Roy Jenkins, 1920-2003, UK politican.


Jenkins was brought up in south Wales, his father Arthur Jenkins was a miner and later a Labour MP. He went to study at Oxford University, gaining a first in PPE. During World War II Jenkins spent time working as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park.

After the War, Jenkins worked briefly as a banker before following his father into politics, and entered the House of Commons in 1948 as a Labour MP for the seat of Central Southwark. Boundary changes would remove the Southwark seat at the 1950 General Election, but Jenkins obtained a safe seat in Birmingham Stechford, which he would hold until 1977.

The Labour party remained out of Government until the successful 1964 General Election, and Jenkins was appointed Minister of Aviation. He was promoted to Home Secretary in 1965, and during his time in this position several notable reforms were achieved. Laws banning homosexuality and abortion were relaxed (through Private Members' Bills), the divorce laws were liberalised and the powers of censors were reduced. Promotion beckoned again in 1967, after the forced devaluation of the pound, Jenkins was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Labour lost power in 1970, and back in opposition Jenkins was elected deputy leader of the Labour party. But the party became split over the issue of joining the common market, and Jenkins defied a three-line whip and backed the Conservatives on the issue. This incident led to Jenkins losing the deputy leadership, and the support of many in the party for any future leadership bid.

Labour won power back in 1974, and Jenkins returned to the position of Home Secretary, and led the successful 'yes' campaign in the referendum to decide whether the UK should remain in the EC. He ran for leadership of the Labour party after Harold Wilson resigned in 1976, but came third behind James Callaghan and Michael Foot. Next year Jenkins left the House of Commons to start a 4 year-term as President of the European Commission in Brussels, the first (and to date only) British citizen to hold the position.

It was in this position that Jenkins started to push for the idea of a single European Monetary System, setting in place the apparatus for the Euro of today.

Social Democrat

On return from Europe in 1981, Jenkins fearful of the leftward lurch of the Labour party under Michael Foot, joined with three other Labour MPs, Bill Rodgers, David Owen and Shirley Williams, to set up a new party - the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Derided as the gang of four, Jenkins narrowly missed obtaining the safe Labour seat of Warrington in 1981. Jenkins was elected leader of the party in 1982 and triumphantly returned to the House of Commons as MP for Glasgow Hillhead. But this was the high mark for the new party.

The SDP formed an Alliance with the Liberal party in the 1983 General Election, but despite winning a quarter of the popular vote, the first past the post system meant the Alliance only won 17 seats. Jenkins resigned his leadership and the SDP floundered on under the leadership of David Owen. The party was all but obliterated at the 1987 General Election, and Jenkins lost his seat, and the SDP was amalgamated with the Liberals into the new Liberal Democrat Party.

Liberal Democrat

Jenkins was given a life peerage, becoming Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and found himself both leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords and Chancellor of Oxford University. He wrote a number of books, an autobiography entitled 'A Life at the Centre' and acclaimed biographies of William Gladstone and Winston Churchill.

His relationship with Tony Blair whose New Labour could be seen as modelled on the SDP, was better than many of his peers who remained in the party, and Jenkins began to advocate a Lib-Lab pact that would keep the Conservatives out of power. This mutual admiration society grew shaky after Blair gave Jenkins the task of heading a Royal Commission into Electoral Reform. Jenkins report was published in 1998 and was strongly in favour of introducing proportional representation and creating an elected House of Lords. But Blair ignored the commission and began to reduce links with the Liberal Democrats. Jenkins disillusions grew and before his death dismissed Blair as a "second-class mind".

Jenkins died of a heart attack on January 5, 2003.

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