The bookies’ favourite to win the Tory leadership race, Penny Mordaunt, has had a difficult few days. She’s facing questions not just about her views on trans rights, but about how honest she is about them. Suella Braverman has come pretty close to saying that, like Boris Johnson, Mordaunt has a habit of rewriting history to a version that suits her better and she does not offer the candour straight-talking needed after the Chris Pincher debacle. ‘Smears’, says Penny. She is the candidate of candour and straight-talking.
But Mr S has obtained a recording of a speech Mordaunt gave to LGBT+ Tory activists in June 2018, in which she did seem to suggest that it was her strategy not to be straight about what she was doing. At the time she was minister for women and equalities and was responsible for overseeing the consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act and whether it should be made easier to change gender.
She told the room that she ‘can’t even be seen to be helping with’ some of the proposed legislation she was privately championing. She also argued that ‘we have to have a huge campaign’ on transgender rights to aggressively combat the ‘hate and the ignorance’ of the ‘media’ and ‘campaign groups.’
It comes after government documents in today’s Sunday Times suggested that Mordaunt favoured removing at least one of the medical requirements needed for a person to transition during her time as equalities minister. Her campaign denies this, saying that ‘all ministers in the department wanted to maintain medical involvement, including Penny. Other ministers can back this up.’ Baroness Williams has issued a supportive statement to this effect.
In the recording obtained by The Spectator, Mordaunt tells LGBT activists that:
We have a lot to get done so what I think we need to demonstrate is our hunger to get those things done. And we are facing some really difficult times. In the Equalities Office I’ve got a growing list of legislation, some of which I can’t even be seen to be helping with. So we have to be really smart about how we do that. And it is difficult but we have to keep the pace up, in fact we have got to pick up the pace on these issues because that is what the country wants. The country is changing, society is changing. And we need to be ahead of that.
Mordaunt was asked by one transgender woman about the need for the Gender Recognition Act consultation process to begin ‘quickly’ and why ‘we’ve got to break this bubble of trans hate.’ Mordaunt replied:
I absolutely agree with you and I’m very sorry that the consultation has taken so long to get out the door. We will publish it very shortly indeed and I think that will be the start of a process. But in concert with that, I think we have to do more to really combat some of the crazy myths that get bandied around as though they’re fact or genuine issues. And I really do think that we are going through again what gay men in the 1980s faced and we have to have a huge campaign to explain things to the public but also to aggressively combat the hate and the ignorance that is bandied around, whether it’s in the media or whether it’s other campaign groups that are spreading falsehoods. I think that is something that we do need to focus on and I certainly since I took this post have been giving a lot of thought about how we actually do that. We will win this but it will take effort and it’s one of my priorities in this post to do that.
Mordaunt also told attendees at the event that ‘for however long I hold this brief, the LGBT+ agenda will not stall’ as ‘you’re my heroes and my inspiration: I know what needs to be done and I will not let you down.’ She also apologised for the party’s 2017 manifesto, saying that ‘it was silent on these matters’ as ‘in our party’s haste to write that “to do” list we forgot that we also need a “to be” list.’
None of this is, in and of itself, damning – but what was it that Mordaunt was keen not to be seen supporting? Mordaunt’s spokesman declined to provide a comment at the time of publication.
In that 2018 meeting Mordaunt told activists that she had a poem on her wall saying: ‘Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway’.
In a leadership crisis brought about by No. 10 fibs, it’s lack of honesty that makes candidates vulnerable. Mordaunt claims she has been honest and frank throughout – her opponents disagree. Her campaign may now stand or fall on whether they can prove otherwise.
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