Penny Mordaunt may be feeling a litte hen-pecked today. While collecting an award for a speech she gave which included the words to “testicles” and “penis”, she made reference to another speech she had delivered in the Commons, ostensibly on poultry welfare, which had been laced with innuendo in order to settle a bet with her friends in the Royal Navy. Now she has come under fire for setting a “bad precedent”.
The speech that has set tongues clucking included a number of references to an abbreviation of ‘cockerel’, including ‘coxcomb’, ‘cock crow’, ‘cock welfare’ and ‘cock-a-hoop’. She also threw in six uses of the words ‘lay’ or ‘laid’ for good measure.
The prim Ms Mordaunt, 41, who juggles a newly acquired ministerial role with being a Naval Reservist, was collecting the Speech of the Year award at the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year ceremony when she let the audience in on the joke. Explaining how the speech had come about, she told them “Some of my Marine training officers at Dartmouth thought it would be a good idea to break my ladylike persona by getting me to yell particular rude words during the most gruelling part of our training.
“They failed, but during our mess dinner at the end of the course, I was fined for a misdemeanour. The fine was to say a particular word, an abbreviation of cockerel, several times during a speech on the floor of the Commons, and mention all the names of the officers present.”
A few weeks later she was able to fulfil the bet during a debate on Parliament’s Easter Adjournment. “The cause of hen and cock welfare is raised with me by many constituents,” she said. “One strutting coxcomb will lead to many chicks and what is to become of the male contingent with not a layer among them?” And ending with a flourish she concluded “Let us have no more cock-ups on hen welfare.”
The speech for which she won Speech of the Year was similarly daring. During the course of the Loyal Address she referred to her military training, pondering whether a lecture on “how to care for your penis and testicles in the field” took sufficient consideration of the fact that not all attendees may have been “issued with the correct kit”.
Frasier Nelson, who, as the editor of the Spectator was present when she regaled the hall with her amusing anecdote recalls that his first thoughts were “Good on her … if only we had more servicemen and women in the Commons.”
The Mail on Sunday, on the other hand, has decreed that the Commons is no place for a joke. “It is tempting to laugh off her silly speech on poultry welfare, apparently made for a bet, as a harmless jest. Yet it would be wrong. We have to take Parliament seriously, for in the end it is the heart of our constitution,” intones its editorial.
That paper’s coverage has also dug up some Members of Parliament willing to chastise Mordaunt. Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, for example, has campaigned on poultry welfare in the past. She said “It is an issue that many people, including me, take seriously. MPs are entitled to a sense of humour but this kind of thing trivialises Parliament.”
Nelson is unconvinced: “Without a bit of humour and levity where would Parliament be? And can we imagine how mind-numbingly dull the place would be without the likes of Penny Moudaunt?
“As she did this for sailors in the Royal Navy (or a ‘lewd stunt to please sailor pals’, as the Mail on Sunday puts it), her ‘stunt’ ought to be seen as a form of national service.”