8 Things You Need to Know About the UK's New Secretary of State — and Why You Should Care
Meet the woman in charge of the UK’s overseas aid spending.
The UK has a new Secretary of State for International Development, which is a big deal for all of you Global Citizens.
Penny Mordaunt, who is taking on the role following the resignation of Priti Patel last week, will be in charge of the UK’s £13 billion annual aid budget.
That means she’s in charge of deciding exactly where and how our overseas aid is spent.
As far as we’re concerned, it’s one of the most important jobs in the UK government, particularly as Britain begins to define its bold new global agenda in the wake of the Brexit vote.
The coming months and years will be crucial in defining the role that Britain will play in the world following its departure from the EU — and that means addressing how we will continue to be a world leader in the fight against extreme poverty and inequality.
The UK became one of the first governments in the world to reach the global target of spending 0.7% of our Gross National Income on aid — something that we should be proud of, and something that we should continue to value and protect in the face of opposition.
Mordaunt’s department plays a key role in the development and implementation of the Global Goals, which are a road map for the world to end extreme poverty by 2030 — the main reason that Global Citizen exists.
So, we think it’s important for all Global Citizens to know who Penny Mordaunt is, and why she’s great for her new role. Here are 8 things — relevant and irrelevant, but interesting — you need to know about our new international development secretary.
1. She’s MP for Portsmouth North.
And has been since 2010.
During the 2017 snap election, Mordaunt did what many of her colleagues couldn’t, and managed to increase her majority to nearly 55% of the vote share.
Mordaunt has a serious personal connection to her constituency, having lived there since she was just 2 years old.
2. She was the First Female MP to Become Minister of State for Defence and the Armed Forces.
Mordaunt held the position from May 2015 to July 2016, when she was moved to the Department for Work and Pensions as Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work — a role in which she spoke extensively about disability and the Sustainable Development Goals.
She was well-qualified for the role as defence secretary because…
3. She is Currently the Only Female MP who Is a Royal Navy Reservist.
Her experience in the Navy also made Mordaunt a strong contender to replace Michael Fallon as defence secretary, after his recent resignation.
She once managed to bring down the House with a speech about some of the valuable training she had received from the Navy, but how “on one occasion...it was not as bespoke as it might have been.”
“Fascinating though it was,” she told the House of Commons in 2014, “I felt that the lecture and practical demonstration on how to care for your penis and testicles in the field failed to appreciate that some of us attending had been issued with the incorrect kit.”
4. She’s Got a Pretty Good Grip on Development Too…
Politicians are often criticised for not having much of a background outside of politics that qualifies them for their role. But that can’t be said of Mordaunt.
In fact, her whole career in politics was inspired by her experience as an overseas aid worker.
Mordaunt spent time working in hospitals and orphanages in post-revolutionary Romania both before and during university, so she understands the importance and value of foreign aid.
She descried the experience as “life-changing,” and said it actually inspired her to enter politics in the first place.
5. She Was the First Person in her Family to Go to University.
Mordant studied philosophy at the University of Reading, after being educated at a local comprehensive before studying drama at the Victoryland Theatre School.
6. She Used to Be a Magician’s Assistant.
Mordaunt certainly has a diverse range of experience, including the time she spent as a magician’s assistant in Portsmouth.
But it wasn’t just for fun. Mordaunt used to money she earned as assistant to a magician called Will Ayling — who was once president of the Magic Circle — to pay her way through college.
7. She Breeds Burmese Cats.
Along with her husband Ian Lyon, who has his own slightly off-the-wall career as a classical singer.
8. She Once Appeared on “Splash!”
Back in 2014, Mordaunt became as household name as a contestant on the ITV reality show “Splash!”
The show sees celebrities compete against each other in diving, with training from Olympic medallist Tom Daley.
Although she took some flak for appearing on the show, Mordaunt donated her £10,000 fee to restore her local lido, as well as to several armed force charities.
And she pulled off this fairly awe-inspiring belly flop.
Global Citizen campaigns to end extreme poverty by 2030, by achieving the UN’s Global Goals. We strongly support DfID’s agenda to ensure that UK aid is as impactful as possible, and always with the ultimate objective of ending extreme poverty worldwide. You can join us by taking action here.