Penny Mordaunt’s greatest strength and greatest weakness align: No one really knows who she is.
That’s about to change as Rishi Sunak’s only rival in the final stages of succeeding Liz Truss as UK prime minister.
Being a relatively unknown lawmaker in Britain’s ruling Conservative Party has its advantages. While other members of parliament have struggled to distance themselves from the failures of the previous government, Mordaunt has been able to portray herself as an outsider.
But the truth is that Mordault, who has been an MP since 2010, held several ministerial posts before being promoted to defence minister in the final painful months of Theresa May’s government.
During this summer’s Conservative leadership campaign, Mordaunt campaigned under the slogan PM4PM, promising a return to traditional Conservative values: low taxes, small state, personal responsibility.
That pretty much proves a winning lottery ticket. She garnered 105 votes from MPs – just eight votes short of Liz Truss, who later won – but not enough to put her before party members in the final ballot.
If Mordaunt can get to that stage, she’ll probably do well. A darling of the Conservative Party grassroots, her military background – she was a Royal Navy reservist – and references to Margaret Thatcher played well among party members.
In her previous campaign video, Mordaunt recalled seeing a naval task force sailing from her hometown of Portsmouth (where she is now an MP) to the Falklands – where Thatcher went to war with Argentina to recover the islands of the South Atlantic. “It taught me that my country can resist bullying,” she said.
Mordaunt has been criticized in the past for its ideological flexibility. At a recent Conservative Party meeting, she called Truss’ policy “great”. Given the implosion of “Trussonomics,” she may have to revise her stance.
She also revised her mind on another controversial issue. When she was Minister of Women and Equality, Mordault took a pro-trans stance, claiming that “trans men are men and trans women are women”.
But, under pressure from socially conservative members of her party, she dropped that position in the last leadership election, saying trans women cannot be considered “biological women” like her.
Those indecisions have led some to question whether Mordault has an underlying political philosophy — or whether she’s just a shrewd statesman with an eye toward the number 10.