Penny Mordaunt defends time in government as rivals step up attacks

Bookmakers’ favourite to replace Johnson as PM accuses other campaigns of running ‘black ops’ briefings against her

Conservative leadership hopeful Penny Mordaunt has been forced to defend her time in government as her rivals step up attacks on her ministerial record.

The bookmakers’ favourite to win the race to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister has accused other campaigns of running “black ops” briefings against her to damage her chances of reaching the last two of the contest.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the trade minister insisted her achievements in government proved she could “get stuff done” and demonstrated she was ready for the top job.

“Look at my record, look at what I’ve done,” she said. “The first job that I had in government, I managed to bring the firefighters dispute, pensions dispute and strikes to an end. Other ministers didn’t.

“I managed to get real international leadership for this country and make a tangible difference to people’s lives on the issue of disability, as well as changing perceptions of our government, in that respect.

“In the 85 days I was at the MoD [Ministry of Defence], I brought in some things which have had a radical change in terms of our command structure and the fact that men and women of our armed forces are never, ever going to be paid less than the living wage again. I do get stuff done.”

Mordaunt also pointed to her work on UK’s resilience strategy and the compensation scheme for victims of the contaminated blood scandal as examples of her good work in government.

It comes after a week of stringent attacks on her credentials from rival Tory leadership campaigns, which prompted the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to accuse candidates of “scratching each other’s eyes out”.

A recent spate of negative coverage has included an attack from the former Brexit negotiator David Frost, as well as a lengthy “dossier” in the Daily Mail, setting out Mordaunt’s supposedly liberal views.

The rightwing newspaper once again dedicated its front page to boosting the foreign secretary Liz Truss’s flagging campaign, while also featuring an interview with Amanda Platell – Mordaunt’s former boss at CCHQ – who said the idea of Mordaunt as prime minister “fills me with horror”.

“People obviously are trying to stop me getting into the final because they don’t want to run against me,” Mordaunt said on Friday. Recent polling has shown she would win the final vote among Conservative members against any of her leadership rivals.

The race for No 10 exploded into acrimony after the first televised debate on Friday night, in which there were open arguments over tax and identity politics.

Just hours after Truss sought to reinvigorate her campaign with the announcement of new tax cuts costing more than £20bn a year, Rishi Sunak, the ex-chancellor, openly ridiculed his former colleague’s plans during the Channel 4 broadcast.

In a separate spat, Mordaunt and Kemi Badenoch clashed over the former’s views on trans rights. When Truss declined to support her version of events about policies in the government’s equalities office, Badenoch said: “Come on Liz, tell the truth.”

Tags: UK