Penny Mordaunt backs Liz Truss in Conservative leadership race

ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt reports on the state of the Tory leadership race after Penny Mordaunt backed Liz Truss to become prime minister

Liz Truss has received a boost in her bid to win the Conservative party leadership race after she received the backing of former rival Penny Mordaunt. Trade minister Ms Mordaunt narrowly lost out to Ms Truss for a place in the final two in the race to be Tory party leader - and the next prime minister - with Rishi Sunak. Ms Mordaunt opened the latest hustings in Exeter by giving her support to Foreign Secretary Ms Truss, calling her the “hope candidate”. The Portsmouth North MP said the Conservatives will “short-change the country, we may lose an election” if they get the decision wrong.

She said: “I could have remained undeclared, I could be off sipping pina coladas right now but I’m not because this is too important and I’m not going to leave this to chance.”

Rishi Sunak at an event in Exeter as part of his campaign to be leader of the Conservative party. Credit: PA

Ms Mordaunt, who came third in the race with 105 Conservative MPs backing her, noted choosing between the two remaining candidates is hard.

Her endorsement helps to solidify Liz Truss as the front-runner and keeps up her momentum as the candidates face hustings from party members.

Ms Mordaunt suggested that Ms Truss will have a wide appeal across the electorate.She added: “Who can lead? Who can build that team and deliver for our country? Who does have that bold economic plan that our nation needs? “Who has got reach? Who can relate to people? Who understands that people need help with the cost of living now? And who is going to rightly clobber our opponents? “Who is going to hold seats and win back councils and who most embodies the vision and values the British public had in their heads and their hearts when they voted in 2016 and 2019? “At the start of this final phase of this contest, I didn’t know the answer to those questions but I’ve seen enough to know who the person I’m going to put my faith in is – and that is Liz Truss.”

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Tory members cheered the announcement, in which Ms Mordaunt described Ms Truss as someone who has great ambition for the country and a strong political vision.

She added: “Her graft, her authenticity, her determination, her ambition for this country, her consistency and sense of duty – she knows what she believes in, and her resolve to stand up against tyranny and fight for freedom. “That’s what our country stands for and that’s why I know with her we can win. “And actually seeing her over the last few weeks has made me want to help her, to help her win, to help build the team we need to win the country, and to give ourselves as a party and as a nation the pride and confidence we need to reach our full potential."

(Left-right) Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss before the Channel 4 leadership debate. Credit: PA

Ms Truss, in her opening speech, said of Ms Mordaunt: “She’s a great person, she’s a great politician, she’s a great patriot and I’m proud to call her my friend.” The unity between the two Conservative MPs was in stark contrast to earlier exchanges in the leadership campaign, which saw allies of Ms Truss deny involvement in a “black ops” campaign against Ms Mordaunt.

At the same event on Monday night candidate Mr Sunak said: “Levelling up is not just about the north, it’s about the south west too.”

Introduced by Conservative former cabinet minister Liam Fox, and speaking at the hustings in Exeter, Mr Sunak said the Conservatives have to “restore trust”, “rebuild the economy” and “reunite our country”.

He reiterated his belief that he has not taken the “easy path” in his vision set out in the leadership election, but said “it may not be easy, but it is honest”.

“I want to make sure that the government in Westminster understands the needs of rural communities like mine in north Yorkshire and yours here. That means making sure our fields are used for good production and not solar panels,” he said, before listing other priorities.

He said he would “cut taxes”, outlining his plans to cut income tax, but said: “We are going to do that responsibly. We are not going to ask our kids to pay for it. We are going to do it by being tough on public spending, reforming public services, and by growing the economy.”

He said winning the next election “starts with winning back Tiverton and Honiton,” adding: “We need to appeal to swing voters everywhere … I passionately believe – and the evidence shows – that I am the candidate that gives our party the best opportunity of beating Keir Starmer”.

What else did the two candidates say at the hustings on Monday?

  • Mr Sunak said part of the Online Safety Bill which deals with legal but harmful content “needs looking at”, as he raised concerns that aspects of it could infringe on "free speech" if left unamended

  • The former chancellor said using artificial intelligence technology would help tackle the NHS backlog

  • Mr Sunak stressed the need for “more flat-pack housing” and said he would “cut taxes”, outlining his plans to cut income tax

  • Ms Truss said that “the best thing to do with Nicola Sturgeon is ignore her”, calling the Scottish First Minister an “attention seeker”

  • The foreign secretary said she would not authorise another lockdown and that one criteria for her cabinet is people who don't "leak and brief”

  • Ms Truss, the MP for South West Norfolk, ruled out making changes to hunting laws, warning it could “possibly make the situation worse” for those who enjoy country sports

  • Ms Truss said she wants to ensure the Online Safety Bill protects under-18s while not "affecting free speech"