If Boris Johnson thinks his posturing following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has distracted the attention of voters and his own MPs from his Partygate lies, he’s about to be rudely disabused of the notion. Mandrake is reliably informed that opposition to him within his own party is coalescing around the trade minister, Penny Mordaunt, a member of the One Nation group of moderate Tories.
“Events have played into Penny’s hands with just about every one of her most obvious rivals for the leadership now embroiled in allegations about partying and/or accepting Russian roubles,” one senior Tory tells me. “The argument against a leadership election had been that there was no obvious favourite and any contest would be protracted, but we now have an obvious favourite in Penny, who is spotlessly clean.”
Mordaunt was last month said to be on “resignation watch” over her obvious despair about Johnson’s Partygate lies and the subsequent attempt to smear Sir Keir Starmer over his handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal during his period as director of public prosecutions.
On the basis of their own confidential polling, the Tories are braced for an unprecedented drubbing in the local elections on May 5 and in the immediate aftermath of that Mordaunt is expected to mount a challenge. The Portsmouth MP won widespread respect for campaigning hard against Alexander Temerko, the Aquind boss and Tory donor whose £1.2bn power cable scheme running from her constituency to France was rejected. Temerko called her an “absolutely uncontrollable woman”. She happily riposted that she was “guilty as charged”.