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10:42 17.03.2024 •

To crown Penny Mordaunt as PM!

Plot to crown Penny Mordaunt as PM: Tory MPs on Right have held secret talks with moderates about replacing Rishi Sunak with Leader of the House, ‘The Daily Mail’ informs.

MPs on the Right of the Tory party have held talks with moderates about uniting behind Penny Mordaunt to replace Rishi Sunak.

Sources said discussions were held this week about the possibility of crowning Ms Mordaunt as the new leader in a 'coronation' if the Prime Minister faces a confidence vote in the coming weeks.

The move would mean an astonishing third change of PM since the last election – but would avoid the need for another divisive leadership contest.

Ms Mordaunt has been identified as a potential standard-bearer for Tory moderates in a future contest in which Right-wingers such as Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman would start as favourites.

'The mood has shifted a long way this week,' the source said. 'There is a feeling that we cannot go on as we are and that even Penny would be better.

'She would have to allow social policy to be set by others but if you got over that hurdle, you could see the Right prepared to swing behind her if it was the only way to get rid of Rishi and avoid a contest.'

A former minister on the moderate wing of the party also suggested that replacing Mr Sunak was becoming 'much more likely' – and that Ms Mordaunt was the only candidate the party could unite around without a contest.

The source said: 'Until very recently I thought the idea of changing leader again was ridiculous. But No 10's handling of some recent events has been so astonishingly bad that I think it is becoming much more likely to happen. You could not have another contest and the only possible candidate I can see people uniting behind is Penny.'

The plot has echoes of 2003 when Tory MPs removed Iain Duncan Smith as leader and replaced him with Michael Howard in a so-called 'coronation' because they feared electoral meltdown.

Ms Mordaunt narrowly missed out in the contest to succeed Boris Johnson in 2022 when concern among Tory MPs about her views on trans rights saw her squeezed out of the final race between Mr Sunak and Liz Truss.

But she has since boosted her national profile after a show-stealing performance in the Coronation in which she wielded the 8lb sword of state.

A poll of Tory voters last month identified her as the only candidate able to boost the party's chances of winning the election.

Respondents said Ms Mordaunt had a better chance than the PM of beating Sir Keir Starmer by a net margin of plus-seven points, compared with minus-20 for Ms Badenoch and minus-27 for Mrs Braverman.

Mr Sunak is planning to switch his focus back to the economy next week as he tries to convince his restive MPs they can still win the next election, despite polls showing a huge Labour lead.

The PM is planning a series of announcements on business and apprenticeships in a bid to move on from a bruising week. He is also braced for a high-profile clash with peers over the flagship Rwanda legislation, which ministers hope to push through Parliament before Easter.

'The whole situation is just totally depressing,' said one MP. 'Until last week we could cling to the hope that the Budget would shift the dial, but it hasn't even caused a flicker.

'Instead, we've had another week of infighting and the next thing on the horizon is the local elections, which are going to be dire.'


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