Profile: Franklin Delano Roosvelt, whose New Deal is the inspiration for Johnson’s Build, Build, Build

30 Jun

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a son of privilege who became the greatest leader of the Democratic Party. He led his country through two ordeals, the Great Depression and the Second World War, and won four presidential elections, twice as many as anyone else. His well-tempered air of command resounded through his fireside chats to the nation, and extended to the denial of his own infirmity after polio deprived him, at the age of thirty-nine, of the use of his legs.

FDR had the patrician self-confidence to enjoy breaking the rules, to feel no pang of conscience as he did so, and to condemn the rapacity of big business. A worker once said, ‘Mr Roosevelt is the only man we ever had in the White House who would under- stand that my boss is a son of a bitch.’ FDR was detested by some plutocrats as a class traitor, but persuaded most people that the federal government should pursue with the utmost energy any experiment which might relieve mass unemployment. He at length restored full employment by instituting the massive arms programme needed to prepare for hostilities in which 420,000 Americans were to lose their lives.

His father, James Roosevelt of Hyde Park, was a Hudson Valley squire who dedicated himself to a gentlemanly way of life, but also had extensive interests in railways and coal. James’s much younger second wife, born Sara Delano – she was twenty-six when they married, he fifty-two – gave birth with difficulty to a son, and was advised by her doctors to have no more children. Franklin was kept at home, schooled by tutors, until at the age of fourteen his parents delivered him in their private railway car to Groton, a high-minded American version of Eton.

The following year his fifth cousin, Theodore Roosevelt – their common ancestor had landed on Manhattan Island in 1649 – came to speak at Groton about being a police commis- sioner in New York City, and kept the boys in fits of laughter. Franklin was invited at the age of fifteen, along with a host of younger cousins, to visit his high-spirited Cousin Theodore dur- ing the summer holidays at Oyster Bay on Long Island. He described Theodore as the greatest man he ever knew, and prof- ited from observing and imitating his brilliant career. But the Hyde Park Roosevelts were Democrats, while the Oyster Bay Roosevelts were Republicans.

FDR went to Harvard, edited the student newspaper, the Har- vard Crimson, and was known to some as Feather Duster, for he was seen as a bit of a lightweight. He was a handsome young man, six foot two inches tall, with a dazzling smile. His recently widowed mother moved to Boston to keep an eye on him. She was appalled when he revealed his engagement to Eleanor Roosevelt, daughter of Theodore’s wastrel younger brother Elliott, but could not prevent the marriage, which took place in 1905, with President Roosevelt (as he had become) giving the bride away. Eleanor was no beauty, and worried Franklin might be too good-looking for her to hold on to. When they got engaged, she copied out Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lines for him: ‘Unless you can swear, “For life, for death!” / Oh, fear to call it loving!’

In the early years of the marriage she gave birth to six chil- dren, of whom five survived. FDR dabbled in the law, decided it was not for him and in 1910 was elected as the Democrat New York state senator for Dutchess County, which included Hyde Park. Two years later, he canvassed for Woodrow Wilson, who after winning the presidential election rewarded him with the post of assistant secretary of the navy.

Like Theodore Roosevelt, who had held the same job, FDR exploited its possibilities to the full. His administrative gifts were such that after America joined the war in 1917, President Wilson discouraged him from doing what Cousin Theodore would have done, and going off to fight. FDR feared his political career would be held back by his decision not to risk his own skin, and when Groton was erecting a tablet in the chapel bearing the names of those who had served in the war, made the most of the dangers he had run while on an official visit to France in 1918: ‘I believe my name should go in the first division of those who were “in the service”, especially as I saw service on the other side, was missed by torpedoes and shells . . .’

While he might have been in the trenches he carried on an affair with his wife’s spirited and charming social secretary, Lucy Mercer. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore, encouraged the romance: ‘He deserved a good time. He was married to Eleanor.’ In 1918 Eleanor discovered a packet of Lucy’s love letters and offered Franklin a divorce. His mother, on whom he was dependent for funds, told him she would cut him off if he accepted the offer.

Divorce would have ended Roosevelt’s career; not until Ronald Reagan in 1981 did a divorced man enter the White House. FDR promised Eleanor he would stop seeing Lucy, but from now on they conducted a political marriage, their personal relations glacial. His mother, who lived until 1941, remained firmly in charge at Hyde Park, where in the 1920s a cottage called Val-Kill was built, which was the only place Eleanor could call her own. She stayed there with close women friends, flung herself into progressive causes and journalism, and became a public figure in her own right, the most notable first lady since Dolley Madison. Relations with her husband never mended. In 1949, five years after his death, she said of him: ‘I was one of those who served his purpose.’

In 1920 FDR was selected by the Democrats as their vice-presidential candidate. The party went down to a heavy defeat, but he was a rising star. The following August he was stricken, while at Campobello, the island just over the Canadian border where the Hyde Park Roosevelts spent summer vacations, with polio and found himself paralysed in both legs from the hip downwards. For a long time he hoped he would recover, and bathing in the waters at Warm Springs in Georgia made him feel better, so he developed the spa there for the use of himself and other sufferers.
There was no cure. The most he could do was learn to take a few steps with heavy steel braces supporting him instead of his legs and a son or bodyguard to hold his arm. With remarkable fortitude and self-discipline he set out to conceal from the public the gravity of his handicap. When he smiled, which was often, he looked like a man without a care in the world. Only two of the 35,000 photographs in the Roosevelt Presidential Library at Hyde Park show him in a wheelchair.

In 1924, he gave his ‘Happy Warrior’ speech at the Democratic convention in support of Al Smith’s presidential candidacy. The reference was to Wordsworth’s lines: ‘This is the happy Warrior, this is he / That every man should wish to be.’

The speech was a triumph and proved that he too was a warrior. He repeated this success four years later, when he again nominated Smith, who persuaded him to run for the governorship of New York, once held by Cousin Theodore. FDR was a formidable campaigner and in 1928 won New York by the slender margin of 25,000 votes, while Smith as the Democrats’ presidential candidate lost the state by 100,000 votes and went down to a heavy national defeat.

This was the springboard which could propel Roosevelt to the White House in four years’ time. He set out to show he was the most dynamic governor in America, promoting unemployment insurance, farm relief and a vast electrification scheme, reaching voters directly via the radio, winning a second term in 1930 by a record margin and using state funds to fight the Great Depres-sion by providing jobs and food.

Walter Lippmann, the famous liberal pundit, held out against the growing chorus of praise for the Governor of New York, writing in early 1932: ‘Franklin D. Roosevelt is no crusader. He is no tribune of the people. He is no enemy of entrenched privilege. He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president.’ But FDR was already the front-runner for the 1932 nomination, a position he never relinquished. Doctors who watched him at work as governor testified that he was ‘able to take more punishment than many men ten years younger’, while Eleanor, on being asked if he was fit enough for the White House, replied: ‘If the infantile paralysis didn’t kill him, the presidency won’t.’

A month before the Democratic convention, Roosevelt spoke at Oglethorpe University in Georgia: ‘The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.’
Once the convention had chosen Roosevelt, he flew to Chicago to deliver an acceptance speech, breaking what he called ‘the absurd tradition that the candidate should remain in professed ignorance of what has happened for weeks until he is formally notified of that event weeks later’. In his peroration he declared:

‘I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people. Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage. This is more than a political campaign: it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people.’

The New Deal was born. It had the advantages of being neither precise nor consistent. At times Roosevelt was accused of sounding like his opponent, President Hoover, a man wedded to more orthodox views. In the four months between Roosevelt’s election victory and his inauguration there was no cooperation between him and Hoover, who loathed and despised him. This helped the President Elect to show he was a completely different kind of person. The economy continued to deteriorate, with a severe banking crisis in February 1933, adding fear of loss of life savings to fear of unemployment.

Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, delivered on 4 March 1933, is famous for his declaration that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’, a phrase which has grown smooth from overuse. It acquires its proper force when it is placed after the first two, somewhat platitudinous paragraphs, heard on radios across America:

“This is a day of national consecration, and I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the presidency I will address them with a candour and a deci- sion which the present situation of our nation impels.
This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.

So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Roosevelt’s success rested on his superlative ability to find the right words for every occasion. He carried Americans with him by using biblical language which would have been familiar three centuries before to the Pilgrim Fathers. ‘We are stricken by no plague of locusts,’ he went on to say, but have been failed by ‘the money-changers’, who ‘have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish’.

These exhortations would have been exposed as worthless had they not been followed by action. He put the Emergency Banking Bill through Congress in a day, and said in the first of what came to be known as his fireside chats – his radio addresses to the nation – that the legislation would only work if depositors stopped trying to withdraw their savings from the banks: ‘You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumours or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.’

Roosevelt gave people hope. His clear, resonant, buoyant tones rang out across the nation, but he knew they must not ring out too often, or people would cease to pay attention. In the twelve years and one month of his presidency he delivered thirty fireside chats, each of which took ‘four or five days of long, over- time work’ to prepare. He had discovered how to bypass a predominantly hostile press and speak directly to the people.

His first hundred days saw a torrent of New Deal legislation, including the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act, the Truth-in-Securities Act, the Home Own- ers’ Loan Act, the Farm Credit Act, the Railroad Coordination Act, the Glass-Steagal Banking Act and the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, which sought to control floods, promote river traffic, generate cheap electricity and foster enterprise in a depressed area four-fifths the size of England. The results of these meas- ures were patchy, but the energy and ambition were undeniable. Unemployment did come down a bit, and FDR instilled in Americans the belief that the worst was over.

He also incurred the hatred of big business, which he assailed, in his speech accepting the nomination in 1936, for creating ‘a new despotism’, an ‘industrial dictatorship’ which destroyed small businesses and imposed ‘economic slavery’. In his speech at Madison Square Garden shortly before polling day, attacking the forces arrayed against him, a touch of hubris is apparent: ‘Never before in our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred . . . I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of self- ishness and lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master.’

Roosevelt won his greatest electoral victory in 1936, and pro-ceeded to make one of his greatest mistakes. The Supreme Court had rejected some of the New Deal measures as unconstitutional because they concentrated so much power in the hands of the president. He responded by trying to pack the court. This was a step too far, and he failed.

In foreign policy, Roosevelt was an impotent spectator of the rise of Hitler. Neither Congress nor public opinion would sanction a strong line: isolationist sentiment was too powerful. But in 1939, when war broke out in Europe, Roosevelt established communication with Winston Churchill, who had been recalled to the Admiralty. In May 1940, when Churchill became prime minister, he asked Roosevelt for the ships, aircraft, guns, ammunition and steel Britain needed to hold out against the German onslaught.

Roosevelt could not possibly do all that at once. When he informed Congress that American military aircraft production must increase from 12,000 a year to 50,000, many of his listeners declined to take him seriously. But as France crumpled under German attack in June 1940, FDR warned in a speech at the Uni- versity of Virginia against ‘the now obvious delusion’ that America could remain ‘a lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force’, for then democracy itself would be in dan- ger. Roosevelt employed the liberal internationalist language of Woodrow Wilson, indeed improved upon it, for he sounded less naïve.

In June 1940 he sanctioned the secret research for what became the atomic bomb. In July, in a bold attempt to build bipar- tisan support for American entry into the war, he appointed two senior Republicans, Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, to the posts of secretary of war and secretary of the navy. In September he agreed to swap fifty elderly destroyers for British bases in New- foundland and the Caribbean. But 1940 was an election year, so like Wilson before him, at the end of October 1940 FDR felt obliged to repeat in the most categorical terms his promise to the ‘mothers and fathers’ of America: ‘Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.’

With such momentous events unfolding, few voters criticised Roosevelt for flouting the convention, set by Washington, that no president serve more than two terms, and they gave him a third by a convincing margin. He could now hasten to the aid of Hitler’s remaining opponents. At a press conference in December 1940 he compared supplying arms to Britain to lending your gar- den hose to a neighbour who needed to put out a fire. A fortnight later, as the Luftwaffe subjected London to a pulverising raid which was supposed to distract attention from his speech, he said:

‘The experience of the past two years has proven beyond doubt that no nation can appease the Nazis. No man can turn a tiger into a kitten by stroking it . . . We must be the great arsenal of democracy . . . There will be no bottlenecks in our determination to aid Great Britain.’

In June 1941 the war broadened with Hitler’s invasion of Russia. Roosevelt had already got the Lend-Lease Act through Congress, and sent his close aide Harry Hopkins, a raffish and gifted figure, to London to get to know Churchill and establish what supplies the British needed most. Hopkins went on to Mos- cow to do the same with Stalin. Hitler hoped to the end that his three main adversaries would fall out, as had Frederick the Great’s at a moment of peril for Prussia in the eighteenth century. FDR never allowed that to happen.

In August 1941, on board American and British warships at Pla- centia Bay in Newfoundland, he and Churchill held the first of their eleven wartime meetings. They sang stirring hymns – ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’, ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’, ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’ – and agreed what became known as the Atlantic Charter, a Wilsonian statement of eight rather misty post-war aims, behind which could be detected Roosevelt’s determination that this should be a war for democracy, not for the preservation of the British Empire.

But America was not yet in the war, and Hitler was careful to provide no provocation which would enable FDR to rout the still- powerful isolationist lobby in Washington. The Japanese were less circumspect. On 7 December 1941 they launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, where they destroyed or dam- aged eight battleships and killed 3,000 Americans. Roosevelt described this as ‘a date that will live in infamy’ and called for a declaration of war on Japan, which Congress immediately pro- vided. Germany and Italy proceeded, in accordance with the axis they had formed with Japan, to declare war on the United States.

Pearl Harbor united Americans in shock and anger. Roosevelt’s critics accused him of having known in advance about the attack, but could produce no evidence to support that view, nor has sub- sequent research revealed any. As a man who loved the navy, it is inconceivable that he would have left eight battleships tied up in port if he had known they were going to be attacked. But as soon as the attack had happened, he knew what he wanted to do. His priority was the defeat not of Japan, seen by most Americans as the aggressor, but of Hitler. FDR dramatised his role by flying to conferences with America’s allies, at which they settled on a com- mon strategy which concealed deep differences between them. He was the first president to travel by air while in power, and even his sternest critics in the American press could not help acknowl- edging that he possessed ‘a certain vast impudent courage’.
At the same time, FDR agreed to the internment of about 120,000 people in America of Japanese descent, most of them US citizens, in clear violation of their constitutional rights but in conformity with public opinion. Roosevelt felt no qualms. He was by no means a bleeding-heart liberal.

At Casablanca in January 1943 he proclaimed the doctrine of the ‘unconditional surrender’ of Germany, Italy and Japan, a term which, he reminded the assembled press, had been coined by Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War. This may have stiffened the resistance of the Axis powers, but it also reassured Stalin, who was not at Casablanca, that the western allies were not going to make a separate peace. In the summer of 1944, a year later than Stalin would have liked, the Americans, British and Canadians, along with smaller contingents from other allies, launched, under an American supreme commander, Gen- eral Dwight D. Eisenhower, the D-Day landings on the Channel coast of France.

Roosevelt, learning from the mistakes made by Woodrow Wilson, was already laying the foundations for the post-war world, which would include the United Nations and the Inter- national Monetary Fund, and he decided it was his duty as well as his wish to see the job through by standing for a fourth term. In September 1944 he opened his campaign with a speech at a Team-sters’ Union dinner in Washington, during which he responded to an attack on his dog:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or on my wife, or on my sons. No, not con- tent with that, they now include my little dog Fala [laughter]. Well of course, I don’t resent attacks and my family don’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent attacks [laughter]. You know, Fala’s Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers, in Congress and out, had concocted a story that I’d left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him – at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three or eight or twenty million dollars – his Scotch soul was furious [laughter]. He has not been the same dog since.”

Brilliant performances like this, which was broadcast across the nation and can today be enjoyed on YouTube, distracted atten- tion from questions raised in the press about whether his health was up to another term. His doctor, Admiral Ross McIntire, who was an ear, nose and throat specialist, insisted he was fine. A naval cardiologist, Dr Howard Bruenn, who examined Roosevelt in March 1944, found he was suffering from advanced heart dis- ease and his condition was ‘god awful’. Had Bruenn been asked, he would have said it was impossible for the President to run again.

But Roosevelt ran again, and won a reasonably comfortable victory, assisted by American successes on the battlefield. In Feb- ruary 1945 he went to Yalta in the Crimea to discuss with Stalin and Churchill the shape of the post-war world. Churchill’s doc- tor, Sir Charles Wilson, wrote in his diary, ‘the president appears a very sick man … I give him only a few months to live’. But Roosevelt still obtained what he most wanted, which was Stalin’s assurance that when the fighting in Europe was over, the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan, which was expected to last for a long time, at a heavy cost in American casualties. At Yalta, Stalin got a free hand in eastern Europe, subject to unen- forceable promises about holding free and fair elections, but it is hard to see how Roosevelt, or any other American president, could have averted this, given the dominance on the ground of the Red Army.

Roosevelt returned to Washington, and in early April went down to Warm Springs. He was met there by Lucy Mercer, now Lucy Rutherfurd, for she had married a rich and elderly widower who was by now dead, and had rekindled her affair with Roosevelt, who was the love of her life. She was with him for most of the
time after Yalta, and was present on 12 April 1945 when, as his portrait was being painted, he remarked that he had a terrible headache, and died of a heart attack. Churchill described him in the House of Commons as ‘the greatest American friend we have ever known, and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the New World to the Old’. Victory in Europe was by now imminent. On 30 April, Hitler committed suicide as the Russians stormed Berlin.

‘Many books will be written about Franklin Roosevelt, but no two will give the same picture . . . He was the most compli- cated human being I ever knew,’ Frances Perkins, his Secretary of Labour and the first woman to serve in the Cabinet, wrote in her memoir, The Roosevelt I Knew. ‘I felt as if I knew him . . . I felt as if he knew me – and I felt as if he liked me,’ a young soldier guard- ing the White House told Perkins on the night Roosevelt died. H. L. Mencken, known as the Sage of Baltimore, suggested by contrast that FDR ‘had every quality that morons esteem in their heroes’.

Roosevelt had a devious yet open-hearted charm which baffled inquiry. Many people were so flattered to be admitted to his circle on terms of seeming equality, they were happy to contribute to his success. He had a gift for making pragmatic choices seem adventurous and morally right. When challenged to explain his philosophy, after he had denied being a communist, a capital- ist, or a socialist, he replied: ‘Philosophy? I am a Christian and a Democrat – that’s all.’

This article is an extract from Gimson’s Presidents, Brief Lives from Washington to Trump, illustrated by Martin Rowson.

Profile: Robert Jenrick, who rose without trace until he hit two bumps in the road

24 Jun

Until the age of 38, which he attained on 9th January this year, Robert Jenrick had ascended the political ladder at remarkable speed while remaining unknown to the wider public.

Nor can one yet say that as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government he has become a household name, often though he appeared at the Downing Street press conferences on Covid-19.

For there is nothing distinctive in Jenrick’s manner: he does not lodge himself in the memory.

Labour is trying to change that. It wants people to remember him, if not by name, then as the Tory minister who “auctioned off the planning system to a billionaire donor at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner”, as Steve Reed, Jenrick’s Labour opposite number, recently put it.

And this afternoon in the Commons, Labour will press for the release of all documents to do with that affair.

The fundraising dinner took place last November. Jenrick found himself sitting next to Richard Desmond, former proprietor of The Daily Express, who is seeking permission for a one billion pound redevelopment of that paper’s disused Westferry Printworks in the Isle of Dogs, to include over 1500 flats.

Jenrick had already called in the scheme, and in January this year he approved it, on the day before Desmond would have become liable to pay Tower Hamlets Council a Community Infrastructure Levy of about £40 million on the scheme.

The council opened legal proceedings against Jenrick, who in May conceded that the timing of his decision “would lead the fair-minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility” of bias.

The Planning Court said the Housing Secretary had accepted the decision “was unlawful by reason of apparent bias and should be quashed”, which it proceeded to do.

Another minister will now decide whether to approve Desmond’s development, and Labour is doing all it can to exploit Jenrick’s embarrassment, as would the Conservatives if the positions were reversed.

When taking the decision to approve Desmond’s plan, Jenrick not only rejected the advice of the local council and planning inspector, which is usual enough, but is reported to have rejected the advice of his own chief planning officer, which is highly unusual.

Desmond paid £12,000 to attend the dinner, of which Jenrick recently said in the Commons:

“My department knew about my attendance at the event before I went to it. It knew about the fact that I had inadvertently sat next to the applicant. I did not know who I was going to be seated by until I sat at the table. I discussed and took advice from my officials within the department at all times.”

There is something hapless about the word “inadvertently”. A Tory MP told ConHome with considerable annoyance that Jenrick “should never have been sitting next to Desmond”, but blamed the organisers of the dinner, not Jenrick, for this, and described the Housing Secretary as “well-respected”.

Another senior Tory backbencher said of Jenrick:

“He is a decent man, a solicitor by training, highly diligent, and I would trust him over Mr Desmond any day.”

But a third backbencher, a former minister, said Jenrick is known as “Generic”

“because there’s nothing there. If he walked across a sieve he’d probably completely disappear. He’s a suit. What does he believe? He’s an example of the new kind of Cabinet Minister who forms up with a pair of shiny shoes, takes his orders from Dominic Cummings and goes and delivers them.

“He’s arrived from nowhere and as for all politicians who do that when he hits a bump he goes off the road.”

Jenrick has actually hit two bumps. In March, he repeatedly emphasised, in his role as one of the Government’s leading spokesmen on the pandemic, that people “should stay at home whenever possible”, but at the start of April he was found to have travelled to his house in Herefordshire:

“Under-fire minister Robert Jenrick has claimed the £1.1 million Grade I listed country mansion he drove 150 miles to during the coronavirus lockdown is his family home – but his official website says the opposite, MailOnline can reveal today.

“The Housing Secretary is also facing calls to quit unless he can offer a ‘very good explanation’ about a 40 mile trip to drop supplies at his parents’ house in Shropshire last weekend when neighbours said they were already delivering essentials.

“Mr Jenrick, a key player in the Government’s response to the pandemic that has claimed 7,978 lives in Britain, has repeatedly told the public to stay at home and not make unnecessary journeys to stop the spread of coronavirus, including travelling to any second homes.”

On the same day that report appeared, 9th April, Boris Johnson came out of intensive care at St Thomas’s Hospital, and three days later he delivered his heartfelt message of thanks to the NHS for saving his life.

Compared to that, the questionable conduct of an unknown Cabinet minister looked unimportant. It made nothing like the impact of the revelation on 22nd May of Dominic Cummings’ family trip during lockdown to County Durham.

Cummings presents a wonderful target. He is blamed by Remainers for steering the Leave campaign to victory, is close to the Prime Minister and loves riling the media. Piers Morgan and Alastair Campbell were among those who led the demands for Cummings to be sacked, and Tory MPs found their inboxes flooded by emails from members of the public who were furious that there seemed to be one rule for the ruling class, represented by Cummings, and another for everyone else.

Nobody regards Jenrick as an evil genius, and he has never intentionally riled the media. He has instead followed the more conventional course of giving the media nothing much to report, and most people have probably already forgotten about his travels during lockdown.

Jenrick was born in Wolverhampton in 1982, grew up in Herefordshire and Shropshire, and was educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School, a fee-paying establishment, followed by St John’s College, Cambridge, where he took a First in History, after which he spent a year studying Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

He proceeded to qualify, in 2008, as a solicitor, to work for two American law firms in Moscow and in London, and on the international business side of Christie’s Auction House.

In the same year, he gained selection as the Conservative candidate for Newcastle-under-Lyme, in Staffordshire, where in the general election of 2010 the Conservative vote rose by almost 5,000, but he was still 1500 votes short of taking the seat, which only went Tory last December.

During one week of the 2010 campaign, he contributed a diary to ConHome which included this passage:

“Unexpectedly this afternoon, a legal contact calls. He’s an environmental lawyer in Washington D.C. who is co-ordinating efforts in the U.S. to develop the first Green Investment Bank with the Obama administration. I put him in touch with the Shadow Environment team, some of whom it turns out will be in D.C. tomorrow and may be able to meet up. This follows on from bringing together the Environment team with Better Place, an Israeli company developing an electric car system that will soon be on the streets of Tel Aviv and San Francisco. Better Place’s CEO, Shai Agassi, is one of the most impressive men I’ve met: he is pragmatic and not a climate crusader and he puts privately-funded technological advancement at the heart of tackling climate change.”

We see Jenrick at the age of 28 proud of his ability to network, and remarkably at ease as he does so.

In 2013, Better Place went bankrupt, and Jenrick was adopted as the Conservative candidate in Newark, where it was expected that the scandal-afflicted Tory MP, Patrick Mercer, would stand down at the general election in 2015.

Mercer instead stood down in April 2014, precipitating a by-election in Newark where the Conservatives needed to beat off a strong challenge from UKIP in order to look like credible contenders for 2015.

Tory MPs were ordered to visit Newark three times during the campaign, Cabinet ministers were expected to put in five appearances, members of the House of Lords could be found delivering leaflets, and the party’s depleted reserves of activists were incentivised by the prospect of fighting alongside the officer class.

Jenrick found himself at the centre of a national campaign. Roger Helmer, the UKIP candidate, accused him of owning three homes, none of them anywhere near Newark.

The formidable Simon Walters, political editor of The Mail on Sunday, arrived to see what he could make of Jenrick:

Mr Jenrick presents himself as a ‘father, local man, son of a secretary and small businessman and state primary school-educated’ candidate.

But that is not quite the whole story.

In fact, he and American wife Michal own not one, but two, £2 million homes in London and a £1 million country pile built by an 18th Century slave-trader.

Their Newark ‘home’ is a rented house obtained when he was picked as a candidate six months ago.

And his Party CV omits to say he went to a £13,000-a-year private secondary school.

Together with his director’s  job at Christie’s auction house, it is just the type of posh Tory boy image Cameron and co can’t shrug off.

Mr Jenrick, who looks even younger than his 32 years, sticks rigidly to his Tory HQ autocue when asked about national issues.

During our interview at a cafeteria in Tuxford, near Newark, he is finally stirred when I ask whether, in his keenness to come across as a regular guy, he has misled voters.

To win the candidacy, he promised he would move his family lock, stock and barrel to Newark. A 250-mile round-trip  to Westminster if he becomes  MP – quite a commute for a  self-proclaimed family man  with two young daughters.

How many nights has the family actually spent in their Newark ‘home?’

‘Er, it has grown over time.’  He won’t say.

His election leaflets are also silent about the couple’s £2 million flat in Marylebone, London. It went up in value by £300,000 last year, more than twice the average price of a home in Newark.

Last October, the couple splashed out an extra £2.5 million on a house in fashionable Vincent Square, Westminster, less than a mile from Parliament, which they plan to move into soon.

On top of that they bought Grade I listed Eye Manor in Herefordshire for £1.1 million  in 2009.

Mr Jenrick says he is ‘almost sure’ they will sell it and move to Newark if he becomes MP.

It is to be hoped this interview is not the first Mrs Jenrick, a top commercial lawyer whose professional name is Michal Berkner, eight years Mr Jenrick’s senior, has heard of that.

The Conservatives won the Newark by-election by 7,403 votes from UKIP, and Jenrick’s majority has since risen to 21,816. Some vexation is nevertheless expressed in Newark that Jenrick has yet to sell Eye Manor, and appears to prefer going there with his wife and their three daughters.

As one constituent said, “It’s perfectly clear who wears the trousers and it isn’t him. She indulges his little hobby of being an MP.”

But if one were fortunate enough to own Eye Manor, parting with it might feel unbearable. Here is Marcus Binney, singing its praises in The Times before the Jenricks bought it:

For its size, Eye Manor, near Leominster in Herefordshire, has the most gorgeous series of Charles II interiors in England. Here is plasterwork as overflowing in richly sculpted fruit and flowers as carvings by the great Grinling Gibbons. It gets better: over the past 20 years the late owner, Margery Montcrieff, laid out an intricate, inventive and enchanting formal garden that almost vies with Sissinghurst in Kent. 

One of the sympathetic things about Jenrick is his love of history. When ConHome spoke to him during the Newark by-election, he “seemed reassuringly dull”, but

When asked who his political hero is, he became more animated, and vouchsafed that he is writing a book about the English Civil War, in which Newark played a prominent role: it was a royalist stronghold which was three times besieged unsuccessfully by the parliamentarians. The first siege was raised by no less a figure than Prince Rupert, the most dashing royalist of them all.

And Prince Rupert turns out to be Mr Jenrick’s hero. Beneath that somewhat impassive exterior perhaps there beats the heart of a true cavalier.

At Westminster, Jenrick remarked in his maiden speech that “there are, after all, no final victories in politics; all achievements, however hard won, can be and are undone.”

After the 2015 general election he became in rapid succession PPS to Esther McVey, Michael Gove, Liz Truss and Amber Rudd, before in January 2018 being appointed Exchequer Secretary by Theresa May.

He was climbing the ladder, and in the summer of 2019 he, Rishi Sunak and Oliver Dowden questioned Johnson for an hour at Jenrick’s house in Vincent Square, and at a well-judged moment put their names to a joint piece for The Times Red Box which appeared under the reasonably clear headline:

“The Tories are in deep trouble. Only Boris Johnson can save us.”

All three authors are now in the Cabinet. Jenrick has been lined up to carry out the radical reform of the planning system on which Johnson and Cummings are intent.

Will he still be in office to carry out this work? Johnson and Cummings have shown they do not like being pushed around by the newspapers, which are crawling over every planning decision in which Jenrick has been involved.

So perhaps he will hang on. He will need, however, to learn the art of sometimes saying no to people, including developers such as Desmond.