It was fainting room only at the Cinnamon Club for Penny Mordaunt’s leadership launch. There were no restrictions to the guest list – a welcome change from the Team Rish! campaign – and the private dining room was packed from at least half an hour before the start.
In the front two rows were some of the MP backers. Mordaunt might have hoped for a rather more stellar collection than Andrea Leadsom, David Davis, Maria Miller and Sarah Atherton – not to mention inadequates such as Michael Fabricant and James Gray. Still, she does have George Freeman, the new Oliver Letwin who is so indecisive he has an existential crisis just choosing what to eat for breakfast, and Charles Walker, the sweetest and most gentle of MPs. So she must be doing something right.
After a brief introduction from Leadsom, who has surprised everyone by not being delusional enough to have a third crack at the leadership, Mordaunt fought her way to the lectern. She had spent much of the past few days doing parliamentary speed dating with Tory MPs, she began. And what she had found was an abundance of humility and an unswerving sense of duty.
Which was astonishing. Because anyone else spending more than five minutes with many Conservative MPs would have found a dysfunction of raging narcissism. Just imagine the collective entitlement of believing you are the person born to be a leader. Someone to make the big decisions on billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Anyone with any genuine self-worth rather than a bloated ego would surely exclude themselves. I know it’s a tough job and that someone has to do it, but you can’t help thinking that by and large the system is geared to attracting people who should be disqualified.
Mordaunt then went on to her credentials. She knew she had been born to run the country from the age of nine when she had witnessed the Falklands taskforce leaving Portsmouth. It was a more compelling backstory than any of the other candidates. even if most of us would have been deeply suspicious of a nine year old with that degree of certainty. She also insisted the country was fed up with Tories fought one another. Unaware she was one of the prime ringleaders in a leadership battle. Self-knowledge etc …
“The party has lost its sense of self,” she then said. It was like Paul McCartney at Glastonbury not playing enough of his old hits. Er … except all but five of his 39 song set list had been written in the last century. But never let the truth interrupt a Tory leadership hopeful in the middle of a nostalgia rant. What was needed was a return to small-state Conservatism, lower taxation. All to be paid for by some unspecified Brexit dividend. And patriotism. Or something else she forgot to tell us about.
Mordaunt’s eyes welled up as she stared into the middle distance and nodded slowly and deliberately several times after every sentence. As if to make it clear she agreed with herself. And was profoundly moved by what she was saying. You can imagine her practising her self-affirmations in the mirror every morning. “Who’s the best? You’re the best. Who’s the next prime minister? ME, ME, ME. PM4PM!”
It might have worked for Penny, but not for me. I could feel myself dozing off in the heat. Along with almost everyone else packed into the room. Mordaunt may have a vision but she’s not a natural communicator. There’s a reason that almost no one outside of Westminster has heard of her. Ten minutes of one of her speeches is more than enough for anyone. Truth is, she’s a wee bit dull. Just like her book, Greater: Britain After the Storm, which deservedly went unnoticed by everyone. It’s doubtful even Penny got round to reading it. There may be less to her than meets the eye.
There was just time for her to prove that she was neither too woke nor too bigoted, and to distance herself from Boris Johnson, before she scuttled off back to her office. Hard to believe but we could just have watched the next prime minister in action. If she makes it to the last three, Mordaunt could be a shoo-in. Just because she isn’t Liz Truss or Ready4Rish!, both of whom induce projectile vomiting in large sections of the Tory party.
Over in the Commons, the Convict and Keir Starmer could barely be bothered to go through the motions at prime minister’s questions. It was all bloodless stuff, a vacuum of futility. Johnson is yesterday’s man. An irrelevance. Someone who was once much loved and prized by the Tories has now been tossed aside. A lesson in hubris.
Only a week previously, Johnson had been insisting he would fight on and win. The Thousand Year Reich. Now his party could barely bring themselves to acknowledge his existence. Liz Truss looked as though she was only sitting next to him on sufferance. Being seen as the Boris continuity candidate is proving to be a niche marketplace. One largely frequented by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries who cosied up to her ostentatiously.
The Labour leader hardly even pretended to acknowledge the Convict’s existence, directing all his questions at the integrity of the Tory leadership contenders. Johnson looked just as bored. He wasn’t going to be silenced, he said. He would continue lying right up until the end. It still hasn’t registered why it is that his party has belatedly got rid of him. “You’re Captain Crasheroony Snoozefest,” he said lamely.
Halfway in, the Rwanda Panda got totally bored and gave up the ghost. This might be his last PMQs, he had decided. Not that he yet had anything better to do. But he wasn’t going to sit around being humiliated. He’d find something better to do. Air miles Bozza. Perhaps another trip to Kyiv to see Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Or a couple of nights in Tuscany with Alexander Lebedev. Though he’d better get in training for the hangover. No one noticed as he left the chamber. Sic transit gloria mundi.
At 5pm precisely, Tory MPs were again squeezed into a rammed committee room for the results of the first round of voting. Sunak was ahead but not by as much as he would have hoped. Mordaunt was strongly placed, Truss less so. Zahawi was out. “I love my country,” he sobbed. Only his country didn’t love him. Jeremy Hunt secured the stunning result of getting even fewer votes than he had the day before. Classy. Still, at least we would be spared Esther McVey as deputy leader. You take your consolations where you find them.
July 14, 2022 at 12:36AM John Crace