Penny Mordaunt is Member of Parliament for Portsmouth North. Follow Penny on Twitter.
This weekend I have been segregated from all forms of media: from newspapers, my phone and the internet. This was not some bizarre sociological experiment, but obedience to the rules of HMS Raleigh, a Royal Navy training establishment, where I was undergoing a militarisation course as part of my RN reserve duties. So it was not until Sunday night that I saw the reports that a whip’s abuse of me had, apparently reduced me to tears. Only one journalist – who did not subsequently write the story – called me during the week to check out these reports. So I think it is about time I put my side of the story. Brace yourselves for the awful truth. Yes, John Randall, the Deputy Chief whip, did reduce me to tears: but not last Tuesday on the evening of the House of Lords vote. In fact the dreadful deed was done many months before.
We hear much about loaded Conservative MPs, but there are rather a lot at the other end of the spectrum too and I am one of them. On this occasion I was under financial strain juggling all the additional demands made on an MP’s purse, and the following day I was due to find out whether I had breast cancer – a disease which holds particular dread for me having killed every female member of my maternal family including my mother at only seven years older than I am now. In short, it was a bit of a stressful week (although, thankfully, I later received the all clear regarding my health worry). John told me that MPs are “bloody awful” at admitting they are either wealth or health deficient. He suggested that I lean on him. He was so kind and I felt so relieved at having shared my stress that I shed a tear. He then apologised for making me cry.
On the night of the vote I was not crying. I cannot fathom how, as reported in the Mail, anyone might truthfully have witnessed me “appear to cry”. John Randall did not harass me; he did not seize my arm; and nor did he undertake any of the other aggressive behaviour towards me that reports have attributed to him.
I should like to set the record straight for three reasons. First, I have picked up more than a couple of bruises during my Royal Naval exercises at HMS Raleigh, and I fear that their existence might provide the basis for a further round of unfounded speculation that John Randall, another whip or even the PM himself had knocked me about a bit; second, that for the false report of his behaviour towards me to stand does John Randall a great disservice; and third because it would help to explain the true drama of large rebellions in a way that was largely missed by most reports of last week’s House of Lords revolt. The hard thing about voting for what you believe in but against your party is not that you are about to find yourself in thumbscrews, or out of the running for a prospective ministerial promotion: the really hard thing is finding yourself consciously not a member of the team for that day. To vote in a different lobby from your friends and colleagues – those with whom tomorrow you will again be in the trenches – is truly horrible. It feels completely wrong and disorientating: but last Tuesday the constitutional vandalism presented to us in the House of Lords Reform Bill compelled me to do it.