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Does hold­ing a sword make a leader? If so, the bar is low

Let's s be honest, the coronation wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But on one matter there was consensus: Penny Mordaunt was simply magnificent. Praise came from the left of politics as well as the right, from the young and the old, from fashionistas and arbiters of good taste everywhere. Even before the newly crowned king and queen had reboarded their carriage, acclaim for the lord president of the privy council was frenzied, feeding off itself. Odds on her becoming the next leader of the Conservatives were slashed; learned articles were penned marking this as the moment we knew she was destined for greatness.

Now, if you search her name on Google, the first offering is “Penny Mordaunt sword”. Appropriately enough, given there’s a blade involved, there has been proper cut-through. She has carved a swathe through the whole wide world. Even my Croatian teacher, speaking from Zagreb, asked me about it. She says it’s a sociološki phenomenon. She is right. Theses beg to be written.

It is to take nothing away from Ms Mordaunt – the opposite, in fact – when I ask, what is this madness? Is this what marks you out as a leader now? If so, let’s be clear: the bar is low. Choose a nice outfit and hold a sword steady for nearly an hour: is that what it takes these days to capture the imagination, to win respect? When the next Tory leader is chosen, let’s dispense with the voting and just line up the contenders at the hustings, give them all a sword to hold, and see whose weapon is last to wobble.

Never mind her naval service or her work on parliamentary committees – all anyone’s going to remember is her sword-holding. Honestly, I’ve not been so cynical about politics since 1978, when my mum told me the only socialist she’d have anything to do with was David Owen, the handsome devil.


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