Penny Mordaunt: Portsmouth North MP tells Conservatives 'I'm the one Labour fears' as she launches leadership bid

Leadership contender Penny Mordaunt has told Conservative MPs fearful of losing their seats under Boris Johnson that she is the candidate ‘Labour fear the most’.

Wednesday, 13th July 2022, 2:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th July 2022, 2:41 pm

One of the frontrunners to enter No 10, the trade minister warned other Tory leadership hopefuls on Wednesday that they are right to perceive her as a ‘threat to their campaign’.

The former defence secretary launched her pitch to be the next prime minister promising to return to traditional Conservative values of ‘low tax, small state and personal responsibility’.

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Penny Mordaunt at the launch of her campaign to be Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, at the Cinnamon Club, in Westminster, London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Ms Mordaunt said her key economic policy would be that debt as a percentage of GDP, a measure of national income, would fall ‘over time’.

She has pledged a 50 per cent cut in VAT on fuel to help ease the cost-of-living crisis but has not gone as far as others in the race to offer tax cuts.

And the naval reservist stood by the Conservative manifesto commitment to meet the Nato target for defence spending of two per cent of GDP and increase it by 0.5 per cent above inflation every year.

At her launch event at Westminster’s Cinnamon Club, Ms Mordaunt declined to describe Mr Johnson as a good Prime Minister, instead thanking him for delivering Brexit.

Portsmouth North MP and prime ministerial hopeful Penny Mordaunt at the Cinnamon Club, in Westminster today Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

But she insisted she is ‘very different’ from her would-be predecessor but indicated she would not call an early general election to win her own mandate if she entered No 10.

She argued that having stood on the same platform as Mr Johnson and other Tories in the 2019 election ‘we have a mandate and a big majority’.

‘I think the British people want us to deliver on that now,’ she said.

But part of the reason Tory MPs eventually ejected Mr Johnson after a series of damaging scandals is that they feared retaining their seats at the next general election.

Penny Mordaunt Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

‘I’m the candidate that Labour fear the most – and they’re right to,’ she told Conservatives and reporters closely crammed into the sweltering room.

The long-term Brexit backer said the Government supply side reforms would yield a ‘Brexit dividend’ on investment, infrastructure and innovation.

She promised to put ‘power back into the hands of parents’ through personal budgets which allow every child access to their entitlement to subsidised childcare at any time prior to them starting school.

Ms Mordaunt also addressed sexist attacks against her from within her party by individuals trying to scupper her campaign.

‘Well, they’re very sensible people because I’m a threat to their campaign,’ she said, but added that the only people she will take the fight to is the Opposition.

Ms Mordaunt was asked questions about trans rights, but carefully declined to embrace the so-called culture wars issues.

Asked where she stands on gender, she said: ‘I think it was Margaret Thatcher who said “Every prime minister needs a Willie”. A woman like me doesn’t have one.’

Mrs Thatcher’s quip referred to Willie Whitelaw, whom she appointed Home Secretary and who was famously loyal to her.

Ms Mordaunt vowed to restore ‘standards and trust’ if she takes over from Mr Johnson in September after Tory Party members vote on the final two candidates put forward by Conservative MPs.

The Portsmouth North MP has so far performed well, gaining public declarations of support from Conservative colleagues to help her progress through the first phases of the race.

She has also performed strongly in the limited polling of the Tory membership available, putting her firmly alongside Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former chancellor Rishi Sunak as favourites.

A YouGov snap poll of 876 Tory members carried out over Tuesday and Wednesday saw 27 per cent respond that they would favour Ms Mordaunt as Mr Johnson’s replacement.

Former minister Kemi Badenoch was second on 15 per cent, while Mr Sunak and Ms Truss were tied on 13 per cent.

The current size of the Conservative membership is unknown, but at the last leadership election in 2019 there were around 160,000 members, and insiders expect it to have grown since then, meaning the poll is not representative of the party as a whole.