Press attacks take their toll as Penny Mordaunt misses PM race | Conservative management
Penny Mordaunt’s exit from the Tory leadership race has her pondering a familiar question: are Britain’s right-wing newspapers still shaping political debate, or do they just have a knack for spotting which direction the wind blows ?
A Tory MP backing Mordaunt had no doubt she had narrowly missed out on her chance to be prime minister due to relentless criticism from the right-wing media. ‘The nasty personal attacks in the Mail and Telegraph have succeeded,’ they said.
Newspapers described her as having been absent from her former ministerial post and as a “woke” supporter of transgender rights. They asked the Mordaunt team about other, more personal stories that ultimately didn’t make it to print.
Readers of the Daily Mail in particular were in no doubt what the publication thought of Mordaunt, who topped polls of party members and briefly became the bookmakers’ favorite to be Britain’s next prime minister.
This may in part be due to Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail editor who is believed to be in the running for a peerage in honor of Boris Johnson’s resignation. He retains influence in his former diary and in December wrote that he sat next to Liz Truss at a dinner party: , a seemingly genuine belief in a low-tax economy and small States and a disarming habit of asking blunt questions and dismissing the answer as “bullshit” – a tactic clearly designed to seek further clarification.
In the two weeks since Johnson’s ousting, the Mail has denounced Mordaunt on its front pages and tried to bolster the position of Truss, who qualified for the bottom two with Rishi Sunak on Wednesday.
Front-page headlines included “Mordaunt’s No. 10 entry hits the pads”, “Mordaunt under the microscope”, “Favorite new Penny under fire for ‘lies’ about trans views” and “Mordaunt flouted ban No. 10 on meeting a boycotted group”.
Sunak also received critical treatment – in keeping with the outgoing Johnson administration’s stated wish for an “anyone but Rishi” candidate – while Truss benefited from headlines such as “Let’s unite now or we will lose, Truss tells Tory he’s right,” “Liz tax boost for families,” and the call to arms the day before Wednesday’s vote: “Truss’ allies warn: No dirty backroom deals.”
At times, the front pages of the Mail have appeared more targeted at the group of Tory MPs voting in the early leadership stage than at the general reader or even Tory party members who will now receive a ballot.
“They’ve clearly decided they want Liz and will do whatever they can to get her in the final two,” a Daily Mail reporter said of the approach taken by the executives, including the editor. leader, Ted Verity.
The Daily Telegraph also criticized Mordaunt, with her previously positive stance on transgender rights and self-identification policies as equality minister being held against her.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case launched an investigation into the leaks after documents relating to Mordaunt’s time as Equalities Minister appeared on the front page of The Sunday Times. However, as with many Whitehall leak investigations, Mordaunt supporters have little expectation that this will uncover the culprit – and in any case, no damage has been done.
Sunak remains hopeful of getting an endorsement from Rupert Murdoch’s Sun and Times as ballots are sent out to party members. The role of Michael Gove, who helped organize Kemi Badenoch’s campaign, could be decisive on this issue. A former Times journalist, he remains close to Rupert Murdoch and would be strongly opposed to Truss becoming prime minister.
Although Truss can now expect unwavering support from conservative outlets that remain loyal to Johnson, she may not receive completely uncritical support from the Daily Mail, which will have its own opinion on how she should approach the contest. Dacre wrote in the Spectator last year, “Hope she doesn’t mind me suggesting she could benefit from a Maggie-style makeover to soften that metallic voice and irritating raspy laugh.”