Andrea Leadsom is the second favourite to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. That is a fairly astonishing turn of events.
Leadsom, a junior energy minister, would be the first person to leap from such a lowly ministerial rung to the top job. It would be an unprecedented leap from obscurity but perfectly fitting with these rather odd political times.
Leadsom worked in financial services for around 20 years at Barclays and latterly spending 10 years at Invesco Perpetual in a role that seems to have involved being a troubleshooter rather than making investment decisions. She has been caught out exaggerating her influence and role at Invesco and changed her Wikipedia page in recent days so it no longer claimed she was chief investment officer at the manager.
She was elected in 2010 and immediately joined the Treasury select committee where she played a prominent role.
She has taken an active interest in financial services policy and regulation since her election and strongly supported the scrapping of the FSA. She used her maiden speech in the House of Commons to call for the Bank of England governor to maintain control of financial stability.
She was also part of a TSC that called for the Retail Distribution Review to be delayed by one year and reacted with fury when it was dismissed out of hand by the FSA. She branded the regulator as “pretty disgraceful”.
At the TSC, she was a regular critic of the Money Advice Service and its operations. While she certainly toned down her MAS criticisms when she became Treasury economic secretary, she did launch the Christine Farnish review of the service that led to its demise.
She has been strongly supportive of pension freedoms and more flexible rules around savings policy and the advice available.
Leadsom has been a supporter of de-regulation for small businesses and controversially backed zero employment regulations for new start-up companies. That would mean auto-enrolment scrapped for smaller firms as outlined in the 2012 Beecroft de-regulation report that was blocked by the Liberal Democrats in government.
This has been the key theme of her career in parliament: less regulation for companies in all sectors including financial services.
For many advisers, this will come as music to their ears. The current Treasury economic secretary Harriett Baldwin is very pro-financial advice alongside pensions minister Ros Altmann, another supporter.
Now a third woman with a hefty background in retail fund management could be championing the sector and from inside the doors of 10 Downing Street.
Leadsom was also a key figure in the Brexit campaign and is seen as a purist believer who wants to leave the single market.
There is no question that this policy choice would be seen as the short-term riskier option for the City and markets as it would end to pass-porting rights for banks and other financial services firms to operate across the EU without being registered with each national regulator.
Banks could be tempted to relocate some operations to remain within the single market and it is this fear – whether realised or not – that would drive instability if Leadsom became leader and made clear her opposition to single market access. The same applies to her rival, Michael Gove.
While Leadsom is riding a Brexit wave within the Conservative party, she has not always been so solid on support for Britain’s exit.
In a Times interview in 2011, she said she backed remaining in the EU. And when I interviewed her in 2013, she was leader of the Fresh Start campaign for EU reform and was genuinely keen on remaining.
Back then, she wanted a handbrake on financial services regulation from Brussels that would have allowed the UK to block any unwanted rules on the City. The Fresh Start group was a bunch of Tory MPs investigating EU rules and she led the project as its moderate face.
She even praised French European commissioner Michel Barnier for his openness to reform even though he was a bete noire of Breixteers at the time for his flurry of post-crisis EU financial services rules from Mifid II to AIFMD and the bankers’ bonus cap.
From our conversations, my sense is that she is much more pragmatic and open to EU co-operation than her image projects. She could have been convinced to back Remain is the set of reforms were stronger.
But she chose to back Brexit when it came to the crunch when she could have made a sensible case for her remaining, the healthier career option.
In a similar vein, she stood up to George Osborne in 2013 when he tried to link Ed Balls to the Libor scandal. She said the Chancellor should apologise, a stunningly brave move for an ambitious backbencher. It is also worth pointing out Osborne’s magnanimity as her later promoted her to his Treasury ministerial bench in 2014.
She also has some rather different traits. When I was at Money Marketing we used to speak to her occasionally and she was keen to get her name in print but then rather concerned if her verbatim quotes made her seem more strident than she wanted. She had a slightly hot temper when she didn’t like how she was portrayed.
Her daring run for the leadership is another maverick side to her. A Leadsom premiership would look like a positive vision for advisers from someone who has a zeal for de-regulation, support for Brexit that is not dogmatic and a deep understanding of retail financial services.
Her leadership launch speech was policy-free and focused on renegotiating our relationship with the EU. However, if her parliamentary and non-political career is anything to judge her by then Prime Minister Leadsom would take a keen interest in savings and financial services policy.