OPINION - Mordmentum: Penny leads every candidate in Tory run-off

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

What does the Conservative membership want? Tax cuts? A war on woke? If the results of today’s YouGov survey are anything to go by, the answer is straightforward: Penny Mordaunt.

The trade minister defeats every single leadership rival in a head-to-head by at least 18 points. Rishi Sunak, on the other hand, loses to everyone except Jeremy Hunt, Nadhim Zahawi and Suella Braverman.

Casual followers of British politics – including many Tory members themselves – may not know a whole lot about Mordaunt beyond the fact that she controversially (journalese for: it wasn’t true) suggested that Britain was powerless to prevent Turkey from joining the EU back in 2016, a statement she doubled down on today in an interview with LBC’s Iain Dale.

Mordaunt also scored a viral hit with a 2013 speech in Parliament in which she used the word “c**k” six times and “lay” or “laid” five times during a debate on the welfare of poultry. It transpired her address was the result of a dare from Royal Navy officer friends.

Britain has a parliamentary system, not a presidential one, so ‘unelected’ prime ministers are a dime a dozen. Since 1945, eight people have assumed the highest office without first winning a general election: Boris Johnson (2019), Theresa May (2017), Gordon Brown (2007), John Major (1990), James Callaghan (1976), Alec Douglas-Home (1963), Harold Macmillan (1957), Anthony Eden (1955).

What would make Mordaunt unusual therefore is not the manner in which she secured the top job, but her relative lack of cabinet-level experience. The 49-year-old, who won her Portsmouth North seat off Labour in 2010, has held various ministerial roles, but only spent a total of two years in the cabinet, first as International Development Secretary and then at the Ministry of Defence. She currently holds a mid-ranking ministerial role at the Department for International Trade.

Johnson had been foreign secretary and London Mayor. Brown had been chancellor. Major briefly held both roles, while May had been home secretary. Notably, Callaghan held all three of the non-PM so-called great offices of state. Mordaunt would therefore be quite different.

Sure, David Cameron was 39 years old and had been an MP for less than five years when he stood for and won the Conservative leadership election in 2005, defeating the vastly more experienced David Davis (I refuse to link to those ‘It’s DD for me’ t-shirts.) But that was not to be prime minister as well. By 2010, Cameron was still young but fairly grizzled after an entire Parliament as leader of the opposition.

Similarly, when Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997, he had no ministerial experience – Labour, as is its wont, had been out of power by that point for nearly two decades. (Blair would in fact only ever have one job in government.) But he too had been opposition leader, in his case for three years. There is perhaps no better training for the top job – including that of a top cabinet role – than to lead a party from opposition.

Cabinet-level experience isn’t everything, of course. I mean, look at that list again – they weren’t all exactly historic successes. But Mordaunt would still represent somewhat of a departure. Having said that, if the alternative is Liz Truss, perhaps it’s not so risky after all. Results of the first ballot should be known around 5pm.

In the comment pages, Defence Editor Robert Fox warns that Vladimir Putin is still aiming for Kyiv, so Tory hopefuls must show us their plan.

Harris Bokhari says the Conservatives have left Labour in the dust on diversity. While Homes and Property Editor Prudence Ivey writes that this heatwave shows the need to build our homes to withstand extreme warm weather.

And finally, I know it’s only Wednesday, but get a head start on what to do in London this weekend, from al fresco cocktail spots to block parties.

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