Penelope Mary Mordaunt (//; born 4 March 1973) is a British Conservative politician serving as Secretary of State for Defence since 2019, and has served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Portsmouth North since 2010. Mordaunt served as Secretary of State for International Development from 2017 to 2019. A member of the House of Commons, Mordaunt previously worked in the business and communications industry.
Mordaunt served in the Cameron Government as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government prior to being appointed Minister of State for the Armed Forces at the Ministry of Defence in May 2015, the first woman to hold this post.
From July 2016 to November 2017, she served in the May Government as Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, and in November 2017 she was appointed International Development Secretary following the resignation of Priti Patel.
In May 2019, Mordaunt was appointed Defence Secretary after Gavin Williamson was dismissed by Prime Minister Theresa May following a leak of highly classified information from the National Security Council. She is the first woman to hold this post and is currently the only female MP who is a Royal Naval Reservist.
Early life and career
Mordaunt was born on 4 March 1973 in Torquay, Devon. The daughter of a former paratrooper, one of twins, she was named after the Arethusa-class cruiser HMS Penelope. Her father, who had been born in Hilsea Barracks, had left the Parachute Regiment and trained as a teacher. Mordaunt has two brothers: James, and a younger brother, Edward. Through her mother, Jennifer (née Snowden), she is a relative of Philip Snowden, the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. Angela Lansbury is her grandmother's cousin. Mordaunt was educated at Oaklands Roman Catholic School Academy, Waterlooville, Hampshire, and studied drama at the Victoryland Theatre School.
When Mordaunt was 15, her mother died of breast cancer. Mordaunt's twin brother left school, so she became Edward's prime caregiver. The following year her father was diagnosed with cancer, from which he recovered. To pay her way through sixth-form college, Mordaunt became a magician's assistant to Portsmouth magician Will Ayling, once president of The Magic Circle.
She has attributed her interest in politics to her experiences working in hospitals and orphanages of post-revolutionary Romania in her gap year, after the 1989 revolution. She graduated from the University of Reading with a BA in Philosophy in 1995, becoming the first member of her family to attend university.
After graduating, Mordaunt's employment was focused on public relations in various sectors. Under Prime Minister John Major she was Head of Youth for the Conservative Party, before working for two years as Head of Broadcasting for the party under party leader William Hague. She then worked as a communications specialist for the Freight Transport Association before, in 2000, working briefly as Head of Foreign Press for George W. Bush's presidential campaign. She was director of communications for Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council between 2001–2003, before leaving to set up a new Anglo-American website called 'virtualconservatives'. She worked for the Bush campaign again in 2004. She was a director at the Community Fund, which merged administratively with the New Opportunities Fund to create the Big Lottery Fund and in 2006, Mordaunt became one of six Directors at the charity Diabetes UK.
Parliamentary career (2010–present)
In November 2003, Mordaunt was selected as Conservative candidate to contest Portsmouth North in the 2005 general election. She attained a 5.5% swing towards the Conservatives, but lost to Labour candidate Sarah McCarthy-Fry by 1,139 votes. A critic of women-only shortlists, after the 2005 election she worked as chief of staff for David Willetts's aborted leadership campaign.
Mordaunt was re-selected in January 2006 to contest Portsmouth North for the 2010 general election. In the 2010 general election, Mordaunt won the seat with an 8.6% swing from Labour, giving her a 7,289 majority. She was re-elected at the 2015 general election and 2017 general election.
After her election, she was a member of the Public Bill Committee for the Defence Reform Act 2014. She is a supporter of homeopathy, having signed an early day motion in support of its continued funding on the National Health Service.
When receiving The Spectator magazine's Parliamentarian of the Year award in November 2014, Mordaunt said that she had delivered a speech in the House of Commons just before the Easter recess in 2013 on poultry welfare so as to use the word "cock", as a forfeit for a misdemeanour during Naval Reserve training. Mordaunt used the word "cock" six times and "lay" or "laid" five times. Following her comments, she was accused by Labour MP Kate Hoey of trivialising parliament.
In 2014, Mordaunt became only the second woman in Elizabeth II's reign (the first having been Lady Tweedsmuir in 1957) to propose the loyal address in reply to the Queen's speech from the throne, and made reference to Tweedsmuir's comments about wanting more female involvement in Parliament.
In 2014, Mordaunt appeared on reality television programme Splash!. Although some[who?] criticised the media appearance, in terms of questioning whether her focus should have been on her constituency work, Mordaunt stated that the response was overwhelmingly positive and defended her appearance, stating that she was donating all of her £10,000 appearance fee plus any additional sponsorship to charity: £7,000 towards the renovation of her local lido, the rest to four Armed Services charities.
In 2015, it was reported that Mordaunt had the tenth highest expense claims for the 2014/2015 year out of all the UK's 650 MPs. The majority of the top ten expenses claimants were from Scotland – and thus had high travel expenses as they had the longest distances to travel between their constituency and Westminster.
In a May 2016 BBC Television interview during the run-up to the EU membership referendum, Mordaunt denied that the UK had a veto on Turkey joining the EU, despite Article 49 of the EU constitution requiring a unanimous vote of all 28 members of the General Council to allowing accession of a candidate state, thus creating a power of veto by a dissenting member nation. She supported the leave, or Brexit, option in the campaign. Prime Minister David Cameron stated that her opinion was "completely wrong" and Guy Verhofstadt called her statement "contemptible".
International Development Secretary (2017–2019)
On 9 November 2017, Mordaunt was appointed Secretary of State for International Development, after Priti Patel resigned over a series of apparently secret and unauthorised meetings she had with Israeli politicians while on holiday.
In February 2018, an investigation by the Times newspaper revealed allegations of misconduct by Oxfam staff in operating in Haiti, in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Mordaunt argued that Oxfam, which received £32m in Government funds in the previous financial year, had failed in its "moral leadership" over the "scandal". She also said that Oxfam did "absolutely the wrong thing" by not reporting the detail of the allegations to the government. Mordaunt felt it was important for aid organisations to report offences, because she believed that there were paedophiles "targeting" the charity sector in order to carry out predatory activities.
In the House of Commons she has previously sat on the Privacy and Injunctions (Joint Committee), the Defence Committee, the European Scrutiny Committee and the Committees on Arms Export Controls (formerly Quadripartite Committee).
Defence Secretary (2019–present)
On 1 May 2019, Mordaunt was appointed as the first ever female Defence Secretary following the dismissal of Gavin Williamson after an inquiry into a leak over a plan to allow Huawei limited access in connection with the UK's 5G network.
She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts, a member of the British Astronomical Association, and she is involved in many charities active in the Portsmouth area, including Southsea Greenhouse, Hilsea Lido, The Patey Centre, and Wymering Manor. Mordaunt is a patron of the Victoria Cross Trust, as well as an ambassador for Portsmouth Scouts.
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- Official website
- Penny Mordaunt at the Conservative Party
- Profile at Parliament of the United Kingdom
- Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 2010–present
- Voting record at Public Whip
- Record in Parliament at TheyWorkForYou
- Profile at Westminster Parliamentary Record
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament for Portsmouth North
| Minister of State for the Armed Forces
| Secretary of State for International Development
| Minister for Women and Equalities
| Secretary of State for Defence|