The Character Assassination of Penny Mordaunt Continues...
In all my years in politics I have never seen such an attack on a British politician in a leadership contest. The whole of the right of centre press has, with the encouragement of several of the other candidates, tried to portray Penny Mordaunt as some sort of woke warrior, and a slavish adherent to the Trans rights agenda.
The truth is very different, but it’s rare for the Daily Mail to bother with the truth, I suppose. The other campaigns protest that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths and it’s nothing to do with them, guv. Simon Clarke, a cabinet minister you’ve never heard of, goes on TV to trash Mordaunt on Trans issues, tells a series of lies and the media lap it up. I suppose it’s good of him to stab her in the front, rather than the back.
Last night, Baroness Susan Williams, who served as an equalities minister alongside Penny Mordaunt, issued a statement countering he ludicrous claims being made against her.
I tweeted last night that I wondered how much of the media would report this. As expected, virtually no one has. Par for the course in this campaign. Well let’s try again.
I have spoken to another Tory Minister this afternoon, who is familiar with these issues, who totally confirms what Susan Williams has said. This minister is not a Mordaunt supporter and hasn’t declared any preference during the leadership race. They also don’t want to go on the record because they think they will face a media shitstorm. A pity from Penny’s point of view, but there you go. They totally back up Mordaunt in saying that she never backed Self ID.
Believe it or not there is no shame in a Tory being Trans friendly. It does not imply you’re a fully signed member of Woketariat. It just means that you abhore discrimination and you want to treat people fairly. It is perfectly OK to believe that Trans women are women, but they’re just a different kind of woman to those who are biological women. Why is this so difficult for some people to understand? And to think that this subject has had more airtime in this campaign that the war in Ukraine, education, health and Climate Change put together. It’s ridiculous.
This leadership campaign has so far brought shame on the Conservative Party in so many ways. They ought to have been shouting from the rooftops about how great it has been that of the 11 declared candidates, the majority were women or non white. It’s something the Labour Party could only dream of. Instead, the campaign has been mired in black ops briefing, mainly against one candidate who had the temerity to challenge the two favourites. I said on the radio on Tuesday night and on Newsnight, I think, that although Penny Mordaunt had had a perfect launch day, tomorrow was another day. It was then that the unedifying and unjustified black ops and briefing started.
First out of the traps was fellow leadership candidate Suella Braverman, who questioned Mordaunt’s record on “woke” issues without any knowledge whatsoever. Her blue on blue attack set the mode for the next 48 hours. As Liz Truss might have said, but in this case wouldn’t, “that. is. a. disgrace.
The Daily Mail, The Times and even the Telegraph followed suit and have printed article after article full of character assassination. And even now, on Sunday, it’s still going on. The Times and the Sunday Times are obsessed by the Trans issue, and in every edition they have an article keeping the culture war alive, so it’s meat and grist to them. But the Mail have a real problem. They loathe Rishi Sunak so much that they have had no alternative but to promote Liz Truss, even though she was a LibDem who advocated the abolition of the monarchy and was not just a Remain supporter but an ardent opponent of Leave. A cursory Youtube search brings up enough clips of her telling us all how disastrous leaving the EU would be. And yet the Mail follows like a sheep the pleas of Jacob Rees- Mogg and Nadine Dorries to support Liz on the basis that she’s more Brexity than they are. Liz Truss might appear to have the zealotry of a convert, but if I were a Tory MP I’d rather trust the three remaining candidates who did actually vote Leave, and have never resiled from it – Rishi Sunak, Kemi Badenoch and yes, Penny Mordaunt.
Next up was Lord Frost. He complained he didn’t see very much of Penny “In the office”. There’s a reason for that. She didn’t have an office in the Cabinet Office, where he was located. Her office was the Department for International Trade. Why didn’t she have an office at the Cabinet Office? A former Cabinet Minister with knowledge of these things told me it was because Michael Gove (at that time Cabinet Office Minister) had personally ordered that she should not be given one. [UPDATE: Someone close to Michael Gove tells me this is wrong and she did have an office].
This is the same Michael Gove that came out in support of Kemi Badenoch, yet has acolytes working on both Kemi’s team and that of Rishi Sunak. In some circles he’s being called “The Puppetmaster”.
I have a rule as a broadcaster that I treat all the candidates the same, whether I know them or not, whether they’re personal friends or not, or whether I rate them or not. I interviewed five of the candidates this week on my LBC show and I would defy anyone to be able to evidence that I didn’t treat them all the same. However, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss’s media teams didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge the invitation. I suspect in Rishi’s case it was because as the leading candidate, they want to play safe. I get that, even though I think it’s a mistaken strategy.
Liz Truss on the other hand was far from a leading candidate. So far she hasn’t done a single media interview. Why would that be, I wonder? You could argue that the electorate is 360 Tory MPs, not the audience of the Iain Dale Show or Sophie Raworth. However, many MPs listen to my show or watch the clips that we put out. I’ve probably had at least 50 MPs contact me to give me feedback on what they thought of the performances of Grant Shapps, Nadhim Zahawi, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch.
If I’m to give a personal view I was hugely impressed with both Penny Mordaunt and Kemi Badenoch. Tom Tugendhat has fought a good fight but he won’t win. I haven’t had an opportunity to be impressed by Liz Truss and the only time I’ve seen Rishi Sunak was on the Channel 4 debate, which I’d say he won, followed closely by Kemi Badenoch. Penny Mordaunt was not on her game. Liz Truss was just plain wooden.
Tonight’s ITV debate will be crucial for all of the candidates, and it is still not clear who will emerge in the final two.
Many people have asked if I will be chairing the hustings again. The answer is no. I enjoyed it last time, but this is different from 2019. Three of the candidates this time are personal friends and although I am wholly confident I would do an impartial job, I suspect at least one of the other two would object. Which would be their right. In any case, I haven't been asked and don't expect to be, and I'm out of action from 6 August at the Edinburgh Fringe and then I'm on holiday for three weeks.
As a final thought... I wonder how long it will be before we start reading headlines saying ‘Bring back Boris’….