Roy Jenkins by John Campbell

This excellent biography is the result of ample research into the life of a divisive politician. Jenkins steered vital liberal legislation through Parliament as a Labour Home Secretary. He was perceptive about the decline of the UK as an international power. However, he did participate in the disastrous splitting of the Labour Party during the 1980s. Further, he succumbed to the courtesy of Tony Blair and failed to achieve domestic constitutional reform.

At one time, the social legacy of Jenkins seemed assured. His reforms ushered in a tolerant era. In addition, his role in the European project appeared to have tied the UK into a prosperous club. It was therefore possible for some commentators to overlook the negative impact of his personal ambition on the progress of the British labour movement.

Unfortunately, the difficulties of the Eurozone, the ill-advised Brexit vote, and the disastrous election of Donald Trump have all thrown the values of Jenkins up in the air. The truth is that social liberalism requires an economic foundation to thrive. Without understanding solidarity, the left will always be too weak to fight the forces of reaction. Perhaps the late Tony Benn was best at summing up Jenkins after all:

“a man who had great talent, a great capacity for friendship, wildly ambitious, and who believed in maintaining the Establishment and the power of the Establishment, first in Britain and then in Europe.”

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