Penny Mordaunt called for her party to be ‘strong’ on people who attacked institution, in an apparent criticism of Boris Johnson’s backers.
The Conservative Party has not been true to itself or the UK’s values in “recent history”, a senior minister has said.
Penny Mordaunt urged her party to spend less time on “culture wars” and focus on “building more and taxing less” during an appearance at a conference in London on Monday.
Arguing that the electorate had not yet “sealed the deal” with Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour, Ms Mordaunt said “I think there’s all to play for and I think that historic fifth term is within our grasp.
“But we have to be true not just to ourselves as conservatives but the values of the people of this country, and we haven’t been in recent history.”
In a criticism of some of her colleagues, the former Tory leadership candidate told the Centre for Policy Studies’ (CPS) Margaret Thatcher Conference that pursuing a culture war “doesn’t help” and stressed the need to “pull the nation’s talents together”.
She said: “It amazes me that in both the US and the UK, even though we know it’s a failed model of leadership, the top guy is always the focus whereas actually it’s the team, and I don’t mean the Cabinet and the parliamentary party, it’s the country.
“I said to the Prime Minister, your team is the nation, and we have to reframe our story in those terms.
“And that’s why the culture wars and all of that doesn’t help because we’re here for everyone and unless we can pull the nation’s talents together and unless we can get people focused on some national missions – and I started writing about national missions way before Keir Starmer decided to write about them – but these things are important, social care, housing, it requires all of us.
“And that’s why I am unapologetic about talking about building more and taxing less and not talking about culture wars because it doesn’t move the country forward.”
Taxing less has become a major point of contention within the Conservative Party, with some backbenchers urging tax cuts sooner rather than later and Boris Johnson criticising repeated tax hikes while announcing his resignation from the Commons.
But earlier on Monday, the conference heard from Education Secretary Gillian Keegan that cutting inflation would have to come first, with the alternative described as “fairytale economics”.
Appearing in conversation with CPS director Robert Colvile and American pollster Frank Luntz, Ms Mordaunt made an oblique criticism of those who had attacked the Privileges Committee’s investigation into Mr Johnson.
She said: “We have to be really strong about people who are attacking institutions, people who are attacking the House for carrying out its work, people who are attacking the media.”
Ms Mordaunt also referred to the ongoing row about whether the Covid Inquiry should have access to Mr Johnson’s unredacted diaries and WhatsApp messages, saying it was an important exercise “to make us more resilient in the future”.
She said: “I don’t know what is in other people’s evidence, I have handed over all my evidence full and complete, but I think what people will also see is some pretty heroic activity in Whitehall and amongst some politicians too about getting the right things to happen and the attention to detail, the effort that went into particular things.”