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Obituary: Lord Jenkins of Hillhead | Politics | The Guardian
Boek, ebook of luisterboek? Boek Ebook. Geschiedenis 6. Engels 8. Wat voor type boek zoek je? Boek 6. Yet style was less important than substance. As home secretary, Jenkins epitomised the mood of s Britain, in revolt against stuffy conservatism and insularity. No doubt, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and abortion - the two great reforms of his time in office - were bound to come.
In any case, they were achieved through private members' bills, not government measures. But without Jenkin's adroit and resolute support in the background, the bills would never have reached the statute book. The Treasury was a harder row to hoe. There, Jenkins's task was as simple as it was forbidding.
After three years spent clinging to an overvalued exchange rate, the government had, in , been forced to devalue. As Jenkins knew better than most, it had done so at the wrong time and in the wrong way.
But that was now irrelevant; all that mattered was to make devaluation work - a task that required a policy of Crippsian austerity, followed with unyielding determination until the balance of payments moved into the black. The will was there; and, albeit with aching slowness, the balance-of-payments fruits came forth. When the government went to the country in the summer of , "surplus Jenkins" was Labour's greatest electoral asset.
The party lost, but when the new House of Commons assembled, he was triumphantly elected as Labour's deputy leader, under Harold Wilson. It seemed only a matter of time before he inherited the leadership, and after that, the prime ministership. It was not to be. As things turned out, the deputy leadership election marked a watershed - not only for Jenkins, but for British politics in general. Hitherto, he had been an insider: a wielder of power and taker of decisions.
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But, unrecognised by him, the system was beginning to dissolve. The long, postwar boom was spluttering to an end. The Keynesian social-democratic consensus was beginning to fragment - and, in an extraordinary display of doctrinal recidivism, both great parties were retreating to the dogmatisms of the past. For Jenkins, the inside track was gradually closed off. To remain true to himself, he had to become an outsider, a radical rather than a whig. And to become an effective outsider, he had to unlearn the habits and assumptions of a political lifetime.
His tragedy - and the tragedy of the British centre-left - is that he never quite completed the transition. Yet, by one of the greatest paradoxes of his career, he was to become a more significant force in British and European politics in the unhappy, sometimes anguished, years when he was shifting to the outside track than he had been as the eagerly rising insider of the s. The shift began with his defiant refusal to bow to the anti-Europeanism that engulfed Labour in the early s.
He saw that if he abandoned his European commitment, he would destroy the reputation for integrity that was his greatest political asset. He also saw that he would not be able to live with himself. Above all, he saw that he would betray his conception of political leadership, and deny the sense of history that underpinned it - that, in one of his favourite condemnatory phrases, he would be "falling below the level of events".
So, in the decisive vote on the principle of British entry into Europe in , Jenkins led 68 pro-European Labour MPs into the Conservative government lobby, defying a three-line whip and a five-to-one vote at Labour's annual conference. It was the most spectacular party split since the second world war, but it gave the European cause a cushion of moral authority without which it would almost certainly have foundered.
The sequel was sadly anti-climactic. In a moment of weakness, which he later regretted, Jenkins stood again for the deputy leadership. On the second ballot, he narrowly beat Michael Foot, only to resign six months later, in March ; he felt that the shadow cabinet's support for a referendum on Britain's European membership implied wings of the party campaigning against each other in the country, making life impossible for pro-European MPs. When Labour unexpectedly won the election, Jenkins returned glumly to the Home Office, but he felt increasingly out of place in a cabinet that seemed to him incapable of standing up to either the unions or the Labour left.
In the summer of , he led the "yes" campaign in the referendum on community membership to a two-to-one victory, but it was only a momentary shaft of light in the encircling gloom. When Wilson retired from office in , he came third in the first ballot for the leadership, behind Foot and James Callaghan: sensing that Labour MPs were in no mood to forgive the splitter of five years before, he then withdrew, and Callaghan won the second ballot.
But Jenkins's consolation prize turned out to be more substantial than it seemed at the time. In January , he left Westminster for four years as president of the European Commission in Brussels. Soon after arriving, he told me that he dreamed of the House of Commons every night, and I doubt he was ever at ease with the Byzantine politics of the Berlaymont building.
Yet during his Brussels years, Jenkins left a more enduring mark on European politics than had any British politician since Ernest Bevin. Two achievements stand out. First, he slowly managed to reassert the political role of the commission and its president - reversing the slide in their authority which had continued since de Gaulle clipped the wings of the first president, Walter Hallstein, in the mids.
Putting it on
This meant little to the general public, but was critically important for Europe's future. European integration is a quintessentially political process; it cannot make progress without a strong and politically authoritative commission. Had Jenkins been content with the technocratic role of his immediate predecessors, the much more spectacular activism of the Delors presidency in the s would have been impossible.
Jenkins's second Brussels achievement was less arcane. With a mixture of boldness and adroit diplomacy, he put the project of European monetary union - moribund since the currency upheavals of the mids - back on the agenda. After much persuasion, an initially sceptical Helmut Schmidt was converted, not to fullscale monetary union, but at least to the creation of a zone of currency stability in Europe. The result was the European monetary system, which laid the foundations for the European Single Act of , the European Union of the s, and the single currency of today.
Jenkins's commission stint had another result as well. From his Berlaymont eyrie, he could survey the British scene - and even take judicious soundings on the way in which it was developing - while preserving an enigmatic silence about his own intentions. He was increasingly appalled by what he saw. A tide of sectarian bitterness seemed to be sweeping across British politics, engulfing the Labour party he had once hoped to lead, and endangering everything he stood for. Like a veteran warhorse scenting gunpowder, he slowly sensed there was a battle in the offing, from which he could not stand aside.
He broke his silence in the BBC Dimbleby lecture, appealing to the "radical centre" to save the country from the sterilities of left and right. Few political speeches have had a more electric impact. Jenkins had thought the unthinkable - and said it. In doing so, he transformed the framework of Labour party debate and, still more, the framework of possibility within which its beleaguered social democrats imagined their future.
For the first time since the split, a senior Labour politician had defied the taboo that made the very idea of secession to the centre inconceivable. And once the taboo was broken, others started to think the unthinkable as well. Like a slow-burning fuse, the lecture took time to produce results. In a sensational byelection that summer, Jenkins narrowly missed capturing Warrington, one of Labour's safest seats, for the new party. In March , he was elected for Glasgow Hillhead, after a campaign of packed public meetings reminiscent of the age of Gladstone and Lloyd George.