They say a week is a long time in politics – but for the Prime Minister this is a week she will want to end pretty quickly. With 40 questions tabled for answer on Monday, however, pressure is still on No. 10, DfID, and the FCO.
After days of half-truths, alleged cover-ups, and a Secretary of State on the run to Kenya, a new Secretary of State for International Development has been appointed and a new dawn has begun.
But who is the new Secretary of State, Penny Mordaunt MP?
What the papers will tell you
- Elected in 2010 in Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt was the first female Minister for the Armed Forces in 2015 before moving over to the Department for Work and Pensions in 2016.
- Probably the only MP ever to have been a magician’s assistant – she says she was regularly “sawn in half and chopped to bits”.
- Worked for George W Bush as head of foreign press in 2000 and worked on his campaign again in 2004
- Took part in the Channel 4 programme – Splash!
- Came 2ndin the Westminster Dog of the Year contest in 2015 – borrowing a vehicle search dog from the army
What we really need to know
- A Brexit supporter, Mordaunt criticised the Remain campaign for “hysteria”, but caused controversy when she wrongly claimed the UK was unable to stop Turkey from joining the EU.
- She has previously been critical of aid going to countries like India with “considerable wealth” and called for DfID to “encourage and support them to ensure that they sort out their social problems”.
- As a DWP Minister, she amended the rules on the past presence test for refugee children who had a disability.
- She voted in favour of UK airstrikes against Daesh in Syria, having previously said that “the use of chemical weapons has made Syria our business”. She called for more pressure to be put on the UAE to contribute more to humanitarian relief for Syria and urged DfID to ensure aid workers in Syria were supported to keep them as safe as possible while they carried out their work.
Sexual violence in conflict and forces abroad
- She has expressed her support for the PSVI initiative and previously praised DfID and the Ministry of Justice for work on promoting women’s rights globally.
- She has spoken on cultural training by UK armed forces with regards to sexual violence.
- She has regularly spoken on British operations overseas and in particular the Navy’s contribution in countries like Somalia.
Tax avoidance and evasion
- In a 2012 debate on tax avoidance and evasion, she argued for tax simplification, stating that although evasion and aggressive avoidance was “wrong”, more focus needed to be on the Government and HMRC as compliance was “a two-way street”.
- She has consistently voted for equal gay rights and same-sex marriage, including for armed forces abroad (unlike the current defence secretary).
- However, she has generally voted against promoting equality and human rights through measures such as making caste discrimination illegal.
What can we expect from the new Secretary of State?
With a military background, voting record against promoting equality and want for tax simplification a shift in direction may take place; recent questions over the role of peacekeeping and the use of the Aid Budget in military spending, the leak of the Paradise Papers and Kate Osamor’s recent speech at ODI setting out a Labour vision of tackling inequality as a driving factor in what DfID does no shift or even step in a different direction will take place without serious scrutiny.
One thing we do know, the Shadow Development Team will keep the pressure on all within DfID to ensure poverty reduction stays at the heart of UK Aid.