Penny Mordaunt is Conservative MP for Portsmouth North. In her diary for the week, she tells Total Politics about her relief following the Strategic Defence and Security Review announcement and the toil of parliamentary committee duties.
Monday began with a tete-a-tete with the CEO of Portsmouth Council about adult social care and special education, areas in which Portsmouth must improve. Fourteen hours later, I observed that a number of my colleagues in the House might be in need of care (if not of the social, then of the tender loving kind) as the guillotine was applied to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
Despite the revelations in the media, it was with a sense of drum roll dread that I took my seat behind the Prime Minister for the Strategic Defence and Security Review on Tuesday. Two aircraft carriers hung in the balance, making the Sword of Damocles look like a fish knife, and my time as an MP has been spent making the case for a fully operational and available carrier strike force. It was a relief, therefore, when the Prime Minister announced that Britain will remain a maritime force and that both carriers will be built.
It was, though, but a moment of relief as I was shortly to find myself in the altogether more sober atmosphere of the Finance (no.2) Bill Public Bill Committee. Fate, played on this occasion by a party whip, had asked me to serve following my speech on provisions for asbestos compensation trusts at Second Reading.
Such committees are the unglamorous toil of Parliamentary democracy, and whilst I was delighted to have the opportunity to study the Bill at close quarters, it was regrettable that the Opposition wanted to grapple and board to do hand to hand combat on every clause. This was not good news for three main reasons:
Firstly, as I am required to be available for three Tuesdays in a row, my hard won pink slip from the Whips enabling me to attend my Royal Navy Reserve unit is no longer valid. I write a note of apology to my Commanding Officer.
Secondly, it jeopardised my chances of questioning the Prime Minister on the SDSR owing to the clashing of schedules. I write a note to the Speaker pleading that he calls a mere pleb like me early.
And thirdly, because the asbestos clause is number 31 of 33. Those of you who know your Brandreth will be aware that these committees are notoriously tedious, and that my chances of actually making it through to Clause 31 in full possession of my faculties are by no mean certain.
I must report that the committee lived up to expectations. It is not that the issues at stake are unimportant, on the contrary, it is simply that everything that needs to be said could be written on three sides of A4.
It is the Opposition’s job to take those three sides of material and turn them into three days of waffle. Despite thirteen years in government, it was soon apparent that Labour is a natural at being in Opposition; they didn’t call Neil Kinnock the ‘Welsh Windbag’ for nothing. Readers may think that I am exaggerating, but if I tell you that 45 minutes into our first session we had not actually started to address Clause 1, I hope you will begin to take me seriously. A joke about the “Mackerel wars” being a red herring in Clause 4 briefly lightened the mood, but such jollity was quickly suppressed.
And then it was Wednesday, and the Comprehensive Spending Review was finally unveiled, putting an end to all the guessing and speculation. The Chancellor was excellent. He delivered a radical, smart and fair package with a straight bat.
I must, though, close with a word of thanks to Mr Speaker, who responded to my plea for special treatment by calling me in good time, and consequently the Prime Minister was able to confirm that both carriers will be based in Portsmouth. At the end of a long summer of debate, I am pleased to say that “The Navy’s here!” and here to stay in Portsmouth.