Who is Robert Jenrick?

Profile: Robert Jenrick

Robert Jenrick Image copyright Reuters

Robert Jenrick doesn't have an easy life.

Among his tasks are some of Whitehall's most intractable: dealing with councils whose budgets have been cut substantially since 2010; encouraging businesses – hit badly by coronavirus – to invest and grow; and tackling the housing crisis.

As well as these largely behind-the-scenes roles, the smartly turned-out 38-year-old has become a familiar figure to teatime TV audiences in recent weeks.

The housing, communities and local government secretary for England is one of a select few cabinet ministers chosen to front daily Downing Street briefings on the pandemic.

But the father-of-three has faced a couple of PR problems of his own.

With lockdown in place, it emerged he had driven 150 miles from London to his Herefordshire home, and then another 40 miles to deliver food and medicine, he said, to his self-isolating parents.

And now he faces questions from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP over his decision in January to approve a £1bn building project in east London – two weeks before developer Richard Desmond gave £12,000 to the Conservatives.

It also transpired that Mr Jenrick and Mr Desmond had sat at the same table during a Conservative Party fundraising dinner last November.

Mr Jenrick has admitted his decision could have looked like an example of "bias", but insists there was no "actual bias" and that he did not act improperly.

Coverage of the issue has been swamped by coronavirus and its economic effects, but his political opponents, scenting possible damage to the government's reputation, are unlikely to let up any time soon.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Boris Johnson has given Robert Jenrick one of the more complex roles in government

Robert Edward Jenrick was born in Wolverhampton on 9 January, 1982. He grew up in Shropshire and attended the independent Wolverhampton Grammar School.

He then studied history at St John's College, Cambridge, where he gained a first-class degree and wrote for the Varsity student newspaper.

After university, Mr Jenrick worked as a solicitor for the Skadden Apps and Sullivan and Cromwell firms, in London and Moscow.

He moved into business, becoming an international managing director of the auction house Christie's.

But politics beckoned and, in 2010, he stood as the Conservative candidate for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, losing to Labour incumbent Paul Farrelly but increasing the Tory share of the vote.

Mr Jenrick didn't have to wait long for a second chance at becoming an MP. He contested the by-election in Newark, Nottinghamshire, in 2014, prompted by the resignation of Conservative Patrick Mercer over a cash-for-questions scandal.

He won, seeing off a UKIP challenge at a time when that party was polling strongly, delighting the then PM, David Cameron.

It was the first Conservative hold in Parliamentary by-election while in government since 1989, when future leader William Hague took Richmond, in North Yorkshire.

Like Hague – leader of the Tories at 36 – Mr Jenrick has not hung about in reaching the upper echelons of politics since coming to Westminster.

He served briefly on the health select committee before working as an aide to ministers including Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Justice Secretary Michael Gove.

In January 2018 he became a minister, when then Prime Minister Theresa May appointed him Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.

Just 18 months later, when he took over from Mrs May, Boris Johnson promoted Mr Jenrick from that junior role to secretary of state for housing, development and local government. This made him the youngest member of the cabinet.

Mr Jenrick's in-tray is full of enormous and difficult issues, with planning and housing among the most difficult.

The job and his TV appearances have increased his public profile, with some pundits suggesting he could go higher still in government.

But with all the attention, as he is discovering, comes a great deal more scrutiny.

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