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Penny Mordaunt Calls For End To "Toxic Politics" Amid Tory Leadership Attacks

Penny Mordaunt has criticised "smears" against her

5 min read

Tory leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt has accused rivals of launching a wave of "smears" against her.

The former defence secretary has urged her fellow candidates to succeed Boris Johnson to conduct a clean campaign after a series of attacks on her appeared in recent days.

Mordaunt has been accused of being evasive over her position on trans issues after it was claimed she had been in favour of self-identification during her time as international trade minister, a claim which she has strongly denied.

Meanwhile, former Brexit minister Lord Frost launched a scathing attack on the candidate saying he had "grave reservations" about her ability.

Lord Frost, who is backing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to be next Tory leader and Prime Minister, suggested Mordaunt was not "tough" enough to be in 10 Downing Street, and claimed she had not "mastered the detail" while assisting him in the Brexit negotiations.

But addressing the comments on Sunday, Mordaunt told the BBC: "I have to say, we all know what is going on, this is the type of toxic politics people want to get away from."

She said: "The poor British public have a month of this to go, a month of us choosing their Prime Minister and it's an opportunuty for our party to show ourselves at our best, and we should be talking and focussing on the issues that concern them."

Mordaunt, who has been polling strongly among Conservative party members, is sitting in second place behind former chancellor Rishi Sunak in terms of support from Tory MPs ahead of an ITV debate on Sunday night.

The trade minister is preparing to fight it out with Truss for a spot in the final two, with Sunak widely expected to take the other. 

Hitting out at "smears in the papers", Mordaunt urged her fellow candidates to be "positive and have integrity".

"That is not representative of how our party operates," she told the BBC's Sophie Raworth.

"My colleagues are very angry and upset that this is how the leadership is being dragged down, and all candidates should be demonstrating what they are going to be like in government during this contest and that means focussing on people's issues, it means being positive and having integrity."

The bookies' favourite refused to set out any significant detail on her spending plans, however, saying the leadership campaign was "not the place" to do so.

"This is an incredibly volatile situation, which is why any further decisions on tax and spend needs to be taken through a proper process after this contest," she said.

"This contest is not the place to do that."

Mordaunt also claimed she would not "rip up" the government's current manifesto, and claimed there was still further work to be done to deliver the Brexit "dividend" from the 2016 referendum.

"We have got to get spending under control, but all of these decisions need to be made when we are in government, they cannot be done during this contest," she said.

"I am not going to rip all that up, I'm not going to come on your programme and make decisions that should be made as part of a team when we are in government."

The five remaining leadership candidates will face off in a further televised debate tonight ahead of the next round of voting by Tory MPs on Monday, where a further candidate will be eliminated.

The candidates will be whittled down to two on Wednesday, with Conservative party members choosing the winnter in early September after several weeks of hustings.

Speaking on Sunday, Tom Tugendhat, who led the performance polls after Friday's Channel 4 debate, doubled down on his claims that Johnson was not an honest Prime Minister and suggested the other candidates should be "honest" with the public about him.

"If you are going to have a relationship with the people of this country, you do need to answer these questions honestly," he said.

"It is perfectly clear that the alignment of stories he came to on the Partygate scandal seems to be rather more fictional than reality."

Tugendhat, who is sitting in last place among Conservative MPs, suggested the next Prime Minister should not have served in Johnson's cabinet, adding: "I think that is the most essential issue because in two year's time we are going to be facing Keir Starmer in a general election.

"We need to make sure all the attack lines used against us in the last three years do not come back in a general election."

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Truss is facing an uphill battle to unite the Conservative right behind her after her campaign appeared to flounder in the early weeks and a disappointing performance in Friday's TV debate - falling back into third place behind Sunak and Mordaunt.

Speaking on Sunday, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who is backing Truss in the contest, pointed towards her record in government, saying she had delivered "phenomenal trade deals" following Brexit, and claimed she had been "very strong" in her support of Ukraine.

But she has been accused of "fairytale" economics by former chancellor Sunak, who has pitched himself to members as the only candidate with a strong grip on the economy despite claims he was a "socialist chancellor".

In a bid to woo Brexiteers in his party ahead of Sunday's TV debate, he vowed to appoint a new Brexit minister to go through the thousands of EU laws still on the UK's statute book, saying his support for Brexit had been the "right thing" to do, even if it had damaged his political career.

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