Penny Mordaunt was targeted by Tory leadership rivals over her tax and spending plans and record on transgender issues as the remaining contenders went head-to-head in the first televised debate.
The international trade minister has been accused by ex-Chancellor Rishi Sunak of promising multi-billion dollar tax cuts that would only fuel inflation.
Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch said she pursued a policy of gender self-identification when she was in charge of equality issues – something she firmly opposed.
Speaking to a Channel 4 studio audience, Ms Mordaunt said the attacks showed she was the candidate to beat after finishing an unexpectedly strong second place in the first two rounds of MPs voting.
“I take it as a big fat compliment that nobody wants to compete against me,” she said.
Ms Truss, who is trying to overtake Ms Mordaunt to secure a place in the party members’ final vote, insisted she was campaigning “completely positive”.
Nonetheless, she joined Ms Badenoch in questioning the international trade secretary’s report on her gender self-identification record in the first focus of the evening.
Ms Mordaunt said that although she had carried out a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, she had never been in favor of self-identification.
“I can’t imagine why people don’t understand what I’m saying and keep spearing this topic for weeks,” she said.
“I’m a woman, I’m a biological woman in every cell of my body,” she said, adding that a male who had legally switched was “not the same as me.”
Ms Badenoch, who took over as equality secretary in 2020, said she found it “difficult” to accept her report as the policy being pushed at the time was self-identification.
“Well, I don’t see how that would have changed if someone else hadn’t done it in between,” she said.
“I didn’t work with Penny but I felt that the previous minister who took on that role wanted a self-identification and that was something I reversed with Liz.”
Ms Mordaunt countered, saying: “That is not correct and this will all be on the government files.”
Ms Badenoch replied: “It’s on record.”
She was supported by Ms Truss, who is in charge of gender equality alongside foreign policy, who also said there had been a plan to move forward on self-identification.
“I modified the outcome of this work so that we could make the process easier and friendlier, but didn’t move forward with self-identification, which I think is the right position,” she said.
Ms Mordaunt then came under fire from Rishi Sunak after she said her economic platform was not based on “taxes and spending” but on “growth and competition”.
The former Chancellor said campaign promises she made to cut VAT on fuel and raise income tax thresholds would cost £15bn.
“Even the pledges you’ve made are tens of billions of pounds pledges,” he told her.
“The best way to help everyone, the best way to make sure they have money in their pockets, is to get inflation under control and that should be everyone’s priority because that’s what the standard of living will be undermined for all.”
Ms. Mordaunt replied: “Two things, Rishi, that you have not realized – that is, I know you know that people will need more help this autumn, but in fact people need help now and you will do something about it need taxation.
“Next April we will be one of the least competitive nations in terms of our fiscal competitiveness. That must not happen.”
Mr Sunak, who led the first two polls, also attacked Ms Truss – who also promised tax cuts – after blaming the Bank of England for rising inflation.
“I don’t think it’s responsible right now to go into bad debt and more debt, it’s only going to make inflation worse, it’s going to make the problem longer,” he said.
“Borrowing from inflation isn’t a plan, it’s a fairy tale.”
Ms Truss replied: “I think it’s wrong to raise taxes.”
Earlier, Tom Tugendhat tried to make a virtue of being the only candidate in the race with no ministerial experience.
“We need a break from the Johnson years. That’s why I’m here. We have to make sure we can trust our politicians,” he said.
He earned applause from the audience when he – alone among the candidates – answered the question of whether Boris Johnson was an “honest man” with a “no”.
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/07/15/penny-mordaunt-clashes-with-tory-leadership-rivals-on-trans-issues-17010036/ Penny Mordaunt clashes with Tory leadership rivals over transgender issues