APPOINTING Penny Mordaunt to replace Priti Patel as International Development Secretary shows that the Prime Minister’s overriding priority is to hold her Cabinet together.
While the Tories insist that Cabinet ministers, irrespective of how they voted in the referendum, are equally committed to respecting the electorate’s decision, this choice demonstrates the opposite.
Mordaunt has been appointed because, like Patel, she supported the Leave side in the referendum and, also in common with her predecessor, is a woman and a member of Conservative Friends of Israel.
She demonstrates no previous expertise in international development aid, having bounced around over a three-year period, prior to her latest appointment, between the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Work and Pensions.
This Royal Navy reservist’s most prominent leap fleetingly into public awareness hitherto saw her enter a debate on poultry welfare so she could utter the word “cock” as many times as she could.
This rib-tickling intervention was, she said, set up as a dare or forfeit by naval reserve chums on some pretext or another.
Voters will be overjoyed that Theresa May has appointed a Cabinet member with such a well-developed sense of fun who can be guaranteed to show her parliamentary duties the respect they merit.
That charge could never be levelled against Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who continues to treat serious political responsibilities as a bit of a lark, acting the Old Etonian buffoon and failing to prepare properly.
The Prime Minister condemned as “not an appropriate choice of words” Johnson’s oafish remarks last month, suggesting that the Libyan city of Sirte could become a new Dubai — “all they have to do is clear the dead bodies away.”
The Foreign Secretary certainly has previous form in this area, having referred to the Queen being greeted in Commonwealth countries by “cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.”
He suggested that then prime minister Tony Blair might be seduced by “foreign politeness” in the Democratic Republic of Congo when “tribal warriors” would “break out in watermelon smiles.”
As with all such examples of Johnson’s ignorance, racism and lack of empathy, Tory leaders have tut-tutted before making excuses for him on the grounds that he’s supposedly a bit of a character to whom normal rules can’t be applied.
That process continues, with colleagues still effectively condoning his abject performance at the Commons foreign affairs select committee last week when failure to prepare his brief led him to undermine the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who languishes in an Iranian jail. His subsequent assertion that his comments to the committee “could have been clearer” is nonsense.
They were as plain as a pikestaff. He misled the committee by saying that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training Iranian journalists despite her declaration to have been on a family holiday.
Pressed by his shadow Emily Thornberry to apologise to the Zaghari-Ratcliffe family, he refused, accusing her of political point scoring.
Yet Iranian state media has highlighted Johnson’s comments, calling them an “unintended admission” that Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving five years and could be hit with a further five-year sentence, is guilty.
He has promised to meet her husband Richard Ratcliffe and to visit Tehran “in the next few weeks.”
Who knows what nonsense he will spout there? Far better that this arrogant, abusive and lazy embarrassment should stand down now along with the rest of this ramshackle government.