A bitter split in the conservative right could boost Penny Mordaunt’s leadership chances | Penny Mordaunt

In the race to take on Rishi Sunak, it may be Penny Mordaunt capitalizing on the disarray on the Conservative Party right as it splits into bitter factions.

The trade minister has an impressively organized campaign that has led to murmurs about how much work she has put into her day job. She racked up the second most endorsements after Sunak, spending time meeting one-on-one with MPs rather than on the air.

Her allies say she will now step up a gear and show her assets as a media performer in the coming days. “The more people see Penny, the warmer they get to her, which is a huge plus,” one said, a remark that may not apply to her rivals.

Mordaunt’s offer was not without its hitches. His campaign video was widely parodied and re-edited after complaints from several public figures featured in it.

However, MPs backing her say the Brexit campaigner, who has friends across the party, has the best chance of being a candidate for unity – and a break from the Johnson regime.

According to a survey of party members by the website ConservativeHome, Mordaunt is the grassroots favourite, followed closely by former equality minister Kemi Badenoch.

Union sources admit she is more of a threat on paper than Sunak or Liz Truss – potential candidates against whom they already have finely tuned attack messages. “His public profile is not high, but that can be dangerous because you get space to make an impression which can initially be very favorable,” a source said.

George Freeman, a former cabinet minister who supports Mordaunt, said she was one of the few candidates in the race with a real prospect of uniting the party.

“I have known Penny Mordaunt for 12 years, since we were elected in 2010,” he said. “She overcame difficult life obstacles in an inspiring life story, has a nation’s conservatism in her DNA, and is a natural and proven leader.”

Mordaunt is widely popular among her Tory colleagues, although she has alienated specific groups of party MPs. The Brexiteer’s hardline wing has not forgiven him for staying in Theresa May’s cabinet to the end as his peers rejected the EU deal.

Steve Baker, who runs the campaign for rival Suella Braverman, said he has never forgiven her for the choice.

“At the end of the day, she just wasn’t there when I needed her. And actually, that’s not it. I needed her. She made the wrong big strategic call. And she didn’t fight for what she said she believed in. And now she wants my support? Well, I’m afraid she can’t have it.

She also lost support from the anti-Johnson wing of the party for remaining a minister during the turmoil, when she often came close to resigning.

She wrote to voters that Johnson had “not yet fully demonstrated” that he could regain trust, but did not resign even when the prime minister haemorrhaged ministers in his dying days. ‘That was the end for me,’ said one MP who sharply criticized Johnson. Mordaunt argued to MPs that she had a sense of duty not to contribute to the risk of total government collapse.

Perhaps the most toxic clash has come in recent months over Mordaunt’s support for transgender rights, something she had to effectively disavow early in the campaign. Other right-wing candidates (Suella Braverman) denounced her and accused her of being behind legislation that did not refer to a “woman” giving birth, but to a pregnant person.

Mordaunt, who grew up in Portsmouth, where she is now an MP, had the biggest impact early in her parliamentary career with her appearance in 2014 on ITV’s celebrity dive show Splash!

Images from the series have often been used in misogynistic depictions of her. This week, The Times used the photographs again, alongside photos of the male leadership contestants in suits.

But Mordaunt’s big rise to prominence came during the Leave campaign, where she caused a split in the Conservative Party after a controversial appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, in which she wrongly suggested that Great Britain Britain would not have a veto over Turkey’s EU membership.

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Appearing later in the day, Cameron effectively accused his deputy minister of lying, calling it ‘a very misleading claim’ and said the Leave campaign was trying to convince voters by saying something ‘which is not true. “.

Mordaunt entered the cabinet under Theresa May and served as international development secretary and defense secretary. But her decision to back Jeremy Hunt in the 2019 contest saw her sent by Boris Johnson – and Hunt left the cabinet after being offered the post of defense secretary from Mordaunt, out of loyalty to her.

Twice in the leadership election Mordaunt was said to be considering running, but there were early rumors of her determination to run to succeed Johnson and suggestions that she had signed tentative endorsements from about 50 deputies.

In previous campaigns, she never backed the winner – although her endorsements of Andrea Leadsom and then Jeremy Hunt were heralded as a coup.

This time, Leadsom supports Mordaunt. It remains to be seen whether Hunt, as his second leadership campaign begins to falter, will return the favor to his former ally as well.

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