Profile: Penny Mordaunt, Diabetes UK

Penny Mordaunt's desk at Diabetes UK's modern Camden offices is swamped with stacks of papers, magazines and NHS briefing packs.

Having this month assumed the rather grand title of director of nations, regions and campaigns for the charity, Mordaunt admits she has 'a lot to take in' regarding the health sector. Yet she already knows enough to launch into a detailed analysis of the issues facing the charity.

But Mordaunt's knowledge of diabetes is not why she was picked for the role by CEO Douglas Smallwood, rather, it is because she is a political animal. She has been head of broadcasting at the Conservative Party, oversaw the merger of the Government's national lottery groups in 2003, and in 2000 worked for the Republican Party in the US.

'We were looking for someone who could move us forward in terms of campaigning,' explains Smallwood, 'Penny's experience fits the bill perfectly.'

Mordaunt then co-founded political media training and campaigning consultancy Media Intelligence Partners (MIP) in 2004, and stood for the Tories in last year's general election, contesting Labour stronghold Portsmouth North.

She achieved a 5.5 percent swing from Labour to Conservative and has already been selected to stand next time. It would be a slightly odd decision if she wasn't. A young (33), local resident who also happens to be a media savvy woman fits perfectly in the new-look 'Dave' Cameron-led Tory party.

Given her own centre-right political leanings, what is her take on the way the two main parties are tackling the public health issue? 'There is an acknowledgment by all parties that people have to take responsibility for their own health,' she says, 'but the government should ensure its public health campaigns are not undermined by other areas of policy.'

A philosophy graduate (from Reading University), she says she became particularly interested in politics after a spell of volunteer work in Romania. 

'It was the year after the 1989 revolution. I was helping to look after children with HIV and Aids in a small town outside Bucharest. The whole situation was appalling and it inspired me to become more involved in politics.'

In 1999, at the dawn of 24-hour TV news, Mordaunt was hired by the Tories to set up their broadcast team. 'It was busy,' she recalls. 'Press requests suddenly went from eight a day to 200.'

A year later she secured a secondment to work on George W Bush's presidential campaign, after 'nagging and nagging' Republican National Committee comms director Clifford D May. 'Coalition building, crisis comms, dealing with foreign press - all of these taught me lessons I've applied to every job I've done since,' Mordaunt says.

The media frenzy around the US election stood her in good stead when, four years later, she set up MIP with ex-Conservative media director Nick Wood and head of broadcast Nick Longworth. By that time she was at the end of her second year as the first comms director at the Lottery Community Fund (in which she says she had to battle a furious Daily Mail over the funding of asylum-seeker groups). She was looking for something that would give her the flexibility to run for Parliament.

Mordaunt and Wood were together at Conservative Central Office under William Hague, and Wood remembers his colleague's ability to forward plan. 'When it came to the party conference, Penny would draw up a briefing so detailed it looked like we were planning the D-Day landings,' he says. 'She was a natural person to tie up with.'

Diabetes UK has been adept at seizing upon healthy eating and treatment funding issues. With close to 170,000 members it is one of the largest patient organisations in Europe - and its assertion that overweight people are up to 80 times more likely to develop type-2 diabetes than those at a healthy weight has a strong resonance with the Government as it tries to deal with the so-called obesity epidemic.

The charity wants to flex its political muscles, and it is a task for which Mordaunt seems ideally suited.

CV

2006
Director of nations, regions and campaigns, Diabetes UK

2004 Co-founder, Media Intelligence Partners

2003 Comms director, Lottery Community Fund (now the Big Lottery Fund)

2001 Comms director, Kensington and Chelsea Council

1999 Head of broadcast, Conservative Central Office

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