- Category : Political
- Type : PSP
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Split - Large
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Service 1
Neil Gordon Kinnock, Baron Kinnock (born 28 March 1942) is a British Labour Party politician. He served as a Member of Parliament from 1970 until 1995, first for Bedwellty and then for Islwyn. He was the Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition from 1983 until 1992, making him the longest-serving Leader of the Opposition in British political history to date, and the longest never to have become Prime Minister.
Following Labour's fourth consecutive defeat in the 1992 general election, Kinnock resigned as leader and resigned from the House of Commons three years later to become a European Commissioner. He went on to become the Vice-President of the European Commission under Romano Prodi from 1999 to 2004. Until the summer of 2009, he was also the Chairman of the British Council and the President of Cardiff University.
Kinnock, an only child, was born in Tredegar, Wales. His father Gordon Herbert Kinnock was a former coal miner who suffered from dermatitis and later worked as a labourer; and his mother Mary Kinnock was a district nurse. Gordon died of a heart attack in November 1971 aged 64; Mary died the following month aged 61.
In 1953, 11-year-old Kinnock began his secondary education at Lewis School, Pengam, which he later criticised for its record on caning in schools. He went on to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, obtaining a degree in industrial relations and history in 1965. A year later, Kinnock obtained a postgraduate diploma in education. Between August 1966 and May 1970, he worked as a tutor for a Workers' Educational Association (WEA).
He has been married to Glenys Kinnock since 1967. They have two children – son Stephen (born January 1970), and daughter Rachel (born 1971). They now have four grandchildren.Glenys has also served the Labour Party as a Member of European Parliament.
Member of Parliament
In June 1969 he won the Labour Party nomination for the constituency of Bedwellty in Wales (later Islwyn) for the following general election. He was elected on 18 June 1970 and became a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party in October 1978. On becoming an MP for the first time, his father said "Remember Neil, MP stands not just for Member of Parliament, but also for Man of Principle". Labour government policy at the time was in favour of devolution for Wales, but the wider party was split. Calling himself a 'unionist', Kinnock was one of six south Wales Labour MPs to campaign against devolution on centralist, essentially British-nationalist grounds. He dismissed the idea of a Welsh identity, saying that "between the mid-sixteenth century and the mid-eighteenth century Wales had practically no history at all, and even before that it was the history of rural brigands who have been ennobled by being called princes". In the Wales referendum, 1979, the proposal for devolution was rejected.
Following Labour's defeat in the 1979 general election, James Callaghan appointed Neil Kinnock to the Shadow Cabinet as Education spokesman. His ambition was noted by other MPs, and David Owen's opposition to the changes to the electoral college was thought to be motivated by the realisation that they would favour Kinnock's succession. He remained as Education spokesman following the resignation of Callaghan as party leader and the election of Michael Foot as his successor in late 1980.
He was known as a left-winger, and gained prominence for his attacks on Margaret Thatcher's handling of the Falklands War in 1982.
Leadership of the Labour Party
First period (1983–1987)
Neil Kinnock meeting leader of the Dutch Labour Party Joop den Uyl in 1984
After Labour's heavy election defeat in June 1983, the almost 70-year-old Michael Foot resigned as leader and from the outset it was expected that Kinnock would succeed him. He was finally elected as Labour Party leader on 2 October 1983, with 71% of the vote, and Roy Hattersley was elected as his deputy; their prospective partnership was considered to be a 'dream ticket'.
His first period as party leader – between the 1983 and 1987 elections – was dominated by his struggle with the hard left, then still strong in the party. Kinnock was determined to move the party's political standing to a centre-left position. Although Kinnock had come from the Tribune left of the party, he parted company with many of his former allies after his appointment to the shadow cabinet.
In 1981, when still Labour's Education spokesman, Kinnock was alleged to have effectively scuppered Tony Benn's attempt to replace Denis Healey as Labour's deputy leader by first supporting the candidacy of the more traditionalist Tribunite John Silkin and then urging Silkin supporters to abstain on the second, run-off, ballot.
All this meant that Kinnock had made plenty of enemies on the left by the time he was elected as leader, though a substantial number of former Bennites gave him strong backing. He was almost immediately in serious difficulty as a result of Arthur Scargill's decision to lead his union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) into a national strike (in opposition to pit closures) without a members' ballot. The NUM was widely regarded as the labour movement's praetorian guard and the strike convulsed the Labour movement. Kinnock supported the aim of the strike – which he famously dubbed the "case for coal" – but, as an MP from a mining area, was bitterly critical of the tactics employed. In 1985 he made his criticisms public in a speech to Labour's conference:
The strike wore on. The violence built up because the single tactic chosen was that of mass picketing, and so we saw policing on a scale and with a system that has never been seen in Britain before. The court actions came, and by the attitude to the court actions, the NUM leadership ensured that they would face crippling damages as a consequence. To the question: "How did this position arise?", the man from the lodge in my constituency said: "It arose because nobody really thought it out."
The strike's defeat early in the year, and the bad publicity associated with the entryism practised by the Militant tendency were the immediate background for the 1985 Labour Party conference. Earlier in the year left-wing councils had protested at Government restriction of their budgets by refusing to set budgets, resulting in a budget crisis in Militant-dominated Liverpool City Council. Kinnock attacked Militant and their conduct in Liverpool in one of the best remembered passages of any post-war British political speech:
I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council! – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. I'm telling you <amid a deafening chorus of boos>, I'm telling you, and you'll listen, you can't play politics with people's jobs and people's services.
One Liverpool MP, Eric Heffer, a member of the NEC left the conference stage in disgust at Kinnock's comments. In June 1986 the Labour Party finally expelled the deputy leader of Liverpool council, the high profile Militant supporter Derek Hatton, who was found guilty of "manipulating the rules of the district Labour party". By 1986, the party's position appeared to strengthen further with excellent local election results and a thorough rebranding of the party under the direction of Kinnock's director of communications Peter Mandelson. Labour, now sporting a continental social democratic style emblem of a rose, appeared to be able to run the governing Conservatives close, but Margaret Thatcher did not let Labour's makeover go unchallenged.
The Conservatives' 1986 conference was well-managed, and effectively relaunched the Conservatives as a party of radical free-market liberalism. Labour suffered from a persistent image of extremism, especially as Kinnock's campaign to root out Militant dragged on as figures on the hard left of the party tried to stop its progress. Opinion polls showed that voters favoured retaining Britain's nuclear weapons, (Labour's policy, supported by Kinnock, was of unilateral nuclear disarmament), and believed that the Conservatives would be better than Labour at defending the country.
1987 general election
In early 1987, Labour lost a by-election in Greenwich to the Social Democratic Party's Rosie Barnes. As a result, Labour faced the 1987 election in some danger of coming third in the popular vote. In secret, Labour's aim became to secure second place.
Labour fought a professional campaign that at one point scared the Tories into thinking they might lose. Mandelson and his team had revolutionised Labour's communications – a transformation symbolised by a party election broadcast popularly known as "Kinnock: The Movie". This was directed by Hugh Hudson and featured Kinnock's 1985 conference speech, and shots of him and Glenys walking on the Great Orme in Llandudno (so emphasising his appeal as a family man and associating him with images of Wales away from the coalmining communities where he grew up), and a speech to that year's Welsh Labour Party conference asking why he was the "first Kinnock in a thousand generations" to go to university.
Joe Biden, who was at the time the Delaware Senator and presidential candidate, and later the US Vice-President, plagiarised lines from the speech for his own campaign speeches in the summer of 1987.
On polling day, Labour easily took second place, but with only 31 per cent to the SDP-Liberal Alliance's 22 per cent. Labour was still more than ten percentage points behind the Conservatives, who retained a three-figure majority in the House of Commons. However, the Conservative government's majority had come down from 144 in 1983 to 102. Significantly, it had gained 20 seats at the election.
Labour won extra seats in Scotland, Wales and Northern England, but lost ground particularly in Southern England and London, where the Tories still dominated.
Second period (1987–1992)
A few months after the election, Kinnock gained brief attention in the United States in August 1987 when it was discovered that then-US senator Joe Biden of Delaware plagiarised one of Kinnock's speeches during his 1988 presidential campaign in a speech at a Democratic debate in Iowa. This led to Biden's withdrawing from the race.
The second period of Kinnock's leadership was dominated by his drive to reform the party's policies to gain office. This began with an exercise dubbed the policy review, the most high-profile aspect of which was a series of consultations with the public known as "Labour Listens" in the autumn of 1987.
After Labour Listens, the party went on, in 1988, to produce a new statement of aims and values—meant to supplement and supplant the formulation of Clause IV of the party's constitution (though, crucially, this was not actually replaced until 1995 under the leadership of Tony Blair) and was closely modelled on Anthony Crosland's social-democratic thinking—emphasising equality rather than public ownership. At the same time the commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament was dropped, and reforms of Party Conference and the National Executive meant that local parties lost much of their ability to influence policy.
In 1988, Kinnock was challenged by Tony Benn for the party leadership. Later many identified this as a particularly low period in Kinnock's leadership—as he appeared mired in internal battles after five years of leadership and the Conservatives still dominating the scene and ahead in the opinion polls. In the end, though, Kinnock won a decisive victory over Benn and would soon enjoy a substantial rise in support.
The policy review—reporting in 1989—coincided with Labour's move ahead in the polls as the poll tax row was destroying Conservative support, and Labour won big victories in local by-elections.
In December 1989, he abandoned the Labour policy on closed shops—a decision seen by many as a move away from traditional socialist policies to a more Europe-wide agenda, and also a move to rid the party of its image of being run by the unions.
Kinnock was also perceived as scoring in debates over Margaret Thatcher in the Commons—previously an area in which he was seen as weak—and finally Michael Heseltine challenged Thatcher's leadership and she resigned on 28 November 1990 to be succeeded by John Major. Kinnock greeted Thatcher's resignation by describing it as "very good news" and demanded an immediate general election.
Public reaction to Major's elevation was highly positive. A new Prime Minister and the fact that Kinnock was now current leader of a major party reduced the impact of calls for "Time for a Change". Neil Kinnock's showing in the opinion polls dipped; before Thatcher's resignation, Labour had been up to 10 points ahead of the Tories in the opinion polls (an Ipsos MORI poll in April 1990 had actually shown Labour more than 20 points ahead of the Tories), but many opinion polls were actually showing the Tories with more support than Labour, in spite of the deepening recession.
By now Militant had finally been routed in the party, and their two MPs were expelled at the end of 1991. The majority in the group were now disenchanted with entryism, and choose to function outside Labour's ranks, and to take advantage of opportunities created by Margaret Thatcher's unpopular 'poll tax'.
To conduct and supervise elections of members of the National Assembly and Local Authorities;
To conduct referenda;
To ensure that elections are conducted efficiently, properly, freely and fairly;
1992 general election, backbenches and retirement
In the three years leading up to the 1992 election, Labour had consistently topped the opinion polls, with 1991 seeing the Tories (rejuvenated by the arrival of a new leader in John Major the previous November) snatch the lead off Labour more than once before Labour regained it. Since Major's election as Conservative leader (and becoming Prime Minister), Kinnock had spent the end of 1990 and most of 1991 putting pressure on Major to hold the election that year, but Major had held out and insisted that there would be no general election in 1991. In the run-up to the election, held on 9 April 1992, most opinion polls had suggested that the election would end in a hung parliament or a narrow Labour majority.
In the 1992 election, Labour made considerable progress – reducing the Conservative majority to just 21 seats. It came as a shock to many when the Conservatives won a majority, but the "triumphalism" perceived by some observers of a Labour party rally in Sheffield (together with Kinnock's performance on the podium) may have helped put floating voters off. Although internal polls suggested no impact, while public polls suggested a decline in support had already occurred, most of those directly involved in the campaign believe that the rally really came to widespread attention only after the electoral defeat itself, with Kinnock himself changing his mind to a rejection of its negative impact over time.
On the day of the general election, The Sun newspaper ran an "infamous" front page featuring Kinnock (headline: 'If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights') that he blamed in his resignation speech for losing Labour the election, along with other newspapers who had backed the Conservatives in the run-up to the election. The following day's headline in The Sun was the triumphalist 'It's The Sun Wot Won It', which Rupert Murdoch, many years later at his April 2012 appearance before the Leveson Inquiry, stated was both "tasteless and wrong" and led to the editor Kelvin MacKenzie receiving a reprimand
The Labour supporting Daily Mirror had backed Kinnock in the 1987 election and again in 1992. Less expected was the Financial Times backing of Kinnock at the 1992 election.
Kinnock himself later claimed to have half-expected his defeat in the 1992 election and proceeded to turn himself into a media personality, even hosting a chat show on BBC Wales and twice appearing – with considerable success – on the topical panel show Have I Got News For You within a year of the defeat. Many years later, he returned to appear as a guest host of the programme.
Kinnock announced his resignation as Labour Party leader on 13 April 1992, ending eight and a half years in the role – making him the longest serving opposition leader in British political history. He had gained this distinction in November 1990, and no subsequent opposition party leader has yet matched this record. John Smith, previously Shadow Chancellor, was his successor as party leader.
He remains on the Advisory Council of the Institute for Public Policy Research, which he helped set up in the 1980s.
He was an enthusiastic supporter of Ed Miliband's campaign to lead the Labour Party in 2010, and was reported as telling activists, when Ed Miliband won, "We've got our party back".
European Union Commissioner
Kinnock was appointed one of Britain's two members of the European Commission, which he served first as Transport Commissioner under President Jacques Santer, in early 1995; marking the end of his 25 years in parliament. This came less than a year after the death of his successor as Labour leader John Smith and the election of Tony Blair as the party's new leader.
He was obliged to resign as part of the forced, collective resignation of the Commission in 1999, but there was never any suggestion that he himself had done anything corrupt. He was re-appointed to the Commission under new President Romano Prodi. He now became one of the Vice-Presidents of the European Commission, with responsibility for Administrative Reform and the Audit, Linguistics and Logistics Directorates General. His term of office as a Commissioner was due to expire on 30 October 2004, but was delayed owing to the withdrawal of the new Commissioners. During this second term of office on the Commission, he was responsible for introducing new staff regulations for EU officials, a significant feature of which was substantial salary cuts for everyone employed after 1 May 2004, reduced pension prospects for many others, and gradually worsening employment conditions. This made him disliked by many EU staff members, although the pressure on budgets that largely drove these changes had actually been imposed on the Commission from above by the Member States in Council.
In February 2004, it was announced that with effect from 1 November 2004 Kinnock would become head of the British Council. Coincidentally, at the same time, his son Stephen became head of the British Council branch in St. Petersburg, Russia. At the end of October, it was announced that he would become a member of the House of Lords (intending to be a working peer), when he was able to leave his EU responsibilities. In 1977, he had remained in the House of Commons, with Dennis Skinner, while other MPs walked to the Lords to hear the Queen's speech opening the new parliament. He had dismissed going to the Lords in recent interviews. Kinnock explained his change of attitude, despite the continuing presence of 90 hereditary peers and appointment by patronage, by asserting that the Lords was a good base for campaigning.
He was introduced to the House of Lords on 31 January 2005, after being created Baron Kinnock, of Bedwellty in the County of Gwent. On assuming his seat he stated, "I accepted the kind invitation to enter the House of Lords as a working peer for practical political reasons." When his peerage was first announced, he said, "It will give me the opportunity... to contribute to the national debate on issues like higher education, research, Europe and foreign policy." His peerage meant that the Labour and Conservative parties were equal in numbers in the upper house of Parliament (since then, the number of Labour members has overtaken the number of Conservative members). Kinnock was a long-time critic of the House of Lords, and his acceptance of a peerage led him to be accused of hypocrisy, by Will Self, among others.
He is married to Glenys Kinnock, Britain's Minister for Africa and the United Nations from 2009 to 2010, and a Labour Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 1994 to 2009. When she was made a life peer in 2009, they became one of the few couples to both hold titles in their own right. The two met while studying at University College, Cardiff, where they were known as "the power and the glory" (Glenys the power), and they married on 25 March 1967. Previously living together in Peterston-Super-Ely, a village near the western outskirts of Cardiff, in 2008 they moved to Tufnell Park, London, to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren.
They have a son, Stephen and a daughter, Rachel. Stephen is married to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark and leader of the Danish Social Democrats political party. He is assistant director of the British Council in Sierra Leone. Rachel worked in the Political Office at 10 Downing Street under Gordon Brown.
On 26 April 2006, Neil Kinnock was given a six-month driving ban after being found guilty of two speeding offences along the M4 motorway, west of London.
Neil Kinnock is a lifelong Cardiff City F.C. fan and regularly attends matches.
Kinnock is an agnostic.