Could Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt become the next Prime Minister?

Penny Mordaunt arrives at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London for the announcement of the new Conservative party leader, who will become the next Prime Minister. Picture date: Monday September 5, 2022. Picture by: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire/PA Images
Penny Mordaunt Credit: PA

Accused by Labour of pulling a disobliging funny face behind the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt’s response was pitch-perfect. 

"Let me address the honourable lady's comments about my facial expressions: my resting face is that of a bulldog chewing a wasp, and people should not read too much into that." MPs - from all parties - joined in the laughter. 

She was speaking at Business Questions - a sort-of mini-PMQs held every Thursday. A perfect chance to show concern about issues raised by MPs, a perfect chance to praise and flatter MPs - and a perfect chance to remind Tory MPs she could be their leader one day. She wowed the party behind the scenes at the Tory conference, especially the younger members - she always does.

She impressed with the way she carried out her ceremonial duties as Lord President of the Council in the days following the late Queen’s death. 

And in the few weeks of Liz Truss’ premiership she has managed to appear loyal without ever looking like a fully paid-up member of the Truss fan club. Her party conference intervention in the row over benefits payments - yes, she said, they should go up in line with prices - was another reminder: she could be Conservative leader one day. 

That day could come soon - very soon.  With Liz Truss on her way out, is there a "unity candidate" MPs could agree on, as they did with the Folkestone MP Michael Howard when Iain Duncan Smith was toppled? Step forward Penny Mordaunt, say some Tories. Three months after launching her original campaign slogan, it really would be PM4PM.

Many Tory MPs think the most likely scenario is Sunak for Prime Minister, Mordaunt for deputy. The bookies make the former Chancellor the hot favourite. But history tells you favourites rarely win these contests.