New Tory leadership favourite Penny Mordaunt has faced increased attacks by opposition camps this morning as foreign secretary Liz Truss battles to keep pace in the contest.
Former senior minister Lord David Frost this morning said Mordaunt was not up to the job of Prime Minister, while also revealing that he asked Boris Johnson last year to sack her as his deputy in the Cabinet Office.
It comes after City A.M. revealed on Tuesday that Mordaunt’s colleagues in the Department for International Trade said she had neglected her government duties for more than six months to instead focus on a potential leadership campaign, with one source complaining they had been “a minister down for a long time”.
Truss formally launched her campaign this morning after coming third in yesterday’s first vote of MPs, behind Rishi Sunak and Mordaunt.
There will be another vote among Tory MPs today and a series of votes next week to whittle down the pack to a final two candidates, who will then try to win the votes of the party’s 200,000 members in a six-week campaign.
Yesterday’s result was considered a disappointment for Truss, who is running to be the standard bearer of the party’s right, and doubts have been raised about whether she can now make the final two.
The foreign secretary focussed her speech on her record in defending Ukraine, a promise to continue Johnson’s levelling up agenda and confirmation that she would cut taxes if made Prime Minister.
Truss said she would be “ready to be Prime Minister from day one” in an apparent attack on Mordaunt, while also vowing to “level with the British public” on the country’s poor economic outlook.
Truss’ allies have been accused of mounting a series of attacks on Mordaunt, however the foreign secretary said during her speech that she “certainly won’t be making any disparaging comments about any of the candidates”.
Mordaunt shot into favouritism to be next Prime Minister yesterday with bookmakers after finishing a strong second in the first vote and after a YouGov poll of Conservative members showed she had commanding leads over every other candidate.
It has led to a series of media attacks on her from anonymous sources last night and this morning.
Frost publicly said she was not up to the job in an interview with TalkTV as he relayed her experiences of working with her in the Cabinet Office.
He said: “She wouldn’t always deliver tough messages to the European Union when that was necessary and I’m afraid she wasn’t sort of fully accountable, she wasn’t always visible, and I’m afraid sometimes I didn’t even know where she was, and I’m afraid this became such a problem that after six months I had to ask the prime minister to move her on and find somebody else to support me.”