YOU can’t choose a prime minister just because she can hold a sword quite well for an hour.

Yet some Tory MPs, staring a 20-point defeat in the face, are apparently planning to substitute Penny Mordaunt for Rishi Sunak, whose second tax-cutting Budget failed to shift the polls.

These rumours about Mr Sunak’s imminent demise will only strengthen after May 2, when local elections could be so disastrous that even the Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, who polled more than 73 per cent of the vote last time out in a two horse race, could be unseated.

The public wouldn’t accept a third unelected prime minister in three years. There would have to be an immediate general election to legitimise Ms Mordaunt and, as the polls stand at the moment, that would lead to a massive Conservative defeat.

Installing Ms Mordaunt would also repeat the mistake the party made when it chose Mr Sunak. He was chosen for his sensible competence – which was much needed after the trauma of Liz Truss’s five weeks – rather than his inspirational vision.

Now the Tories need to have that debate: are they an anti-immigrant populist party, like Reform UK, or are they a centrist party of expensive public services and historically high taxes?

Until they’ve had that debate, there’s little point in having a new leader, even if she can hold a coronation sword aloft for a long period of time.

Mr Sunak’s policy probably is the best for the Tories at the moment: cling on while hoping the economy improves, NHS waiting lists come down and potholes are filled so that, with a few pounds of National Insurance cuts in their pockets, it feels like the country is beginning to work again. And, who knows, in that time, a skeleton might emerge from the Starmer closet to cut his poll lead down to size.

It is the best policy, but that doesn’t mean it is going to succeed.