Jennie Lee, Baroness Lee of Asheridge

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The Right Honourable
The Baroness Lee of Asheridge
Jennie Lee, Baroness Lee of Asheridge.jpg
Minister for the Arts
In office
Succeeded by David Eccles, 1st Viscount Eccles
Member of Parliament for Cannock
In office
Preceded by William Murdoch Adamson
Succeeded by Patrick Cormack
Member of Parliament for North Lanarkshire
In office
Preceded by Alexander Sprot
Succeeded by William Anstruther-Gray
Personal details
Born Janet Lee
(1904-11-03)3 November 1904
Fife, Scotland
Died 16 November 1988(1988-11-16) (aged 84)
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Aneurin Bevan
Alma mater University of Edinburgh

Jennie Lee, Baroness Lee of Asheridge PC (3 November 1904 – 16 November 1988) was a British socialist politician. Born Janet Lee in Lochgelly, in Fife, Scotland, to James Lee, a miner (who later gave up work in the mines to run a hotel), and Euphemia Grieg, she inherited her father's socialist inclinations, and like him joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP).[1] She later joined the Labour Party, and served as an MP from 1929 to 1931 and from 1945 to 1970.

First term as MP[edit]

Lee graduated from the University of Edinburgh and worked as a teacher in Cowdenbeath before being adopted the ILP candidate for the North Lanarkshire constituency, which she won at a 1929 by-election and at the subsequent 1929 general election, becoming the youngest member of the House of Commons. Immediately she was in conflict with the Labour Party's leadership in the commons. She insisted on being sponsored by Robert Smillie and her old friend James Maxton to be introduced to the Commons, rather than by the leadership's preferred choice of sponsors.

Lee's first speech was an attack on the budget proposals of Winston Churchill and met even with his approval, with him offering his congratulations after their exchange in the Commons. Lee forged a parliamentary reputation as a left-winger, allying herself to Maxton and the other ILP members. She was totally opposed to Ramsay MacDonald's decision to form a coalition National Government, and in the 1931 general election lost her seat in parliament to Unionist candidate William Anstruther-Gray.

Out of the Commons[edit]

In her private life at the time she had formed a close relationship with fellow Labour MP Edward Frank Wise, a married man who considered divorcing his wife for Lee, but who did not do so in the end. Wise died in 1933 and the following year Lee married the left-wing Welsh Labour MP Aneurin Bevan, with whom she remained until his death in 1960.

Despite being out of the Commons Lee remained active politically, trying to secure British support for the Spanish Popular Front government under threat from Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. She also remained active inside the ILP and took their side in their split from the Labour Party, a decision that did not meet with her husband's approval. She attempted re-election in North Lanarkshire at the 1935 general election, coming second behind Anstruther-Gray but ahead of the Labour Party's candidate. She similarly unsuccessfully sought to re-enter Parliament as an "Independent Labour" candidate in a 1943 by-election at Bristol Central, being defeated by the Conservative Lady Apsley.


She later returned to the Labour Party from the ILP, and at the 1945 general election she was once again elected to the Commons, this time to represent the Cannock constituency in Staffordshire. She remained a convinced left-winger, and this brought her sometimes into opposition with even her own husband, with whom she usually agreed politically. Lee was critical of Bevan for his support of the UK acquiring a nuclear deterrent, something she did not support.

She was appointed Minister for the Arts in Harold Wilson's government of 1964 and played a key role in the formation of the Open University, an act described by Wilson as the greatest of his time in government. Lee renewed the charter of the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1967 which saw an expansion of its work in the regions as well of the creation of the new arts institutions at London's South Bank Centre. She also introduced the only UK White Paper for the Arts and following the 1967 reshuffle was promoted to Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science after two years as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. Between 1964 and 1965 Lee had been Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Public Building and Works.

Retirement and later life[edit]

Lee was defeated at the 1970 election in Cannock by the Conservative candidate Patrick Cormack. She retired from front-line politics when she was made Baroness Lee of Asheridge, of the City of Westminster on 5 November 1970.[2]

She died in 1988 from natural causes at the age of 84.

Jennie Lee bequeathed her personal papers to the Open University.[3]


A community resource centre in Wednesfield, which formed part of Lee's Cannock constituency, was named the "Jennie Lee Centre" in her honour. It opened in a former secondary school in 1989, the year after Lee's death, and closed in 2013.[4]

In 2005, the Students' Association of the newly created Adam Smith College in Kirkcaldy, Fife refused to name themselves after Adam Smith, and instead chose the name "Jennie Lee Students' Association". The Association claimed Adam Smith is synonymous with "exploitation and greed" and stated "Jennie Lee would be an excellent role model for the students because of the courage and conviction she showed in achieving the aims she believed passionately in".[5]


External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Alexander Sprot
Member of Parliament for North Lanarkshire
Succeeded by
William Anstruther-Gray
Preceded by
William Murdoch Adamson
Member of Parliament for Cannock
Succeeded by
Patrick Cormack
Political offices
Preceded by
New Post
Minister for the Arts
Succeeded by
David Eccles, 1st Viscount Eccles