Alison Rowat: That’s all from me, says BBC’s Raworth, bowing out on a high



ON the list of heatwave do’s and don’ts, launching yourself into a final sprint for the Tory leadership should be in the same column as mad dogs and Englishmen venturing out in the midday sun.

Yet needs must for the five remaining candidates, only two of whom will go forward on Wednesday to a vote of the party membership.

A long weekend started with Channel 4’s debate on Friday and continued yesterday on the politics programmes. Saturday was a quieter day, unless your name was Penny Mordaunt.

Tom Tugendhat was widely held to have “won” the Channel 4 debate much in the way Nick Clegg shone against David Cameron and Gordon Brown in 2010.

The candidate to beat, however, remains Ms Mordaunt, and has been since she took second place ahead of Liz Truss in the first round of MP voting.

In the weekend papers there was no shortage of commentators warning against promoting the Trade Minister to Prime Minister.

Matthew Parris, a backer of Rishi Sunak, wrote: “I’ve had small hours dreams whose narrative hung together better than Mordaunt’s prospectus. Is she Left, is she Right, is she Centre, is she anything?”

The references from former bosses were hardly complimentary, with one taking the Lord Frost line and questioning her competence. “To think she could become our Prime Minister fills me with horror,” said Amanda Platell, who employed Ms Mordaunt as a Tory party press officer back in the Hague days.

In the Sunday Times, Dominic Lawson said he sat next to the MP at a dinner and found her “unfathomable”.

“It was like throwing a pebble into a pond and seeing it disappear without a ripple,” he wrote, adding that the impression of competence and authority noted by some was “entirely deceptive”.

No wonder Keir Starmer and his team, with the exception of Shadow Education Minister Bridget Phillipson, who turned up on Sky News’s Ridge on Sunday) seemed to have taken the day off.

They were not alone in giving the Sunday shows a miss. Frontrunner Rishi Sunak sent Dominic Raab to speak for him on Ridge, with Iain Duncan Smith doing the same for Liz Truss. Only Mr Tugendhat and Ms Mordaunt fancied sharing a croissant with the team on BBC1’s Sunday Morning.

It was no loss to Raworth as she had the talking point candidate to herself and made the most of it. Yesterday was the presenter’s final programme, and the last show in the series until Laura Kuenssberg arrives in September. The Six O’Clock News anchor has had a busy time of it since taking over after Andrew Marr’s departure. Those who feared she would be a lightweight have been proved wrong with a series of hard-hitting, headline-generating interviews.

Before we get to her sit-down with Ms Mordaunt, an update on what for the purposes of continuity we should probably call “Wink-gate”. You remember the occasion: end of June, Dominic Raab and Labour deputy Angela Rayner facing each other at PMQs, and the Deputy Prime Minister appears to wink at his opponent.

When Ridge asked Mr Raab about this yesterday, he said his target had been Ian Murray, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. Yet the MP for Edinburgh South previously called this a “hilarious deflection” on Mr Raab’s part. He doubled down on this yesterday, disputing the Deputy Prime Minister’s version of what had been said. To be continued, that one.

Raworth began her interview with Ms Mordaunt by asking what she would do to help people with the cost of living crisis. On this and other aspects of economic policy, details came there none. Now was not the time, said the Minister; all would be revealed at “a proper fiscal event”.

She did cite the £30 billion “headroom” the Government had from an increased tax haul to explain how she would fund her tax cut plans. But as Raworth pointed out, that headroom figure was purely a prediction. Eventually it emerged that she would, unlike Mr Sunak, borrow to fund day-to-day spending, adding: “We will have to do that for some time.”

She denied reports that she had pushed through a policy to end the requirement for trans people to obtain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria before they could legally change gender.

“This has been rebutted many times. We all know what is going on. This is the type of toxic politics people want to get away from,” she said, calling the attacks “smears”.

A smear free leadership contest. Now that, like temperatures of 30C in Scotland, would be the stuff of history.





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