Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns is back in the Commons after a ‘mad’ year which saw her give birth and get re-elected within a few weeks of each other. Political Editor Rob Parsons went to meet her.
Most people in the political world remember where they were when Theresa May launched her ill-fated bid last year to increase her majority with a snap General Election. For Andrea Jenkyns, that moment came as she sat at a Drighlington doctors’ surgery with her colicky three-week-old son.
Given that she was still recovering from a challenging pregnancy and a birth by caesarean section at the age of 43, the timing of the announcement on April 18 was far from ideal for the Morley and Outwood MP, as she pondered how to protect the razor-thin 422 vote majority she won in ousting Labour heavyweight Ed Balls two years earlier.
“I got straight on the phone while I was in the doctors’ surgery, phoning my team and saying ‘we need a meeting tomorrow, I’m going to get an election strategy written and I want my first leaflet out by the weekend’,” she said.
It meant that, while most young mothers would be spending much-needed time at home with their baby, Mrs Jenkyns had to leave Clifford with her own mother for most of the day while she focused on telephone and doorstep canvassing.
“The first General Election in 2015 we delivered three quarters of a million leaflets, I was on the campaign trail all the time but I couldn’t do that because I’d had the caesarean, I was on morphine until May because I was in so much pain with back problems.
I’d love for him to go into politics, of course I would, it’d be amazing. I’d be a proud mum seeing my little boy there doing the same thing.Andrea Jenkyns on her hopes for son Clifford
“I was in a tremendous amount of pain but I was just so focused. My mum was wonderful and she looked after Clifford during the day and then I’d come in about 6, 7, 8pm and then into ‘mum mode’.
“Because he had colic, they always scream at the same time every night and it was 10pm every night for two hours so the lack of sleep, that cycle is a bit of a blur.
“I’ve got such a great campaign team and such a great bunch of people and volunteers and we had fun really. I couldn’t have got through without them.”
After what she described as a good-natured campaign in 2015, last year’s was quite different, with attacks on social media claiming she didn’t live locally and one comparing her with Jo Cox’s killer Thomas Mair.
Election night, when it came, was on a knife-edge, with the BBC at one stage calling it for her Labour opponent Neil Dawson. But she won with an increased majority of 2,104, a sizeable achievement given the progress made by Labour elsewhere.
Mrs Jenkyns was speaking to The Yorkshire Post from the front room of her home in Gildersome, Leeds, with nine-month-old Clifford playing happily with his toys on the floor.
Days after coming back from her honeymoon in Venice with husband Jack Lopresti, a fellow Conservative backbencher who she met at a baseball game she attended as part of a Parliamentary delegation, she was preparing to return to the Commons.
The former music school teacher was able to take a few weeks off for maternity leave during the back end of 2017, but she describes the year as a whole as “bonkers” and “mad but amazing”.
She formed a bond with Emma Reynolds and Luciana Berger, who both gave birth around the same time and worked with her on the Brexit and health select committees respectively
But she says that while the two Labour MPs were able to take maternity leave once the election was over, political considerations meant she was not granted the same.
“Labour were being very awkward because we had a minority government”, she said. “What happens is, when you’re on maternity leave they’ll pair you with either someone who’s off sick or someone else who’s on maternity leave so the votes stack up.
“But Labour refused to pair me up because they wanted the Conservatives to lose each vote so I couldn’t have any maternity leave. So I never actually re-started my maternity leave until the very end of September.
“I had a couple of months off, I went in for some important votes and I went in for a Brexit meeting in December and another important meeting.
“It’s frustrating in a way because Emma and Luciana, who I get on very well with, they’re young mums and they’re able to get on with things but I couldn’t really. So that was quite challenging.”
Labour described the suggestion that it effectively denied Mrs Jenkyns maternity leave as “categorically untrue”. It is understood the party was never provided with Mrs Jenkyns’ name for ‘pairing’ by the Conservative whips. A spokesman said: “The Labour whips office has never refused to pair with the Conservatives when given the name of any expectant MP or MP on maternity leave, and nor would we.”
The task of combining motherhood with an MP’s work meant baby Clifford, named after Mrs Jenkyns’ late father, was granted the kind of access to the corridors of power that would induce envy in many aspiring politicos.
Accompanying her regularly on the train to Westminster from West Yorkshire, he was taken to the voting chamber in the Commons and on one memorable occasion was pictured sitting contentedly in a meeting of the Brexit committee, alongside arch-Brexiteer and father-of-six Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Despite being herself a member of the pro-Brexit pressure group Leave Means Leave, the MP fears the process of taking the steps necessary to leave the European Union will be “tough” in 2018.
“We’ve got Remainers in our own party and still in the opposition parties who I believe are still trying to thwart the process, the Lib Dems still want another referendum and things like this”, she says.
“I think it’s going to be tense. I’m confident that it’ll happen, without a doubt. I’ll take to the streets myself if it didn’t.
“I think it’s a bumpy ride with certain people trying to thwart the process. I think egos have got to be tucked to one side, let’s just get on with it.”
Given Clifford’s Parliamentary experience, it seems only right to ask if a career in politics might be on the cards, a prospect the MP says she would welcome.
“I’ve got such supportive parents growing up and I just want him to do what he wants to do, whatever makes him happy,” she says.
“I’d love for him to go into politics, of course I would, it’d be amazing. I’d be a proud mum seeing my little boy there doing the same thing. But he could go into music.
“It’s very lucky that he gets to be in the Parliament crèche every day and I want to make sure that he’s well-rounded and that he appreciates everything he has.
“I remember money being tough when I was growing up and I remember those pound coin holders, I wanted a stereo for Christmas when I was about 14 and my Dad saved pound coins every week and he went into Tandy and handed all these pound coins over to buy me this stereo for Christmas.
“It makes you appreciate things really and I want him to have that appreciation of life and how lucky we are.”