“Liar”. “Untrustworthy”. “Corrupt”. The highlights of a recent Boris Johnson word cloud. They are the reason the Tory party is choosing a new leader. That and the fact that he no longer appears to be an election winner. (We will come to that later.)
So how has Penny Mordaunt, now in a good second place after two voting rounds, chosen to present herself? Well, she has got herself into quite the tangle over her record as a Minister and her support for the Leave campaign. Sensing that her previous enthusiastic, on the record in Parliament support for self-ID and the Stonewall/Pink News agenda might be an issue, she claims the opposite. “I have never supported self-ID” she trills. Indeed, in an interview, she affected to be offended at the very idea that this was being said of her. (Painting oneself as a victim. How very modish.) This is, to be blunt, a lie. She was a promoter of self-ID in government and named Politician of the Year in 2019 by Pink News for her support. She did not, contrary to her claims now, set up an inquiry into the rise in teenage girls wanting to transition. That inquiry – the Cass Report – was commissioned by Liz Truss. Not only is she lying about her own record but she is now claiming credit for the actions taken by other Ministers. This has, understandably annoyed those other Ministers, those (like Ben Cohen, Pink News’s CEO) who thought her an ally and has not endeared her to those on the other side of the argument who wonder why she should be trusted now. She has done the same over her statements about Turkey made during the Leave campaign. Neither self-ID nor Turkey figure in voters’ top 10 concerns. But “lack of faith in politicians” does. Might their propensity to lie have something to do with this? Might the contempt which the liar shows for those being lied to also have something to do with this?
Clearly this does not bother Penny who, at her launch yesterday, went on to borrow other well-used tricks from the Boris playbook. The crude throwaway gag, the alliterative guff about modernisation, the uncosted unbelievable policy (personalised but revenue neutral child care budgets for every family – how?) and one of the most stupid policies proposed by someone aiming for high office: bribes for MPs or, as she put it, an individual “social capital pot” of money for each MP to spend in their own constituency.
It is worth unpicking this. What will it mean for councils elected by local voters? Will the money come from their budget or be in addition to it? How will it be accounted for and scrutinised? This is important. MPs are not subject to Freedom of Information requests. So how will taxpayers be able to know the full details of how their money is being spent? How will they be able to verify what their MP tells them at election time? How will the risks of waste and corruption be avoided? It’s as if all those concerns about PPE contracts being awarded to friends of the Tory party, the rewards for Tory party donors, the trouble Robert Jenrick got into over planning permission for another Tory donor, even the curious way in which New Towns money was channelled to Tory constituencies despite them not meeting the ostensible criteria have all been forgotten. Avoiding scrutiny – how very Johnsonian. If it just ends up being additional local development money, as is more probable, well, why not fund councils properly so that, rather than trying to rejuvenate towns by building ‘eco-walks’ or some monumental eye-sore, they could provide much needed services instead. Would it be too cynical to suggest that having done their job of increasing her vote, this idea will disappear into the ether?
Perhaps MPs will scrutinise what Ms Mordaunt proposes next more carefully. Or will they, like Sir Bob Stewart, a former British Army officer famous for his reaction to the horrific massacre in Ahmici, Bosnia support her because she is “an incredibly brave woman”? When asked what this bravery consisted of, he mentioned her doing another dive after a belly flop in the Splash TV series despite her legs being blue. Candidates are of course meant to show a leg to their electorate. But who knew it was meant to be quite so literal. Still a pretty woman in a swimsuit is an improvement on a messy overweight man on a quiz show. No wonder Nadine Dorries reportedly thought she might try for the job. She’s eaten ostrich anus in the jungle after all.
No. The reason they will support her is because she is largely unknown to the public, attractive, not incoherent – can in fact be quite witty (if wit for this electorate means saying “cock” in a speech) – and there is a poll which suggests that she may well be a winner. And she has her own PR Svengali, who co-authored a book with her. All very much like Boris, in fact. And just like with him, MPs will likely overlook any failings of character or on policy.
Let’s not forget the others hoping to be the tortoise in this race: Tom Tugendhat who, despite being pretty open about his ambition for months, managed to come up with a slogan which read “TiT”, Ms Truss whose devotion to photographing herself has not paid off with quite the number of supporters she must have been hoping for and Kemi Badenoch, a sharp fluent speaker with promise who appears to think that a small state is just what the country yearns for right now. Suella, whose incoherence on all matters legal marks her out as one of the worst Attorneys-General of recent times, has thankfully been eliminated.
Early days, of course. We may as well enjoy our political celebrity love island and see who will be ready for Rishi and the hustings before party members despite – or, perhaps, because of – their unsuitability for the role.