Here, in my occasional series about those I am pleased to call “deadhead MPs”, I now feature Justin Tomlinson MP [Con, North Swindon]. Tomlinson is unique —so far— in terms of this series, in that he has actually achieved junior ministerial rank (appointed junior minister at the DWP). [*Note: I have previously written about Kate Osamor MP, but until she resigned she was only in the Shadow Cabinet and has never been in government].
As on previous occasions in this series, this MP’s academic and work background do not inspire confidence. His family origins seem obscure. Having been born in Blackburn, Lancs, in 1976, he attended a comprehensive school in Kidderminster, Worcs, before reading History and Politics at Oxford Brookes University (the former Oxford Poly).
Arguably bizarrely, Tomlinson’s only known employed position was as manager of a small nightclub known as Eros, in Swindon: see Notes, below (the photographs show scenes every bit as ghastly as expected, a strange mish-mash of provincial, cheesy, decadent and humdrum. Forget Cabaret, think The Office).
It must remain a mystery as to why Tomlinson, a son of either Lancashire or Worcestershire, and then a student in Oxfordshire, relocated yet further South to Wiltshire. Was the Swindon job (as manager of “Eros”) the only one he could get?
We are asked to believe that Tomlinson also “ran a small marketing business” called TB Marketing Solutions Ltd at the same time (c.2000-c.2010). It must have been “small” indeed. The Companies House accounts summary shows the company’s net worth in 2011 at only £66,000. It seems to have had, at any one time, only one director other than Tomlinson, as well as a company secretary, and to have operated from a privately-owned or rented flat in Swindon. It was dissolved in or shortly after 2011. Still, something to add to the CV, I suppose…
Tomlinson may be short on background but he is certainly not lacking self-confidence, having when a student placed a bet on himself to become Prime Minister!
“Chris Kelly and Justin Tomlinson stand to collect £500,000 from William Hill should either become prime minister before 2038. Tomlinson placed two £50 bets at 10,000/1 when the pair were at university. Both are already Conservative MPs.” [BBC, in 2012]
Chris Kelly stood down as MP in 2015 (returning to his family’s Midlands truck-rental business), which is a pity in that he might have made a good “deadhead MP” for this series, were I able to find anything even slightly interesting to say about him.
Back to Tomlinson. He was a local councillor for several years prior to being selected then elected as MP for North Swindon, one of the two constituencies in the town.
Some highlights from Tomlinson’s Parliamentary career
- “In May 2015, it was reported by The Huffington Post that his appointment as Minister for Disabled People was controversial as he had previously voted against protecting the benefits of disabled children and those undergoing cancer treatment.” [Wikipedia];
- “Tomlinson faced calls for his resignation in October 2015 after it was reported that he had leaked information from the Public Accounts committee regarding regulation of short term high cost credit “payday lenders” to Wonga.com back in 2013. Tomlinson accepted he had broken the rules and apologised, stating that his “strongly-held belief that action needed to be taken on payday lenders” had caused his “judgement to be clouded”. Tomlinson arranged £30,000 of sponsorship for Swindon Supermarine F.C., a local football team by the same payday lender wonga.com. The football club’s chairman, Jez Webb, has made donations of £30,218 to both Tomlinson’s and local Conservative Party funds since 2014. Webb stated that he donated in a personal capacity and that the very similar amounts “were coincidental.” Tomlinson was subsequently accused of trying to remove references to previous links to Wonga from his website, including the arrangement of a sponsorship deal with Swindon Supermarine F.C. in 2011.” [Wikipedia];
- Tomlinson, 42, employs his personal partner, Katie Bennett, 28, as his office manager, on a salary of £50,000 p.a.; Tomlinson was married from 2012-2016 to another lady but is now divorced;
- “Tomlinson leaked a draft of a public accounts committee report on the credit industry to someone he knew who worked for payday lender, Wonga. And when that person emailed four suggested amendments back, Tomlinson had forwarded them virtually word for word on to the Committee as if they were his own.” [The Guardian];
- “In November 2018, Tomlinson again sparked controversy, this time by suggesting that families facing penury under the Universal Credit scheme initiated by the Conservative governments of 2010-2018 should “take in a lodger.”
“Tomlinson was apparently unaware that [even discounting the fact that few such families have spare rooms], both private and other (e.g. local council and housing association) leases prohibit any form of sub-letting.” [Evening Standard].
Considered to be a “bellwether” constituency, North Swindon has, since its creation in 1997, always followed the national trend. Tomlinson was elected for North Swindon in 2010, receiving a 44.6% vote share (Lab 30.5%). In 2015, the Conservative vote share was 50.3% (Lab 27.8%) and in 2017, 53.6 (Lab 38.4%). In other words, Labour are creeping back but were still well behind in 2017.
Tomlinson has consistently voted for Leave/Brexit, which may help him hang on.
Tomlinson’s vote in numbers was just under 30,000 in 2017, and his majority about 8,000. If, as a recent opinion poll claimed, half those who voted Conservative in 2017 are not going to vote Con in any 2019 General Election, that would reduce Tomlinson’s likely vote to about 15,000 and render the election of another candidate, probably the Labour one, likely. Labour got over 21,000 votes in 2017.
Well, there he is, voters of North Swindon— your deadhead MP. If you want to kick him out, the only lawful way is to vote for Labour or, if it stands, Brexit Party, next time.
Below, Justin Tomlinson’s one-time milieu, Eros nightclub, Swindon, in 2002:
Update, 7 May 2019
Below, Tomlinson making himself look stupid and nasty again…
Update, 30 May 2020
In the end, Tomlinson held on at North Swindon rather easily. Nigel Farage stabbed his Brexit Party and its candidates (and supporters) in the back; Brexit Party candidates in Conservative Party-held seats (even where the sitting MP was a Remain partisan) were all stood down so that the Conservative Party could win the General Election of late 2019. Tomlinson thus faced no danger that much of his vote would defect to Brexit Party.
Not that the absence of Brexit Party materially altered the result. Labour’s vote slid substantially, and Tomlinson was re-elected by a majority double that which he had achieved in 2017, both in absolute and percentage terms (majority in 2017 was 8,335; in 2019, 16,171).
His vote share in 2019 was 59.1% (2017: 53.6%); pretty convincing by any standards.
Tomlinson continues as Minister of State (i.e. junior minister) at the DWP, the post he has held since April 2019.
Update, 9 August 2022
Tomlinson was sacked as junior minister in a Government reshuffle of September 2021.
“In February 2022 Tomlinson was accused of bullying and sending inappropriate “unprofessional” and “belittling” messages to employees at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.“
Tomlinson must have blagged plenty of money since 2010 in terms of pay, expenses, and “consultancy fees” from Wonga etc. He may need those monies. On present opinion polling, the bellwether seat of Swindon North may jettison him at the next general election.