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Baroness Jenkin

Last Updated: Friday, November 26th, 2010

Following on from last week’s profile of new peer Howard Flight, here’s a look at another of the impending Tory intake onto the red benches of the House of Lords.

Anne Jenkin is not a household name and the uninitiated outside the Westminster village may have been bemused at hearing of the wife of a sitting Conservative MP (Bernard Jenkin) being raised to the peerage.

However, she has a considerable political pedigree in her own right, with three of her four grandparents having sat in the House of Lords before her.

Her paternal grandfather, Robert Strutt, was an esteemed physicist and sat in the Lords as the 4th Lord Rayleigh (her brother now holds the hereditary title, but without the seat in the Lords) and married the daughter of the 4th Earl of Letirim.

Meanwhile, her grandparents on her mother’s side were even more active in party politics. Her grandfather was JCC Davidson, the Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead for much of the 1920s and 1930s, who was then created Viscount Davidson in 1937.  His wife, Mimi, then succeeded him as MP for Hemel Hempstead, holding the seat until her retirement in 1959 (having been the only female Conservative MP returned at the 1945 general election). She was later ennobled in her own right as Baroness Northchurch.

Born Anne Strutt in 1955, she was educated at Sherborne School in Dorset and first worked at Conservative Central Office in 1977. Her involvement in the party led her to meet her now husband Bernard at the 1984 Conservative Party Conference just hours before the fateful IRA bomb exploded. He has since said that he had caught her eye as he entered the Grand Hotel with his father, the then Environment Secretary, Patrick Jenkin.

(Incidentally, before meeting him, she had been romantically linked to Richard Curtis, the screenwriter and film director, who was supposedly so devastated that she picked Bernard over him that he named a bumbling character in most of his scripts after him and based scenes from Four Weddings and a Funeral on the Jenkin wedding – although the pair remain good friends.)

The future husband and wife (they married in 1988) went on to fight unwinnable neighbouring seats in Glasgow at the 1987 general election: Bernard came second in Glasgow Central with 13% of the vote, whilst Anne trailed in third in Glasgow Provan, having secured 7.7% of the votes cast.

Once Bernard was selected for the safe Tory seat of North Essex in advance of the 1992 general election, she opted against seeking a seat for herself, but went on to support her husband in his work from his parliamentary office.

But aside from that, she also built up a reputation as a formidable networker, fundraiser and event organiser and it is partly for her charity work that she has been awarded her peerage. One of the best connected people in Westminster, she has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for a variety of causes over the years, currently serving as a member of the Prince’s Trust Women’s Leadership Group committee and an Ambassador for the Albert Hall. She marked her fiftieth birthday in 2005 by organising a fundraising dinner for Student Partnership Worldwide, which was attended by hundreds and raised a six-figure sum.

Politically, Jenkin has rarely spoken out herself, but it would be fair to conclude that she is on the eurosceptic Right of the Tories (she has supported the work of the think-tank Open Europe) but with slightly more of a modernising tinge than her husband: during the 2001 Conservative leadership election there were considerable tensions in the Jenkin household since she backed Michael Portillo while her husband was helping run Iain Duncan Smith’s bid for the top job.

A month before David Cameron became leader, she founded Women2Win, a group working to get more women elected as Conservative MPs. In this role she was aided when the new Tory leader immediately appointed her husband as party deputy chairman responsible for candidate selection, leading many to view her as the power behind the throne.

More recently, she co-founded a specialist speaker agency focusing on expertise from within the current affairs community, whilst remaining Treasurer of Women2Win.

Her ennoblement was welcomed by Daily Mail columnist Quentin Letts, who lauded her as speaking “pungent sense, being a genial, gossipy battleaxe designed along 21st century lines”.

Mother to two sons, in the Lords she will sit alongside her father-in-law, Lord Jenkin of Roding.

Jonathan Isaby

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