Penny Mordaunt said her resting face is that of a “bulldog chewing a wasp” as she responded to accusations from Labour that she could not even “muster a nod” for Liz Truss during Prime Minister’s Questions.
On Wednesday, Ms Truss faced MPs in the Commons for the first time since Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget unleashed chaos in the markets.
The Commons Leader, who was sitting on the frontbench as the prime minister answered questions, gained traction on social media with several users claiming her facial expression remained set throughout the session.
The lack of emotion on Ms Mordaunt’s face did not go unnoticed by Labour either, with shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire directly addressing it at business questions.
She said: “Funereal, unspeakably bleak, just some of the last night savage stream of consciousness flowing from the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs. Dear, oh dear.
“The country’s economic outlook almost as grim as the faces on the benches opposite during PMQs … the leader of the house couldn’t even muster a nod for her prime minister. Why would she?”
Ms Mordaunt replied: “First of all, let me address the comments the honourable lady makes about my facial expressions: my resting face is that of a bulldog chewing a wasp, and people shouldn’t read too much into that.”
The Commons leader’s remarks during an event at the Conservative Party conference that “our policy is great but our comms is s***” were also picked apart by Labour.
Ms Debbonaire said: “I think I saw the right honourable lady saying our policies are great but our comms are shhh … shocking. Let’s go with that to keep it parliamentary. Now, on comms of course I agree, but people across the country know that her policies, her government’s policies, are also shhh … shocking, too.”
Ms Mordaunt defended herself, saying she was “playing the crowd as I was addressing a room full of communication professionals”.
She later picked up on Ms Debbonaire’s play on words, though, saying: “It is the anti-growth coalition whose policies are shhh … shocking.”
Labour MP Richard Burgon called for a general election and said it is clear the government has “lost the confidence of the public”.
Ms Mordaunt, in her reply, said: “The democratic system that we operate under elects a team and this team, on this side of the House, is pro-growth, pro-better public services and pro-getting our constituents through the cost-of-living issues that they’re currently facing.
“It seems to be successful as we’re approaching at the next election a potential fifth term in office. Teamwork is good and I’d commend it to (Mr Burgon).”
Labour MP Christian Wakeford asked Ms Mordaunt if she stood by her comments that it “makes sense” to increase benefits in line with inflation.
Ms Mordaunt did not repeat the comments and instead focused on the work the Government has done on benefits.
She advised Mr Wakeford to wait until 31 October for the next fiscal update.