Penny Mordaunt, the latest entrant to the Conservative leadership race, has faced a slightly rocky launch to her campaign as she apparently rolled back her previous view on trans rights and had to re-edit a video after complaints from people featured in it.
In a somewhat embarrassing start for the former defence secretary’s bid to succeed Boris Johnson, a video introducing her candidacy was pulled and replaced with an amended version.
Based around a stirring voiceover and musical backdrop, the video showed images of UK landscapes, events and people, including a series of identifiable public figures, who had seemingly not given their permission to be featured.
Among these was Jonnie Peacock, the British Paralympic sprinter, shown in the original video crossing the finish line of a race in slow motion. The clip also featured a shot of sprinter Oscar Pistorius, the South African Paralympian later convicted of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Peacock, an English sprint runner who won gold at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Paralympics tournaments, replied to the video on Twitter, saying: “I officially request to be removed from this video … Anything but blue please.”
Other people removed included the Covid vaccines expert Dame Sarah Gilbert. The amended video also took out footage of armed forces and police personnel, who are not normally used in political campaigns.
Before even releasing her initial video, Mordaunt tweeted to insist that opponents were trying to falsely portray her as “woke”.
The Portsmouth North MP, who is a trade minister, has long been known as one of the outliers in the party when speaking publicly in support of trans rights.
In a former role as equalities minister, Mordaunt said that “trans men are men, and trans women are women”, a statement that sets out the current legal basis for gender recognition but has become an increasingly fraught area of debate over issues such as safe spaces for women.
This has led to Mordaunt being criticised by some Conservative factions. The former defence minister wrote on Twitter: “I am biologically a woman. If I have a hysterectomy or mastectomy, I am still a woman. And I am legally a woman.
“Some people born male and who have been through the gender recognition process are also legally female. That DOES NOT mean they are biological women, like me.”
Mordaunt said: “All my life, I’ve fought for gender equality. I’ve stood up for women,” pointing to her work as equalities minister, saying she had opposed gender-neutral language and campaigned about women’s sport.
She added: “Some want to damage my reputation for whatever reason. They want to depict me as ‘woke’.”
Two candidates, the attorney general, Suella Braverman, and the former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, have explicitly aimed their campaigns as being opposed to socially liberal language and policies.
Launching her campaign with an article in the Times, Badenoch reiterated her opposition to identity-based politics, saying this led to “coercive control, the imposition of views, the shutting down of debate”.
Announcing her bid on ITV’s Peston show last week, Braverman said: “We need to get rid of all of this woke rubbish.”
A vehement culture warrior, in 2019 Braverman was criticised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews for saying Conservatives were engaged in “a battle against cultural Marxism”, a reference to a conspiracy theory often associated with the far right and antisemitism.
Some other declared candidates to take over from Johnson have made it plain they are less interested in such debates.
Asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday if trans men were men, and trans women were women, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, replied: “If there’s a Shapps administration, and I’m prime minister, I will not be spending most of my time on these kinds of issues. I think we owe everybody love and respect, and people should be able to get on and live their lives.”
Asked the same question on the show, Tom Tugendhat, the backbench Tory who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: “This is one of those debates that demonstrates why we need to move on. It’s really easy to make division where we need unity. It’s really easy to try and divide communities.”