Tuesday, 11 March 2008

on Roy Jenkins

Roy Jenkins one of the dominant political figures in British politics, rising from ‘Baby of the House’ in 1948 to Home Secretary in 1965 and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1967 (and again in 1974). In 1976 he became the first and only British President of the European Commission until 1981. In these posts he expanded the concept of a fair, free an open society.
The most important act of his political career, I believe, came in 1981 when he as part of the Gang of Four split from the Labour party to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and he was elected in the 1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election as an SDP candidate. The Labour party were so worried, that they fielded their own candidate called Roy Jenkins to confuse voters (an early sign of Labour’s contempt for democracy). 28 Labour MPs and one Conservative MP later joined the party, thirsting for a new direction in British politics beyond the dichotomy of militant Thatcherism and militant Socialism.
The SDP-Liberal Alliance was formed in late 1981/early 1982 the first steps of the Liberal Democrats as we know it today. Achieving incredible by-election results, something that has stuck with the party today. At one point the party was at 50% in the polls resulting in the now infamous prediction by Liberal leader at the time Lord Steel "go back to your constituencies and prepare for government!" In 1983 Simon Hughes defeated Peter Tatchell in one of the safest Labour seats in Britain, a seat he still holds today (issues around the campaign of homophobia arose as Simon Hughes campaigned under the slogan the straight choice, however in 2003 Tatchell stated that the issue was at rest and publicly backed Hughes for Mayor of London).
The 1983 election, was the other election that could have been, with a poll rating above Labour and the Conservatives, at best the Liberal-SDP alliance could have formed a government and at worst could have become Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. However, in 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and following the subsequent military campaign and the recapturing of the islands Margaret Thatcher returned to power. The Alliance received 25% of the national vote, Labour received 28% but as a result of our lovely first past the post electoral system only 23 SDP-Liberal Alliance MPs were elected. The foundation of our call for proportional representation to elections was cemented at this stage.
As a result of infighting around questions of the merging of the two parties, public opinion towards the party dipped with Roy Jenkins losing his seat to Labour’s George Galloway in 1987 and he was appointed to the House of Lords where among other things he chaired the Independent Commission on the Voting System in 1998, a report which will become the source of my next post on Electoral reform.


Anthony 11 March 2008 at 15:44  

Please don't perpetuate the myth that Hughes campaigned as "The Straight Choice". This is nonsense.

His literature said "It's a straight choice between Simon Hughes and the Labour candidate" - a version of what many Lib Dems use today and a phrase that was in regular use. It may have been knowing, but please amend your post accordingly (even if only a footnote).

thechristophe 11 March 2008 at 19:31  

Anthony, I take your point, perhaps I shouldn't have focused on the line 'the straight choice' that was just pure coincidence and has perhaps been trumped up with the benefit of hindsight, but Simon himself also accepts that there was some element of homophobia in his campaign stating in an interview with the Pink News that "Sure, at the time, I said in public that the Daily Mail's campaign against Peter Tatchell was unfair. Peter hadn't come out at all during the campaign. I apologised to him during the campaign to his face and told him that I regretted what was happening."

Furthermore Tatchell himself has said "The Liberals fought a very dirty campaign during the Bermondsey by-election, some of their male canvassers went around the constituency wearing lapel stickers emblazoned with the words 'I've been kissed by Peter Tatchell', in a blatant bid to win the homophobic vote."

Apologies I wasn't attempting to imply that Simon ran a homophobic campaign, but just as Huhne got stung by "Calamity Clegg" being published by someone in his office, Simon perhaps got stung by someone in his own office.

The issue is buried now and Simon is one of my favourite MPs I had the pleasure of speaking to him last Christmas very genuine and friendly guy.

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