Last night Penny Mordaunt was the guest of honour at the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards. Below is an edited transcript of her speech.
When Fraser first contacted me about presenting tonight, I have to say I wasn’t convinced. I said, ‘who, with a glittering Cabinet career ahead of them would ever be so stupid?’ He said, yes, Penny – that is why we are calling you.
I wasn’t the first person he called. He tried Diane Abbott, and asked her to come along and do a quick round-up of 2019. She declined. She said she wasn’t very good with numbers.
He asked literally everyone. He couldn’t get an ice sculpture to do this gig. So I’m sorry folks, you’ve got me. But you know I haven’t quite given up on the hope that I might find my way back onto the front benches at some point. So you’ll have to excuse the fact that I’m going to have to litter my remarks tonight with craven, crawling, sucking up, and kissing the arses of those who are now running the show. And I’d like to thank Matt Hancock for all his input on tonight’s speech.
It’s been quite a year hasn’t it? The nation was paralysed. Brexit was so overdue, we were beginning to think that DexEU was being run by Northern Rail. Thank God for the democratic values and good sense of the British people.
It took a leadership contest, it took an election. The Conservatives had to jettison those who denied us Brexit and down the torpedoes. Chief among them, of course, was the former chancellor, Philip Hammond. Now I have it on very good authority that he is in line for a very important job. Given his reputation for being able to rain on any parade, suck the oxygen out of the room, and put a dampner on things, civil contingencies are about to deploy him to Australia.
Only after three years, have the great democratic institutions of our country delivered a result the nation could live with. That process has been painful, but it has shown both the strength of those institutions and how keenly the public felt about our democratic traditions. Ladies and gentlemen, that is why we should all be proud at 11pm on 31 January. Come on, even Farage is having a party and he doesn’t think it’s Brexit.
I personally have been supporting Mark Francois’ campaign to get Big Ben to mark the exact moment. I think that’s right. But as you know, the campaign to do that has not been going well. A couple of weeks ago, we had what we thought was a bit of a breakthrough. Michael Gove kindly wrote to Mark and said he’d got it all sorted. Job done, he said. It turned out that wasn’t the case. Basically, there had been a bit of a misunderstanding. Michael thought we were talking about a different type of bong.
Anyway Brexit is going to get done. There’s a new occupant in Downing street. He’s energetic. He’s got unruly hair. He makes a mess of the furniture. He’s upset the neighbours. Nicky Morgan has got to follow him around cleaning up the poop. Yes, and Dilyn the dog has moved in too.
And of course, Dominic Cummings is there as well. Now Dom is of course, a genius. We all know this. He’s bringing a radical, innovative, and a new approach to Whitehall. He’s going to overhaul the system. He’s going to bring the reform that our broken system needs and deliver on the people’s priorities. Yes, folks, things are going to change. For starters, we’re going to start recruiting weirdos as Special Advisers. So a really big departure from what we have now. He’s a genius, innovative thinking.
And it has of course been a year for radical thinking. Some say dangerous thinking. Tinkering with things that have stood the test of time, that have been in place for centuries. People are contemplating a written constitution, political appointments to the judiciary and perhaps most fanciful of all: that one day a woman might lead the Labour party.
The crazy ideas, they just keep coming. I must admit, when I heard about the plans to move their Lordships to York, I was a little surprised. Until I realised this followed hot on the heels of the announcement that Labour were about to nominate the former Speaker for a peerage. And to be frank with you, I actually have changed my mind on Bercow. No seriously, I have. I think people can change. And I’ve been reflecting about that time. The pressures that people were under, you know, being in the public eye every single day. People make mistakes. They miscalculate. They do crazy things. And I think we should just all forgive and forget. But what the hell she saw in that prat John, I’ll never know. In fairness to John, I wish him well and I hope that when he reflects on things he will regret being a little short with us all.
By anyone’s standards folks 2019 was batshit crazy. Highlights have included the Will Self – Mark Francois staring contest. It was an entire waste of time because we knew no one was going to beat Arlene Foster in the final. And then we had the Caroline Lucas Cabinet. Do you remember what the criteria for the Lucas cabinet was? You had to have a Brexit aversion and a brassiere. I did ask Caroline Lucas at the time whether an over-qualification of the latter, would compensate. She did not get back to me.
But put aside the Brexit delay and the pantomime, there were also examples of courage and conviction by parliamentarians. Many stood up for what they thought was in the best interests of their country against party and against personal interest. Many stood up to racism and anti-Semitism. Others spoke about highly personal matters to give confidence and understanding to others. Rosie Duffield’s speech on domestic violence will have made a difference to more than just a bill passing parliament.
However, I fear that one of my colleagues may not have grasped all of what Layla Moran was trying to convey. Alec Shelbrooke has yet to understand that being pansexual has nothing to do with how much you enjoy a fried breakfast.
On to the awards. We’ve already presented a few earlier this evening to save time. We’ve had the Meghan Markle embarrassing dad award. Congratulations, Stanley. For voting for a Christmas election, the Labour party frontbench has won the Bernard Matthews memorial prize. The transparency in politics award goes to the former Leader of Ukip, Dick Braine. And the Paul Mason award for impartiality in journalism has been awarded by Paul Mason to Paul Mason. And the Groucho Marx award for the person who wouldn’t want to join the club that wouldn’t have them as leader is a three way tie: Sam Gyimah, Philip Lee and Rory Stewart sharing the prize.
But perhaps the most hotly contested award tonight, is the missing in action award. This year was a tight race between Jacob Rees-Mogg, Greta Thunberg, our ambassador to the United States of America, and Richard Burgon’s prefrontal cortex. Richard has brought us so much entertainment. He has an inability to remember things like: what he has said, or what he did, or who won the election. And why he should never ever do an interview with Kay Burley. Burgonisms have become so common in our broadcast media that they prompted Brenda from Bristol to say: not another one.
Yes, Richard is the gift that keeps on giving. And now we have his tilt at the deputy leadership of the Labour Party to enjoy. Last week we learned that Laura Pidcock, famed for her inability to show affection to Conservatives – yes, even you Johnny Mercer – was Richard Burgon’s campaign manager. Their campaign slogan was revealed today and I think it’s something the whole of the Labour party can really get behind: don’t kiss a Tory, let’s screw the country instead.
It’s been my pleasure to set the scene tonight. And I also want to thank the Spectator and their brilliant team for their hospitality tonight, but also for continuing to be a champion of a free press and free speech. Thank you for defending plurality of thought and standing up for those who have been misrepresented. For reminding us of our common humanity against divisive, tribal identity politics. I’m not just saying this because Laurence Fox has said he’s interested in dating women over 35, but because the lesson of last year was that we should never take democracy for granted.