Penny Mordaunt’s starring coronation role shows how Liz Truss’s attempt to sideline her backfired

A penny – or should that be Penny – for the thoughts of Liz Truss as she watched the coronation ceremony from inside Westminster Abbey.

While the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister was pinned into her pew along with hundreds of other guests, the woman she once tried to sideline was busy stealing the show as Charles III was crowned King.

Penny Mordaunt, whose day job is Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Privy Council, added bearer of the Jewelled Sword of Offering to that list.

Carrying the gigantic blade is one of the responsibilities of the President of the Privy Council, a government job which, in normal times, does not attract much attention.

It was not supposed to be like this, of course. Back in early September, when Ms Truss became Prime Minister, Queen Elizabeth II was still alive and the new PM was trying to impose her authority on her Cabinet.

At the time, it was expected that Ms Mordaunt would be given a top job in government. After a bitter battle last July between the two women to be in the last two of the Conservative leadership contest against Rishi Sunak, the MP for Portsmouth North eventually backed Ms Truss to win – in what was seen as a pivotal moment which helped her former rival win the Tory crown.

But in Ms Truss’ reshuffle of 6 and 7 September, it emerged that Ms Mordaunt had been offered Northern Ireland Secretary – which, while an important role, is not a great office of state. She turned it down.

She was instead given Leader of the Commons and Lord President of the Privy Council. Friends of Ms Mordaunt insisted she had chosen the job, but it was clear that Ms Truss had sidelined her rival by overlooking her for a more senior role that would have suited her, such as Foreign Secretary or a reprise as Defence Secretary.

Leader of the Commons is regarded by some as a second or even third tier Cabinet post. When Tony Blair sacked Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary in 2001, he demoted him to Commons Leader in a similarly deliberate sidelining.

In fact, Mr Cook flourished in the job and was considered a fine parliamentarian. Two years later, when he resigned as Commons Leader over the war in Iraq, it was on a point of principle rather than out of any sense of revenge.

But it showed how the job of Commons Leader is one that can be seized upon by MPs who are put there to “be quiet” – it is not a role where someone can hold sway over major government policy.

With similar aplomb, Ms Mordaunt has leant into her role as Commons Leader.

Nobody could have possibly known what would happen less than 48 hours after she was given the job. On 8 September, when the Queen died, Ms Mordaunt was thrust into the heart of the important process of handing over power to the new King.

On 10 September, as President of the Privy Council, Ms Mordaunt became the first woman in UK history to proclaim a new monarch.

Her role in today’s coronation ceremony was even more spectacular. Carrying what looked like an exceedingly heavy gold and bejewelled sword, in front of a world audience of hundreds of millions, might faze less robust members of parliament, but not a Royal Naval Reservist and reality diving show contestant.

Ms Mordaunt’s outfit also grabbed attention – not an inconsiderable task when you’re in a room with all those gold and ermine cloaks.

It turns out the MP helped designed her dress and hat with the fern motif of the Privy Council stitched in gold thread.

Revenge is too strong a word when today’s events could not have been foreseen back in early September. But perhaps a sort of karma may have crossed Ms Truss’ mind, as she looked on from her pew.


The coronation of King Charles III

You can follow the coronation as it happens with our live blog here, and this is a full timetable of the coronation, and details of the concert.

Ahead of the ceremony, republican protesters were arrested before they could begin protests. New anti-protest laws were used to do it.

This week, The i Podcast looks at whether King Charles III could be the last monarch of a Commonwealth realm which was born from the British Empire and funded by the proceeds of slavery. Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Acast | Wherever you listen

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