Penny Mordaunt Accelerates Attacks On Liz Truss As Tory Leadership Contest Reaches Critical Vote
Penny Mordaunt's campaign to be the next prime minister has escalated attacks on Liz Truss as the pair battle it out in a volatile race to make it into the final two in the Conservative party leadership contest.
With Rishi Sunak going into Wednesday's vote with the most Tory MPs behind him, Mordaunt and Truss are in a tightly-fought contest to join the ex-Chancellor on the final ballot.
The final two will spend several weeks partaking in hustings around the country before Conservative party members choose the winner – and the next Prime Minister – on 5 September.
Mordaunt, who leads Truss by just six MP votes, on Sunday condemned "smears" against her and called for the "toxic" leadership contest to be fought in a more clean manner.
However, this morning a source on her campaign was scathing of Truss, the Foreign Secretary, saying she would lose the next general election against Keir Starmer's Labour and cost Conservative MPs their jobs.
“Today is about continuity Vs change for the Conservative Party," they said.
"Penny’s been speaking with colleagues already this morning and so many of Tom [Tugendhat] and Kemi’s [Badenoch] backers are calling out for change.
"As the only one not in Johnson’s cabinet, Penny is the sole MP left in the race who offers the party and country a genuine fresh start. MPs, party members, and voters across the country are crying out for something new but only Penny Mordaunt can deliver that.
"Liz Truss will not be able to win a general election and would put MP's seats at risk."
This morning Mordaunt tweeted, and then deleted, a link to an article by Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, which is headlined: 'Tory MPs - vote for Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss today and you'll murder the party you love.'
Mordaunt was the Tory candidate with the most momentum last week, with polls showing she was the most popular leadership hopeful among Conservative party members.
However, her bid to replace Boris Johnson in 10 Downing Street has faltered since then, with Truss the slight favourite to finish second place when Tory MPs cast their final vote this afternoon.
A source close to Truss said they feel the momentum is with them, having picked up 15 votes in Tuesday's ballot to get within six of Mordaunt – the closest the gap has been to the trade minister in any of the four rounds.
Her campaign believes she is better placed than Mordaunt to pick up more of the 59 votes that went to Kemi Badenoch yesterday, as they are more closely allied on policy.
There is clear animosity between Badenoch, who surprised Westminster with the strength of her performance, and Mordaunt over self-ID for trans people, which dominated their exchanges in the two TV debates.
But Badenoch is unlikely to formally endorse anyone ahead of the final ballot this afternoon, a source close to the former contender said, and given the broad range of support she received it is unlikely they will move in a bloc. One Tory MP told PoliticsHome today’s result is “still very unpredictable”.
So far Leo Docherty, the defence minister, has revealed he will support Truss this afternoon, having been a vocal backer of Badenoch throughout the contest.
Former minister Sir Desmond Swayne has announced he is backing Sunak, however, having voted for Badenoch in the last round after initially supporting Suella Braverman at the start of the contest.
While Badenoch's support is generally seen as being more allied with Truss on policy, there is still a large degree of uncertainty over how those MPs will vote this afternoon.
Mordaunt received a boost this morning when she was endorsed by former Deputy Prime Minister Damian Green, who chairs the One Nation group of moderate Conservartive MPs. Green had previously backed Tugendhat, who was eliminated from the contest on Monday.
“I have thought long and hard about what to do in today’s leadership ballot and I will be voting for Penny Mordaunt," Green said in a statement.
"She offers a fresh start and a chance to unify the party and deliver for the country.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe