If you want to get ahead, get a hat. Or maybe a headband. Also, maybe a cape, in teal. Oh, and maybe hold a sword for a couple of hours. In the days since the coronation, politicians have rallied in declaring the cabinet minister penny mordaunt as the “rising star” of the ceremony.
This may have come as a shock to King Charles, who also had a significant role in the events and might be thought to have taken the ceremony’s top honors. But there’s no real doubt that Mordaunt, who, as Lord President of the Council had a prominent role, stole part of the show (at least for sad political obsessives like me). He looked great and performed his sword-bearing duties with aplomb. She was considerably more prominent than the prime minister. At the end of the coronation day, the chances of her becoming the next tory leader they fell hard.
Now, I don’t want to throw cold water on Mordaunt, who is likeable and funny. While opinions naturally diverge on his politics, and there was a Unpleasant moment in the Brexit debate, it is generally considered a good egg. She is also an effective Commons interpreter. In the field of possible contenders to be the next Tory leader, she is far from the worst. Among her fellow conservatives, she would now classify herself as a moderate.
But we go. Wearing an outfit, wearing a headband, and carrying a sword are usually not the main criteria for choosing a leader. This is not Xena: Warrior Princess. It also doesn’t say much in Tory favors that being able to do it without giving up makes you stand out as leadership material.
It is true that he could have played the coronation completely wrong, for example, by spending two hours brandishing a plane ticket to Rwanda instead of Odin’s sword or whatever. Errors like this can happen. It’s a logistical nightmare. One minute you think the king is about to board the golden state carriage, the next you realize he’s heading towards Nicola Sturgeon’s motorhome, who accidentally parked nearby. This is the kind of thing that keeps planners up at night, with visions of the new monarch riding up the mall in an RV currently the subject of police investigations. So yeah, Penny had a great day.
But the notion that her performance propels her back into contention is simply not serious country talk. This is the kind of thing that happens in places where political parties elect a leader even though they know he or she will fail to govern, but they tell good jokes. It did not seem possible that a party could find an even more trivial reason to choose a prime minister. However much one may be mocked, the additional and positive visibility will help their cause.
History, it should be noted, is not filled with stories of political triumph. I have read several books on Napoleon, and none record how his rise to the top was undermined by his insistence on wearing a pith helmet in his early campaigns. When he switched to the bicorne there were also no incidents of Jacobin leaders tweeting that Napoleon was “dressed like a boss”.
However, I am concerned that as a political journalist this requires new skills from my trade and that my fashion sense is too shallow and dare I say it conservative for the nuances of this new age. I can imagine the news reports: “Keir Starmer faced the gravest threat to his leadership last night after he was caught wearing an Armani tie, when serious political leaders are now all in Tom Ford. Party members talk more and more about the prospects of Wes Streeting, whose pastel skills have impressed many at Westminster.” Or perhaps: “The Tories launched their electoral manifesto yesterday. The centerpiece was a new vest policy.”
Even in this new age, Mordaunt would do well not to rely on this single success. If she wants to mount a serious challenge, we’re going to need some sustained style and possibly some vintage jewelry. Where once it was enough for leadership contenders to raise money and install phone lines, the truly ambitious now need teams of hatters to ensure their continued viability.
Then again, maybe the Mordmania will pass. And ideally, for reasons other than clothing.
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