Penelope Mary Mordaunt (//; born 4 March 1973) is a British Conservative Party politician serving as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Portsmouth North since 2010 and as Paymaster General since February 2020. Mordaunt previously served in Theresa May's Cabinet as International Development Secretary from 2017 to 2019 and Defence Secretary in 2019.
|Assumed office |
13 February 2020
|Prime Minister||Boris Johnson|
|Preceded by||Oliver Dowden|
|Secretary of State for Defence|
1 May 2019 – 24 July 2019
|Prime Minister||Theresa May|
|Preceded by||Gavin Williamson|
|Succeeded by||Ben Wallace|
|Secretary of State for International Development|
9 November 2017 – 1 May 2019
|Prime Minister||Theresa May|
|Preceded by||Priti Patel|
|Succeeded by||Rory Stewart|
|Minister for Women and Equalities|
30 April 2018 – 24 July 2019
|Prime Minister||Theresa May|
|Preceded by||Amber Rudd|
|Succeeded by||Amber Rudd|
|Minister of State for Disabilities|
15 July 2016 – 9 November 2017
|Prime Minister||Theresa May|
|Preceded by||Justin Tomlinson|
|Succeeded by||Sarah Newton|
|Minister of State for the Armed Forces|
11 May 2015 – 15 July 2016
|Prime Minister||David Cameron|
|Preceded by||Mark François|
|Succeeded by||Mike Penning|
|Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Decentralisation|
14 July 2014 – 11 May 2015
|Prime Minister||David Cameron|
|Preceded by||Nick Boles|
|Succeeded by||James Wharton|
|Member of Parliament |
for Portsmouth North
|Assumed office |
6 May 2010
|Preceded by||Sarah McCarthy-Fry|
Penelope Mary Mordaunt
4 March 1973
Torquay, Devon, England
(m. 1999; div. 2000)
|Alma mater||University of Reading|
|Branch/service||Royal Navy Reserve|
|Years of service||2013–present|
Mordaunt served in the Cameron Government as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government (2014–2015) prior to being appointed Minister of State for the Armed Forces at the Ministry of Defence in May 2015, the first woman to hold the post. Starting in July 2016 she served in the May Government as Minister of State for Disabled People at the Department for Work and Pensions. In November 2017, following the resignation of Priti Patel, Mordaunt was appointed Secretary of State for International Development. She also served as Minister for Women and Equalities from 2018 to 2019.
In May 2019, Mordaunt was appointed Secretary of State for Defence, replacing Gavin Williamson. She served as Defence Secretary for 85 days, and was the first woman to hold this post. She is currently the only female MP who is a Royal Naval Reservist.
In February 2020, Mordaunt re-entered government, joining the Cabinet Office as the Paymaster General, succeeding Oliver Dowden.
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, John Mordaunt, born at Hilsea Barracks, served in the Parachute Regiment before retraining 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. Dame 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, who was once president of The Magic Circle.
Mordaunt read Philosophy at the University of Reading, graduating in 1995 with upper second class honours. She was the first member of her family to attend university. Mordaunt was active in student politics and served as president of the Reading University Students' Union.
After her graduation, 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 the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea from 2001 to 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, became one of six Directors at 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, Mordaunt worked after the 2005 election as chief of staff for David Willetts' aborted leadership campaign.
Mordaunt was re-selected in January 2006 to contest Portsmouth North at the 2010 general election. At the election she won the seat with an 8.6% swing from Labour giving her a 7,289 majority. She was re-elected at the 2015 and 2017 general elections.
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 Speech of the Year award at The Spectator magazine's Parliamentarian of the Year Awards 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. She 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, questioning whether her focus should instead 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 June 2020, in response to vandalism of war memorials, Mourdant stated: "I would like to suggest that for some found guilty of vandalising such memorials they might benefit from some time spent with our service personnel – perhaps at a battle camp. That might give them a new appreciation of just what these people go through for their sakes."
International Development Secretary (2017–2019)
Mordaunt was appointed Secretary of State for International Development on 9 November 2017, 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 Parliament she 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)
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. After Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, Mordaunt left Government on 24 July 2019.
Paymaster General (2020–present)
In February 2020, Mourdant re-entered Government, joining the Cabinet Office as the Paymaster General, succeeding Oliver Dowden. She was the UK alternate co-chair of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee.
She met and married Paul Murray in 1999 when they were both mature students at Reading University but this ended in divorce the following year. She was later in a long-term relationship with Ian Lyon, a classical singer.
She has a twin brother, James.
Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, she is a member of the British Astronomical Association and is involved in many charities active in the Portsmouth area, including Southsea Greenhouse, Hilsea Lido, the Patey Centre, and Wymering Manor.
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