Having ousted one of Labour’s most senior figures, Andrea Jenkyns talks to Sarah Freema
Andrea Jenkyns’ office doesn’t look like the kind of place where one of the key moments of the General Election was orchestrated. Above a hairdresser’s in the centre of Morley, the walls are bright pink and even the boxes of Conservative party flyers, life-size campaign poster of Jenkyns and the conference table and chairs bought for 99p from eBay, can’t disguise that this was once a beauty salon.
Yet it was in here that Jenkyns planned the two year campaign which successfully ousted Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and saw the new MP for Morley and Outwood secure a slim, but significant majority of 422.
“It’s not subtle is it,” she says, referring to the luminous flock wallpaper. “But I quite like it, although I think now we’re here to stay I will swap the curtains. They do make the place look like a bit of a boudoir.”
Today will be Jenkyns’ first official day in office and after taking one of the biggest scalps of the General Election, she has already had more requests for interviews than the rest of David Cameron’s new intake put together.
It’s easy to see why Jenkyns has become a magnet for the media and a pin up for a Conservative Party desperate to prove it’s not just dominated by the Oxbridge elite.
“Contrary to popular belief, the party has always been a broad church,” says Jenkyns. “Although I suspect I may be the only Conservative MP who is also a vegan and against fox hunting.” Born in Hull, Jenkyns grew up in West Yorkshire and she is probably also the only current Tory who left school at 16 to work in a Greggs bakery.
Later came management roles for the likes of New Look, Comet and La Senza, but when she finally ‘“fell” into politics, Jenkyns, who is also a trained soprano, was working as a music tutor for Lincolnshire County Council.
“The landlord of the flat I rented was a member of the local Conservative party. I delivered some leaflets for him and a few weeks later I turned up for a meeting. I didn’t realise that you were supposed to be invited to these things, but that’s where it all began.”
Within four months, Jenkyns had been elected vice chair of policy and campaigns and when one of the party’s county council candidates dropped out just a couple of weeks before the election, she was asked to stand. “The seat had always been Labour and they just needed a paper candidate, but I told them that if I was going to do it I would put my heart and soul into it. I wasn’t going to be just a token.”
Just as she would later despatch, Ed Balls, Jenkyns did see off Labour but within six months was forced to resign.
“I like things in black and white and had sought assurance that it was ok to stand for election and be employed by the council. I was told it was, but the advice was wrong. I suppose I could have walked away, but at the time, the BNP was attracting a lot of attention and I knew I had to stand again.”
Jenkyns won the subsequent by-election, but when she was selected as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Morley and Outwood she moved back to West Yorkshire and for the last two years has been living with her mum in Normanton.
“I sold my house in Lincolnshire and I have been living off the money I made, but it’s an expensive business being a PPC and of course there was no guarantee I was even going to win. A few months ago when I was seriously running out of money, I set up a retail consultancy business and within a month I had my first client. That helped to tide me over until the election, but yes, I have been pretty skint.” Despite years of experience working in both retail and education, Jenkyns admits that having not gone to university she felt somehow inadequate. Determined to prove she could cut it academically, this year she also graduated with a 2:1 in international relations and politics despite having attended just four lecturers in the final 12 months. It partly explains why when every article about her victory over Ed Balls referred to her as a “former beauty queen” she was understandably frustrated.
“It made me sound like an airhead. The truth is I was 18 and my dad sent off my photograph without telling me. The first thing I knew was when he told me I’d made it through to the second heat.”
Jenkyns’ father was a huge figure in her life and when he died in 2011 after contracting MRSA while being treated in Pinderfield’s Hospital it ignited a sense of injustice which she has channelled into campaigning for more rigorous hygeine procedures in hospitals.
“When he went into Pinderfields to have the fluid on his lung drained away, it should have been a 20 minute procedure. Instead it took two and a half hours and the it was there that he contracted MRSA.
“I would like to be on a health select committee, but more than anything I want to be an MP that the people of Morley think can make a difference.”
Already on her to do list is to devise a blueprint for reinvigorating the town centre and turn the office into a community hub, open six days a week. “I also need to think about moving out of mum’s. The problem is I haven’t got enough money for a deposit, so that may have to wait.”
It may be early days, but Andrea Jenkyns is already proving a very different Conservative MP.