1. The case for Penny Mordaunt
The Royal Navy reservist is the most popular choice among Tory party members – and good thing too, says Allison Pearson in The Daily Telegraph. Mordaunt’s no-nonsense background makes her “the Tory leader Labour would fear most”. Born in Torquay, she became carer to her cancer-struck parents when she was just 15, getting a job as a magician’s assistant in sixth form to help pay the bills. She’s formidable at the dispatch box, “looking like Boadicea crossed with a lioness”, and given she wasn’t in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet she’s not too tainted by his failures. The problem, says Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail, is that her social liberalism seems to veer into denying biological sex. A recent Twitter thread entitled “Do I know what a woman is?” seemed designed to dispel that impression – but perhaps it was just a ploy to soothe nerves in Middle England.
👎🤦♂️ There are questions around Mordaunt’s competence in government, says James Forsyth in The Times. Not one of the three ministers she worked with in her most recent department is backing her for leader. By contrast, Sunak has three old Treasury colleagues on board, and Truss has two from the Foreign Office.
🗣🐓 After losing a bet with her naval colleagues, Mordaunt once delivered a speech about poultry welfare in the House of Commons, in which she said the word “cock” six times.
2. The case for Rishi Sunak
Sunak is the sole candidate to stand firm again the “mindless”, unworkable flurry of tax cuts offered by his opponents, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. He’s also the only one “with a record of sustained competence in one of the toughest offices of state”. Shiny-suited, Instagram-friendly Sunak has always been a top performer: head boy at Winchester, then PPE at Oxford, then to Goldman Sachs and a lucrative career in finance. Even now, his mind still “works in Excel”, a City contemporary told Tatler in 2020. Fastidiousness grips his personal life: intermittent fasting and 6am sessions on his £1,750 Peloton bike are how he keeps trim. No doubt he hopes a little rigour will appeal to Tory members after the chaos of the Johnson years.
🤑🏊♂️ Good luck getting him to open the purse strings if he becomes PM, says Sam Ashworth-Hayes in The Spectator. Sunak is a “graduate of the Treasury School of Economic Thought”, which believes that the existence of any money outside of the government’s coffers “represents a grave injustice”. Building bridges? Restocking the armed forces? “Not on Rishi’s watch.” The only infrastructure investment he’s likely to approve is the construction of a “vast silo to store the country’s lucre, in which he will swim Scrooge McDuck style”.
3. The case for Liz Truss
Truss may have been a Remainer in 2016, but she’s since embraced Brexit with the zeal of a convert, securing a flurry of trade deals when she was international trade secretary. She “embodies the values of traditional conservatism”, says the Daily Mail: “low tax, aspirational, meritocratic, anti-woke”. Her hawkishness on Russia and China is also welcome. And no one can deny she has energy in spades. “We’re constantly knackered, trailing in her wake. She’s indefatigable,” a Foreign Office colleague tells The New Statesman. “I’ve never seen a human being drink more espressos in a day. And I never ceased to be amazed at how many carbs she could eat without putting on a pound. She must have the metabolic rate of a Tasmanian devil.”
🐕😬 “What’s the difference between Liz and a rottweiler? The rottweiler eventually lets go.” – An “admirer” quoted in The Spectator
🌍😴 “Rory, I cannot understand why you are so interested in foreign affairs. The very last thing I would like to be is foreign secretary.” – Truss before she became foreign secretary, as told to former MP Rory Stewart
4. The case for Kemi Badenoch
Badenoch has “properly conservative instincts” on both the economy and the culture war, says Madeline Grant in The Daily Telegraph. A young, intelligent British-Nigerian woman, she rejects “any hint of victimhood” and could reduce Keir Starmer to a “wet lettuce” in the Commons. “I see in her the wit and optimism people once valued in Johnson, only without his glib promises and slipperiness” – the kind of woman you’d enjoy “splitting a bottle of wine with”. But Badenoch’s woke-bashing may well undo her, says Christopher Hatton in The Critic. The cost-of-living crisis is bearing down upon the country “like a freight train”, while she obsesses over gender issues. At her campaign launch event, crude paper “men” and “ladies” signs were stuck on the doors of the unisex loos – a “low-budget and lacklustre” gimmick hardly worthy of someone hoping to be PM.
😢📈 Badenoch and Tugendhat are the most interesting candidates in this race, says Sebastian Payne in the FT. “What makes them refreshing is their embrace of policy.” Badenoch, for example, has pledged to junk the Online Harms Bill, which legislates for “legal but harmful” content – in her words, “hurt feelings”. She has also promised to break up the Treasury and hand control of economic growth to No 10.
😈💻 After working at McDonald’s to pay her way through college, Badenoch began her career as a software engineer. Those computer skills were put to dubious use when, aged 28, she hacked into Labour MP Harriet Harman’s website and wrote pro-Tory messages on it.
5. The case for Tom Tugendhat
Tugendhat has three qualities the Tories are in dire need of, says Bret Stephens in The New York Times. One is the “older ideal of conservatism” in which a sense of honour is paramount. His selflessness during his former career as a soldier is a welcome antidote to the egotism of Johnson. The second is a “philosophical commitment to economic freedom”. The third, all too relevant these days, is a deep knowledge of foreign affairs – he’s pledged to up defence spending to 3% of GDP and reduce reliance on overseas energy sources if he becomes PM. He might be a Remainer (and half French), says Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph, but now Brexit’s done that could be no bad thing. A PM who knows Europe well could be more creative in getting us through the negotiations ahead “than someone who thinks this is still June 23 2016”.
🇷🇺💣 Tugendhat is simply too much of a hawk, says Sam Ashworth-Hayes in The Spectator: his response to the war in Ukraine was to note that we could “expel Russian citizens. All of them.” There’s a distinct possibility he might try and start World War Three within days of taking office. And “while I’m not opposed to nuclear annihilation per se, I do strongly suspect that it would be bad for the party’s prospects in 2024”.