23 October 2022

Penny Mordaunt has the experience and character to unite the party and the country

By John Penrose MP

Politics is like plumbing; everyone knows it’s essential and wants it to work properly but, frankly, we’d rather not spend too much time thinking about the details. Quiet efficiency is what most of us want, and the tumultuous weeks since the mini-budget have been anything but that.

So a return to unflappably competent, calm normality would be great. Jeremy Hunt has already made a welcome start by calming the financial markets with a solid restatement of fundamental Conservative values on the importance of sound money and being able to pay your bills. Now we need to pour more oil on troubled waters by choosing a leader who can inspire everyone to come together to defeat some pretty huge challenges. Not just in Westminster or the Tory Party, but right across the country as a whole.

What are those challenges? It’s a long list, but let’s start with unaffordably expensive housing, soaring energy prices and people traffickers shipping thousands of vulnerable people across the English Channel in rubber dinghies. In a normal Parliament we’d have spent the first two or three years grappling with answers to these problems but, because of lockdowns and the pandemic, they’re still sitting in the political in-tray. And there’s only two years left before the next General Election, so the clock is ticking.

Who can bring everyone together? For me, the answer is Penny Mordaunt. She’s been a minister in eight different Government Departments over twelve years, so she’s very experienced: the tight timescale means we need leaders with well-honed instincts and pattern recognition so the Government can take good decisions quickly.

Plus her background makes her a powerful antidote to the cynicism and distrust that so many people feel about politics and politicians in general. She became a very young carer after her mother died and her father became ill, has been a Royal Navy reservist since her early career, and then had to defeat a sitting Labour MP to get into Parliament. In other words she’s had to struggle and work hard throughout her life, and it means her instincts are the same as yours and mine. She’s the leadership candidate who Labour fears the most, and anyone who thinks politicians have to be born with a silver spoon in their mouths should take a closer look at Penny.

What would a Mordaunt-led Government look like? It would keep the focus on driving faster economic growth, but we shouldn’t and mustn’t choose between sustainable, sound public finances and vibrant growth: they aren’t alternatives but two sides of the same coin instead. We can and should have both.

That means keeping Jeremy Hunt’s changes and then adding a strong dose of supply-side economic reforms on top, to make our economic engine rev faster and more efficiently. Fixing the underlying problems in industries like housing and energy means fundamental free-market changes to unblock the arteries of our economy so investment can flow and wealth can be built much faster and with less risk than today.

It means cutting red tape too, but without reducing or diluting the vital standards which protect our environment, deliver net zero, make our food safe to eat and ensure that buildings are safe to live and work in too. Getting rid of regulations has to be about delivering those unchanged standards more cheaply, simply and digitally than today, not cutting them. And that means reintroducing the tried-and-tested ‘1-in-2-out’ regime that worked pretty effectively until it was abandoned five years ago, and we’ve been adding new rules and regulations ever since.

Finally, a Penny Mordaunt premiership would mean smashing the glass ceilings that hold too many of us back across our country as well. Childcare costs are a good example, making work harder and cramping opportunities of working parents everywhere. So making childcare more flexible and affordable will mean more of us can work the extra hours or take on the promotion that moves our careers on to the next rung, or simply handle the pressures of parenting and work a little more easily instead. Levelling up isn’t just about roads and rail projects but extending opportunity right across society, and Penny will lift the day-to-day obstacles that are keeping working people back.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

John Penrose is MP for Weston-super-Mare.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.