Tory spouses hold 'Denis Club' meetings to help cope with losing friendships

Danielle Sheridan
The Denis Club is named after Margaret Thatcher’s husband
The Denis Club is named after Margaret Thatcher’s husband

The husbands of female Tory Peers and MPs have launched monthly "Denis Club" meetings to counsel one another over a pint.

Spouses say the bonding sessions, which are held over zoom, have become an increasingly useful "coping strategy" to deal with volatile attitudes towards politicians.

It comes as some men reveal how their partner's political careers have resulted in them losing friendships and being barred from local pubs.

One man told how his friends "had a go at him" in his local over his wife’s stance on free school meals, while another received death threats involving his family.

Known informally as the Denis Club, named after Margaret Thatcher’s husband, the meetings come as partners of female MPs say they have noticed an "uptick" in the level of abuse aimed at politicians in the last 12 months.

Baroness Jenkin - PA
Baroness Jenkin - PA

Baroness Jenkin, wife of Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, organised the first zoom call last week, which saw 14 spouses participate.

“I’m supporting a lot of the husbands because they are finding it very difficult,” she told The Daily Telegraph.

“I started this ‘blokes thing’ after several women MPs said 'my husband would feel more comforted if they knew other husbands were feeling the same'. 

"The sub plot (of the meetings) would be that they could explain how they felt.”

“I’m hoping they can have a pint on the zoom monthly. To know that you are not alone is very important.”

Baroness Jenkin, who this week celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Women2Win group, which campaigns to get more female MPs into the Tory party, said spouses sharing their experiences had never been more important.

“The brutality which we are experiencing, and may be permanent, is comparatively new,” Baroness Jenkin said.

She said this was no doubt compounded by the fact that there has not been a “normal parliament” for much of 2020 and so the ability for MPs to talk to each other in person, particularly new MPs from the 2019 intake, has been removed.

“We need to concentrate on retention of women but they get abused,” she said, adding this will impact bringing in “another generation”.

Gillian Keegan and her husband, Michael
Gillian Keegan and her husband, Michael

Writing in The Telegraph, Michael Keegan, husband of Gillian Keegan, the Tory minister for skills and apprenticeships, says the Denis Club is “particularly important as the political debate has coarsened in recent time”.

He adds that the group “allows us to share experiences and coping strategies with others who are in the same position”.

When the Women2Win group was established in 2005, there were 17 Tory women MPs, which represented  9pc of the parliamentary party.

Now, after fifteen years and four elections, this number has increased to 87, however the group’s founders have said it is “not enough”.

Mrs May, the former Prime Minister, told The Telegraph: “Women2Win have to keep providing the support they do because we’re not ready to take the food off the break and the growth of female representation to happen naturally.”