ONE way of working out who is on the up in the Westminster village is to see which MPs are holding end-of-term parties and who is turning up to them.
But while it is normal for Cabinet ministers to do this, particularly big beasts such as Chancellor George Osborne or Home Secretary Theresa May, who both have obvious leadership ambitions, there were eyebrows raised that one of the more noted events was held by armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt.
The party at the swish Shepherd’s venue in Victoria was as much a sign of where the Conservative Party sees itself in a few years as of Ms Mordaunt’s undoubted personal ambition.
As the MP for Portsmouth North, Ms Mordaunt is almost as far off the Scottish radar as you can get in the UK and readers may be more familiar with her brief foray into reality television in Splash. She also made headlines by holding a debate in parliament on chicken farming to fulfil a dare from fellow Royal Navy reservists to use the word “cock” in the Commons.
Despite all this, Ms Mordaunt is a force to be reckoned with, as she has already proved in her current brief as the number two in the Ministry of Defence, where she has drawn some grudging praise in private from the SNP as the minister put up against them to argue for Trident.
Originally on the Tory right-wing, Ms Mordaunt is now in the centre ground and her name is one of those being regularly talked of as a future leader.
David Cameron has already said he will quit ahead of the next election. Clearly the favourite to succeed him now is Mr Osborne, who gives the impression of running the government anyway, although, as things stand, he would face a stiff challenge from Mrs May and maybe Business Secretary Sajid Javid and London mayor Boris Johnson.
But beyond that there are three women who are now seen as the frontrunners in the next generation. Alongside Ms Mordaunt is employment minister Priti Patel, who gave Scots a flavour of her style by taking a no-nonsense, dismissive approach to extra welfare reform in the Scotland Bill.
The third is Environment Secretary Liz Truss, who overcame early opposition from traditionalist Tory members in her Norfolk seat, dubbed the “turnip Taleban”, to become one of the fastest rising stars of the 2010 intake.
In the current Labour leadership contest, Yvette Cooper’s big pitch was that “it is time for Labour to have a woman leader”. The Tories openly laughed at this partly because they have been there, done that with Margaret Thatcher. All they are interested in is winners, and that is why Mordaunt, Patel and Truss are being talked about as their future leader.