Penny Mordaunt confirms support into partygate recommendation
Penny Mordaunt’s odds as a future Conservative Party leader tumbled when she wowed the nation with her sword-carrying heroics at the Coronation last month.
But far more significant for her ambitions was her decision to take up arms on behalf of the anti-Boris faction of Tory MPs in yesterday’s debate into the Privileges Committee report.
Ms Mordaunt’s job as Leader of the House was to lay the motion and introduce the report, but she could then have stepped back and abstained.
Instead, she took the bold approach of announcing to the House in its opening speech of the debate that she would vote for the report.
On a day when the Prime Minister’s absence was taken by many as a sign of weakness, there is no doubt that Ms Mordaunt stood out as a leader.
As one Tory MP put it: “There is no way that as many as 118 of my colleagues would have voted for that report without Penny saying what she said.”
Ms Mordaunt had given permission to the latent anti-Boris Johnson sentiment in the Parliamentary Tory party to have its revenge on the ex-Prime Minister they feel discredited them all with the Partygate scandal and what they believe were lies in covering it up.
Another Conservative MP said: “I was astonished so many colleagues voted for the report. That in some ways was more damaging to Boris than anything else.
“But there has always been a strong anti-Boris element, mostly of Remainers.”
One or two Conservative MPs still believe that a very narrow 1992-style victory is possible for their party.
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In that year Sir John Major defied expectations to lead the Conservatives to a 20-seat majority after the fall of Margaret Thatcher.
But most now believe the game is up.
One ex-minister said: “The question is who leads us after and, not unrelated, what sort of party we will be?”
There are now two very different versions vying for control.
Ms Mordaunt, who ironically was a Leaver in 2016, now potentially is the most likely leadership candidate for what was the liberal Remainer faction who intensely disliked Boris Johnson and occupy the left of the party.
After two failed attempts, one where she narrowly last summer failed to get into the final two and then, after Liz Truss’s fall, just missed on getting enough nominations, she may be third time lucky.
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However, getting to the final two may be as far as she gets.
While Tory MPs may be more inclined to be anti-Boris and more liberal, grassroots members appear to be more conservative and pro-Boris.
The rules currently have the MPs offering two potential candidates – if one is Penny Mordaunt, the other is likely to come from or be endorsed by the right and Boris Johnson.
Names like Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and Home Secretary Suella Braverman are still in the mix, but to look for a potential compromise candidate who has for many years remained loyal to Mr Johnson we only need to consider someone else making a speech last night.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly gave the keynote speech at the ConHome summer reception yesterday evening and noticeably did not rush off to vote for the report.
While his “Only Fans” joke may have tickled the diary writers he was his usual engaging self.
Add to that his pragmatic Brexiteer, middle-of-the-road politics is closer to the actual Boris Johnson position.
Cleverly also pointed out that the same reception last year “was the starting gun for the election of the next former Conservative Prime Minister” in reference to Ms Truss’s rapid downfall.
He insisted that his speech last night was definitely not in that vane, but with a Prime Minister missing in action and Ms Mordaunt making waves across the road, it could well have been taken as a pitch for the alternative.
June 19, 2023, will be the date synonymous with Boris Johnson’s fate, but it could also be the date when the next two leadership contenders were also decided.
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