Lack of Cabi­net ma­te­rial laid bare

Penny Mor­daunt, once ac­cused of be­ing ‘very mis­lead­ing’ by David Cameron, is a Sec­re­tary of State

The Scotsman - - Perspective -

Theresa May’s de­ci­sion to re­place Priti Pa­tel with Penny Mor­daunt in the Cabi­net is ev­i­dence of the Prime Min­is­ter’s prob­lems in fill­ing out its ranks.

Ms Mor­daunt, a Royal Navy re­servist, does have ex­pe­ri­ence in gov­ern­ment at a ju­nior level. Be­fore her pro­mo­tion to In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary, she was a work and pen­sions min­is­ter and pre­vi­ously worked as armed forces min­is­ter. How­ever she is best known for three rea­sons: ap­pear­ing on Splash!, a div­ing-based re­al­ity TV show; re­peat­edly say­ing the word “cock” in the House of Com­mons be­cause of a for­feit im­posed by her Royal Navy col­leagues; and be­ing ac­cused of de­ceiv­ing the pub­lic by David Cameron dur­ing the EU ref­er­en­dum cam­paign.

Mak­ing the case for Brexit, Ms Mor­daunt claimed the mi­grant cri­sis would see Tur­key join the Euro­pean Union and wrongly in­sisted that the UK would not be able to pre­vent this. Mr Cameron, then prime min­is­ter, quickly moved to point out that as each EU state has a veto on any new mem­bers, Ms Mor­daunt’s re­marks were “very mis­lead­ing”. A re­al­ity TV star who spread mis­in­for­ma­tion for po­lit­i­cal gain and turned par­lia­ment into a foul-mouthed joke hardly seems like Cabi­net ma­te­rial.

Her el­e­va­tion was prompted by the need to main­tain bal­ance be­tween Brex­i­teers and Re­main­ers who have fallen into line with Ms May’s in­sis­tence that “Brexit means Brexit”. Re­plac­ing Ms Pa­tel with a lapsed Re­mainer would have in­evitably caused ruc­tions within the party. For the Brexit wing, it would have been a feared sign that the UK was go­ing to re­tain closer links with the EU than they would like or, heaven for­bid, that the gov­ern­ment might al­low a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum to dou­ble-check the will of the peo­ple.

An­other con­sid­er­a­tion was keep­ing the cur­rent gen­der bal­ance in Cabi­net, some­thing the Prime Min­is­ter was con­cerned to do. The num­ber of Con­ser­va­tive MPS who are both pro-brexit and fe­male is not ex­actly high, so Ms May’s mind was prob­a­bly made up on hear­ing that Ms Mor­daunt had worked in or­phan­ages in Ro­ma­nia dur­ing her stu­dent days. The new Cabi­net Min­is­ter im­me­di­ately faces a key test: keep Mr Cameron’s pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of na­tional in­come on in­ter­na­tional aid or ditch it as right-wing tabloids and some Tory MPS have been call­ing for. So Ms May’s Cabi­net trou­bles may end up re­ver­ber­at­ing around the world.

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