Two senior ministers with experience of the military top the latest poll from the ConservativeHome website of Tory grassroots members as favourites to takeover from the Prime Minister – should there be a vacancy.
Top of the poll is Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, who served as a Captain in the Scots Guards, a regiment of the British Army.
He received 119 votes from the 755 party members who were surveyed. It’s a big turn around for Wallace – who wasn’t even mentioned in the previous poll last December – giving him a 15.76 per cent share of those polled.
Second to Wallace is Penny Mordaunt, the first woman to hold the post of defence secretary, albeit for 85 days, and who is a Royal Naval reservist, holding the rank of acting sub-lieutenant. (Mordaunt’s father, John was a paratrooper before retraining as a teacher and, supposedly, named his daughter after the HMS Penelope, a Arethusa-class cruiser.)
Mordaunt, now minister for trade policy and MP for Portsmouth, is not far behind Wallace with 117 votes and 15.5 percent of the total. Considered a bit of a “freelancer” by many in the party, Mordaunt has cruised her way into politics via the most interesting route. A former magician’s assistant in her teenage years, she’s worked in PR, run communications for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and worked on George Bush’s campaign in 2004.
Although a keen Brexiteer, Mordaunt backed Jeremy Hunt in the last leadership campaign and makes no secret of her antipathy towards the current PM. On big issues – such as tax cuts and LGBT rights – she has taken an outspoken position and, if this latest poll is anything to go by, it has not dimmed her chances. On the latest trick question being fielded at politicians – what is a woman? – she has been particularly open, claiming a trans woman is a woman.
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Why, though, is the defence secretary suddenly so popular? And is it a coincidence that the top two both have military experience? Is it that the public feels more comfortable with politicians who have some experience of what they are talking about?
It could well be, and Wallace has led ConHome’s Cabinet League Table since February, when Russia first invaded Ukraine. Since then he has taken a leading role in Britain’s efforts to help Ukraine in its war against Russia, and has been unafraid of criticising President Putin.
For her part, Mordaunt has made much of her military experience, letting it be known that she visited Ukraine some years ago to help train their forces.
So it’s interesting that the Cabinet minister who has played the biggest anti-Russian hand – Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary and once the darling of the Tory grassroots – only managed third position in the poll with 14 per cent. Has her loyalty to the PM taken off some of the shine?
We shall see. Other one-time favourites like Rishi Sunak have dropped right back. In fact, only the top three managed double-digit figures. If there is going to be a challenge, the field is still wide open.