Conservative Intelligence

Conservative Intelligence

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Bernard Jenkin

Position: Select Committee - Unopposed Bills (Panel) 2010-

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

  • One Conservative MP of whom we are going to hear quite a lot in the coming months is Bernard Jenkin.  He won a three-way contest to become chairman of the Public Administration Committee in this Parliament (a post previously used to good effect by Labour’s Tony Wright) but most significantly he is the member of the 1922 Executive Committee (of Conservative backbenchers) responsible for the campaign against Alternative Vote.
  • He has already taken charge of efforts to try and stop the AV referendum taking place on the same day as elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, citing concerns that a likely differential turnout would skew the result. This was the subject of an early day motion  [insert link] which attracted in excess of 40 supporters before the sumer recess (despite attempts by Tory whips to scupper it) and is likely to be the basis of an amendment to the referendum legislation at committee stage.
  • This week he upped the ante in leading efforts to scupper plans to change the voting system with a robust op-ed in the Evening Standard [insert link], highlighting Nick Clegg’s previous description of AV as “worthless” and the fact that the proposed system could be even more disproportional than First-Past-The-Post.
  • Jenkin’s position today is clear as a senior backbencher from the Right of the party whose frontbench career is behind him. He did, however, go on something of a political journey in his twenties. The son of former Cabinet minister Patrick Jenkin, at Cambridge he chaired the (centre-left) Tory Reform Group and later worked as an adviser to Leon Brittan; and his ongoing social liberalism was evident from his support in 1994 during his first Parliament as an MP for the equalisation of the age of consent.
  • However, by his election in 1992 for a safe Tory seat in Essex, his devotion to the politics of Thatcher were firm, as was his euroscepticism. Indeed, he made a name for himself as one of the most rebellious members of that 1992 intake during the passage of the Bill to enact the Maastricht Treaty, along with one Iain Duncan Smith (with whom he happens to share a birthday).
  • Shadow Transport Secretary for three years under William Hague, the zenith of his frontbench career came under his friend Duncan Smith, whom he served as Shadow Defence Secretary in the wake of the 9/11 attacks (having played a leading role in the IDS leadership campaign while his indefatigable wife, Anne, supported Portillo).
  • Under Michael Howard he shadowed John Prescott in the Regions brief from outside the slimmed down shadow cabinet, but was involved in the successful campaigns to derail the proposed elected regional assemblies, not least via the referendum on that issue in the North East.
  • Despite supporting David Cameron throughout the 2005 leadership contest, he was not afforded a shadow ministerial post on his election. He was instead sent to Tory HQ where he was given the influential post of Deputy Chairman responsible for candidates, with the aim of broadening the base of candidates via the controversial “A list” of CCHQ-preferred names. 
  • Putting Jenkin in that position seemed to be a conscious move by Cameron to protect himself from charges that it was an attempt to reduce the influence of the Right – although it was something of a poisoned chalice for Jenkin and still caused many on the Right to view him as doing Cameron’s dirty work at that time. Another reason for that appointment was that his aforementioned wife, Anne, was leading the charge to promote female candidates through Women2Win.
  • He returned to the backbenches in 2006, spending four years majoring again on defence issues via the departmental select committee.

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