Andrea Jenkyns: 'There's not much that really floors me'
“I’m not quite sure what to do with it,” says Andrea Jenkyns, clutching a small, elaborately decorated clock in her new Westminster parliamentary office.
The ornament is a relic from the room’s previous occupant, recently-announced London mayoral candidate George Galloway. For Jenkyns, however, this particular acquisition is just another one for her mantelpiece of political scalps.
The Tory MP etched her name in political infamy on May 7 by ousting Ed Balls in West Yorkshire’s Morley and Outwood constituency, with a majority of 422 votes. It was a moment that typified a woeful night for Labour, leaving the party to carry out its very public post-election autopsy.
That was three weeks ago, and halfway through our conversation the phone rings with yet more good news. The MP for Morley & Outwood is informed her tabled question has been chosen in the ballot ahead of the first Health Questions of the new Parliament. Oh, and she has also bagged a topical question too.
Campaigning on healthcare has been a prominent feature for Jenkyns since the untimely passing of her father, Clifford, four years ago. In 2011, the former truck driver visited his local hospital to have fluid drained from his lungs. The routine procedure resulted in him being diagnosed with the hospital bug MRSA, which ultimately took his life.
Having subsequently worked with the charity groups including MRSA Action, Jenkyns has taken an interest in “compassionate care”. Her recent studies – degrees in International Relations from Lincoln University and Economics from the Open University – have led Jenkyns to the conclusion that strong “local leadership” and “consequences” when things go wrong are key to a successful healthcare system.
Her questions to the Government next week will include a topical on anti-bacterial research and two on a case relating to a constituent accessing a specific drug. As well as championing local issues, during her first year in Westminster, Jenkyns would like to be appointed to the Health Select Committee.
Fresh from her ousting of the shadow chancellor, Jenkyns was one of four new MPs singled out at the first 1922 Committee meeting after the election. The self-congratulatory event saw her greeted with warm applause, with George Osborne and David Cameron expressing their appreciation with hugs.
“There were four of us who they mentioned and we all got a cheer,” she says.
For Jenkyns, the “whirlwind” aftermath of election night did not begin and end at the count. She, like many other new MPs, is yet to assemble her parliamentary team and has been juggling her early engagements with handling constituency correspondence, of which there have been more than a thousand, single-handedly.
“That’s my biggest frustration, because I don’t like letting people down and I’ll feel better when I have got on top of that,” she says.
So far one caseworker has been appointed, with an office manager role being interviewed on the day we meet. All this while taking media requests and acclimatising to life in London.
Establishing her life outside of Westminster remains an uphill task. Leaving her job as a music tutor and selling her Lincolnshire home after being selected as prospective parliamentary candidate, Jenkyns is now saving up for a deposit to buy a house in her Morley and Outwood constituency.
Living temporarily in-between hotels and commuting from her mother’s place in Wakefield, you’d be forgiven for expecting Jenkyns to have found the changes somewhat discombobulating.
For Jenkyns though, this is part and parcel of her new role: “I’m such an easy going person, I take everything in my stride. I’m passionate – but there’s not much that really floors me."
“I’m a person who does like their roots, really, so it will be nice having a flat here – a place you can just switch away from rather than being in hotels. Then, because I have sold my house, it’s about saving a deposit up so I can buy something in the constituency,” she adds.
Tory backbenchers are likely to hold great weight over the course of this Parliament. With a slender majority, the Government’s new chief whip Mark Harper may stake a claim to being the most over-worked MP by 2020.
Each vote, therefore, is going to have a heightened value. So what kind of backbencher does Jenkyns plan on being?
Jenkyns says she will decide on “conscience” where relevant and vows to not be a “hypocrite” by voting in favour of something she didn’t believe in, while also prioritising the needs of her constituents.
On the EU Jenkyns is largely on message, supporting David Cameron’s timeframe of holding the referendum before the end of 2017. However, when asked how she would vote if the newly unveiled referendum question - Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union – was put to her tomorrow, she replies: “If it was held tomorrow in its current format I’d vote to come out.”
A vegetarian for most of her adult life, Jenkyns would also not vote to “repeal” the fox hunting ban currently advocated by Environment Secretary, Liz Truss.
“I’d be against that yes, 100%. I have been a vegetarian nearly 20 years, so I’ve always been an advocate for animal rights.”
Jenkyns insists she was not considering the media attention her election win would garner during the campaign, despite potentially overthrowing a key figurehead of the opposition.
“I didn’t think of the media attention simply for the fact I was thinking ‘I need to win this campaign’. I was on the doorstep getting round as many people as possible and that was all I was thinking about.”
But in the last few weeks she has embraced the spotlight her election victory has encouraged.
“It’s been amazing, interesting and it’s been great talking to all these different people. I do want to make sure I use it as an outlet for what Morley is doing but also about the things I believe in as well, such as health, business and education – the three areas I am really interested in.”
On the election night itself, Balls was magnanimous in defeat, she says.
“I shook his hand and I said to him ‘look Ed I know this is going to be difficult for you now, but we are both human beings – I genuinely wish you well in whatever you do’. I meant that.”
But while the result was a shock to many, Jenkyns insists she was prepared for life in the Commons. Even if she had not anticipated taking George Galloway's office.
"I was all up to go to win it – I wouldn’t have sold my house, moved in with my mum after all these years, given my job up if I didn’t believe I could do it."