a high-profile visit to Grenfell Tower after scores died in the blaze, despite having no formal government role in dealing with the disaster. She didn’t even had the courtesy to ask No 10, merely informing them by phone from her chauffeur-driven car when she was on her way. Talking directly to some of the victims ensured she was compared favourably with Mrs May, who had been criticised for not meeting any of the families. ‘It was bloody treachery,’ says one May supporter.

In September, there was strong Cabinet backing for the PM’s keynote speech on Brexit in Florence, in which she proposed a two-year transitional deal. But the unity didn’t last long.

Reports appeared in the media that Leadsom alone, a key figure in Vote Leave, had challenged the Prime Minister by demanding a tougher approach. Leadsom was described as ‘rounding on’ Mrs May over her ‘soft’ approach, even dropping the Cabinet protocol of referring to her as ‘Prime Minister’. ‘Parts of the speech are disastrous, Theresa,’ she said.

The leaks delighted the hardline Brexiteers whom Leadsom would have to rely on if she runs again for the leadership.

Keeping a low profile: Sir Michael Fallon visits a grammar school in Tonbridge in his Kent constituency yesterday

Keeping a low profile: Sir Michael Fallon visits a grammar school in Tonbridge in his Kent constituency yesterday

Before the Tory conference in October, where she was pointedly denied a platform speech, Leadsom stirred up talk about how long Mrs May could survive.

In an interview, while insisting she was loyal to the PM, she was asked if she’d rule out another leadership bid. She could – and should – have simply said that she would rule it out. Instead, she replied: ‘I am not speculating about what happens in the future. Anything can happen.’

As one minister says bluntly: ‘She was trying to sabotage May.’

Mrs Leadsom was demoted from Environment Secretary in the PM’s first reshuffle, to become Leader of the House – a role in which she often answers questions from the dispatch box by referring to ‘my government’. A Freudian slip, or a sign of where Leadsom thinks she’s headed?

She was moved from the Environment job because she had no grip on policy detail and booked lots of time out of the ministry on constituency matters and school runs.

Leadsom, 54, who was born in Aylesbury, went to Tonbridge Grammar School and studied Political Science at Warwick University. Her parents had divorced when she was four, and she was brought up by her mother.

Andrea married husband Ben in 1993 and they ran a buy-to-let company together. Today, they live in a 17th-century farmhouse in Northamptonshire with their three children. Having been elected in 2010, she became one of the most prominent women in Vote Leave during the EU referendum, performing well in the TV debates. After David Cameron resigned as PM, Leadsom joined Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign team: but only for a price. She demanded the post of Chancellor or Foreign Secretary, and a commitment in writing that she would get one of the two jobs. The letter never materialised.

At the time, most people assumed a typically shambolic Johnson simply forgot. In fact, Johnson – who worked closely with her during the referendum campaign – did not think she was up to either of the jobs.

Incensed, she decided to enter the leadership race herself. From the outset it was obvious she was out of her depth. Her first hustings with Tory MPs was a disaster. Her theme was: ‘Brussels, bankers and babies. But she gave no clue what her policy platform would be. When she went on, bizarrely, to tell MPs how important it was to massage babies’ skulls, she lost her audience.

Andrea Leadsom brought about the end of Sir Michael’s Cabinet career this week by making a series of allegations to Mrs May about his past behaviour

Andrea Leadsom brought about the end of Sir Michael’s Cabinet career this week by making a series of allegations to Mrs May about his past behaviour

Then a speech from 2013 came to light in which Leadsom had said: ‘I don’t think the UK should leave the EU. I think it would be a disaster for our economy and it would lead to a decade of economic and political uncertainty.’

While Leadsom argued that she was entitled to change her mind, the fact the speech was relatively recent – and that her warnings had been so dramatic – unsettled her supporters, who began to be concerned about her intellectual abilities.

After Johnson quit, she made it through to the last two with the backing of 84 MPs, compared to Mrs May’s 199. This meant that, having been a virtual unknown at the start of the contest, she faced media scrutiny – and everything started to fall apart.

Her strongest point was her career in the City, which had led to speculation she would be the first woman Chancellor. Leadsom said she had risen through the ranks to be the youngest director of Barclays at 32, when she was appointed head of UK banking.

She recalled how she was running Barclays’ investments team when Barings Bank collapsed in 1995. In an interview she said: ‘I remember spending the weekend with Eddie George (the late Governor) at the Bank of England, ringing all the banks in the world… saying “Don’t panic, be calm”.’

In her 25-year career, she boasted, she was one of the most senior women in the male-dominated Square Mile.

But was this all true?

In fact, the Mail exposed discrepancies and omissions in her CV. Her job title at Barclays was actually deputy financial institutions director not, as she stated, financial institutions director. The CV also described her position at the De Putron Fund Management firm, run by her brother-in-law Peter De Putron, as managing director. But she was in fact a marketing director.

And while she claimed she was a senior investment officer at financial firm Invesco Perpetual for ten years, she was in fact only authorised as an investment manager for three months. As for Barings, an authoritative book about the bank collapse never mentioned her.

There were also poisonous whispers about her incompetence as a junior Treasury minister before the 2015 general election. One unnamed official told the Financial Times: ‘She was the worst minister we have ever had.’

Then, in July last year, she gave an interview to The Times in which she suggested she was a better choice as PM because, unlike Mrs May, she had children. For many, this was a cruel and cynical attack on the childless Mrs May.

Leadsom claimed she was ‘disgusted’ by the presentation of the article. But when a recording of the interview emerged, it was clear she had not been misreported. Leadsom insisted she’d apologised in person, but it later transpired she had merely sent Mrs May a text.

Within days, her campaign was collapsing. When, in mid-July 2016, she finally withdrew, she admitted she was ‘guilty of naivety’ in running when she was too inexperienced.

In the eyes of one of the MPs who supported her, she was guilty of much worse: ‘She’s a gutless coward who conned us into thinking she was something she wasn’t.’

During the race, she had pitched herself as the new ‘Maggie’. The comparison drew snorts of laughter from Lord (Tim) Bell, the PR man who masterminded Lady Thatcher’s three election victories, and initially backed Leadsom.

‘Andrea Leadsom is no Margaret Thatcher,’ he observed tartly. He’s certainly right about that.