This article first appeared on Telegraph Online
So Liz Truss becomes the third female Conservative leader to be effectively toppled by her own MPs. When Margaret Thatcher left Number 10 on that November day 32 years ago, she said: “We leave the country in a far better state than we found it.” Sadly for Truss, she cannot say the same thing. In a mere 45 days she has crashed the economy and destroyed the reputation of the Conservative Party. The party I have supported for 45 years is in dire straits. I first went out campaigning in 1979 as a 17 year old and now, aged 60 I am, like so many others, in shock and disgust at what’s going on.
I’ve never seen such division within the party. An ill-mannered and protracted leadership election over the summer has produced a Prime Minister whose first act was to deliver market chaos and the prospect of a wipeout at the next election.
The 1922 Committee and Conservative MPs have got to get a grip. That means uniting behind a new leader who will appeal not just to all groups within the Parliamentary party, but also who will reach out to members and voters with a positive, optimistic message of renewal and hope.
There is only one leader who can do that – our current Leader of the Commons, Penny Mordaunt. Why am I so certain? Well, here’s seven good reasons. Having held nine portfolios across eight government departments over twelve years, and as a highly respected Minister across the UK and abroad, Penny has the confidence and competence to lead.
As a child carer having known poverty herself, Penny is both empathetic and a true team player – as she has shown throughout her career, including as a Royal Naval reservist. She understands what a cost of living crisis is. She lived it. Penny is also a seasoned campaigner having won her seat from Labour in 2010 and fought to increase her vote share at every election since.
Polling in the summer leadership election showed Penny to be the top choice amongst almost every group of voters. – she was also the one Labour MPs said they most feared in the chamber. An excellent performer at the Despatch Box, Penny has shown she is more than a match for Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and the SNP. Penny offers the fresh face and the unifying approach that can bring together all the talents across the Conservative benches.
So, I hear you asking, “what about Rishi?” I like Rishi Sunak; I think he’s a decent person and a capable minister. In other circumstances and at a different time, he would make a fine prime minister, but I do not think he can be our next Prime Minister.
Firstly, he was rejected by party members. He was fined in Partygate. The opposition will never let that go. The Green Card he retained even as Chancellor led many to conclude at the time that his ambitions to be Prime Minister were now dead in the water.
He may have correctly predicted the failure of Trussonomics but his performance in the previous leadership election was less than stellar, adopting both the wrong tactics and wrong strategy It’s what led to his poor performance in the vote, gaining less than 43%. In addition, given the fact – and it is a fact – that Rishi Sunak lent the Truss campaign enough votes to get into the final two, and push out Penny Mordaunt, you could say, that the whole Truss experiment was his fault.
Is there anyone else? Suella Braverman may well be on maneuvres having resigned as Home Secretary, but she is too factional; Jeremy Hunt doing a good job in his first week as Chancellor may have a strong case to stay there, whoever takes over, but the membership has already recently said no to him. Brandon Lewis could be a strong ‘safe pair of hands’ candidate. Ben Wallace is the other name talked about, but as an excellent Secretary of State for Defence, he should stay exactly where he is at this turbulent time in geopolitics.
Many people believe the die is already cast. That the next election is already lost, and lost in a big way. Conservative MPs who are thinking in that way surely need to ask themselves this question: Which candidate has the potential to turn things around, and if they can’t quite manage that, then who can best mitigate the scale of defeat?
My advice to MPs and party members looking at this is to get behind Penny Mordaunt. She is the ‘Heineken candidate’. She can reach all parts of both the country and the Conservative Party.