Roy Jenkins: A well-rounded life

Summer 2014

Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life

by John Campbell

A heavyweight biography of one of the most influential British politicians of the twentieth century

A Labour Home Secretary (twice) and chancellor, Roy Jenkins was also president of the European Commission and a founder member of the SDP. This elegantly written biography is a must-read for four reasons.

First, Jenkins shows how big an impact a politician with vision, drive and commitment can have. Ground breaking legislation on race, equalities, homosexuality and capital punishment (the abolition thereof) was put onto the statute book on his watch.

Second, Jenkins’ career is a classic, maybe extreme, example of the highs and lows of political life. Understanding the roller coaster nature of politics is key to understanding politicians. Those of us who work with them must grasp that. This is a great case study.

Third, the story of the establishment of the SDP and the emergence of the Liberal Democrats from Jenkins’ perspective is a useful reminder of the history of the Lib Dems. This helps us understand the party today.

Finally, the importance of the European dimension. Europe was as seminal a factor in the politics of the Labour Party of Jenkins era as it is in today’s Conservative Party. It was a key factor in shaping his career and his role in creating the SDP. One thing is clear from this: it is not possible to be sure what impact the current European debate will have on the future of politics in this country.

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