Jennette Arnold


William Robinson Clarke

‘Politician who left her mark on City Hall’

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One of Jennette Arnold’s earliest memories is seeing the lava flowing down from the Soufriere Hills volcano in Montserrat, which would finally erupt in 1995 and devastate half the island including her own village of ‘Long Ground’.

Living in the shadow of a volcano gave her the get-up-and-go mentality that helped propel her into public life, above all as a member of the Greater London Assembly, where she was a formidable figure for 20 years.

“When you live with a volcano you tend to have a certain perspective on life, to be stoic and ready to start all over again. All Montserratians have it,” she says. She hails from a family of leading public servants. Her uncle, Howard Fergus, was a former acting governor of Montserrat, She grew up among people fighting for colonial freedom. Among her other formative influences was the fallout from Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers Of Blood’ speech,

“From an early age I was instilled with the message, ‘We are all created equal in the sight of God and, when you set your mind to a goal and work hard, you will be successful’. I have always been on the frontline, asking questions and wanting appropriate answers. It is not about getting up and talking, it is about raising issues.”

Born in 1949, she came to the UK at the age of four to join her mother, Miriam. An only child, she grew up in a loving household in Aston, Birmingham, which gave her a vital sense of belonging in the ‘cold and puzzling world’ in which she had arrived. It was, she says, the basis of her ‘never ending commitment’ to being in the heart of her community.

She trained as a nurse at Birmingham’s Dudley Road Hospital, where as a student midwife, she came across women who had undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), an experience that would see her one day become an activist against the damaging practice.

In 1987, she joined the Royal College of Nursing, taking on several senior roles, before launching herself into the world of politics, and becoming a Labour Councillor in the London borough of Islington in 1994.

When Soufriere Hills erupted, Jennette came into her own as a campaigner, successfully lobbying the government to allow those who had been forced to flee the island to settle permanently in the UK, a right it finally endorsed in 1998.

In 2000, Jennette was elected to the Greater London Assembly, and in 2008, taking over as Chair, a role she served for five terms. She finally stood down in 2021, having left an indelible mark on London life, most notably with her successful campaign to ban smoking in public places, which was taken up nationally in 2007.

Married with one son and a granddaughter, Jennette now splits her time between Islington and Shropshire and is as busy as ever, serving, among other things, as a trustee of Hereford College of Arts and environmental charity Global Action Plan.

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