Neil Gordon Kinnock, Baron Kinnock, PC (born 28 March 1942) is a British politician. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1970 to 1995, and was Leader of the Opposition and Labour Party leader from 1983 to 1992, when he resigned after the 1992 general election defeat.
He subsequently served as a UK Commissioner of the European Commission from 1995 until 2004, and is now Chair of the British Council. He is also President of Cardiff University.
Early life and education
Kinnock, an only child, was born in Tredegar, Wales, his father was a coal miner and his mother was a district nurse. In 1953 Kinnock won a place at the Lewis school in Pengam after passing the eleven-plus exam. He obtained three O-levels, in 1958, in English Language, History and Geography. He was going to leave school then and apply for jobs in the Coal Mines, the Police and the Army. His parents saw the forms though and made him change his mind. In 1959 Kinnock obtained five more O-levels, in Biology, Special Arithmetic, Welsh, Economics and English Literature. In 1961 Kinnock sat his A-levels, obtained two B-grades and a C-grade. He won a place at University College, Cardiff to sit a BA in industrial relations and history. He failed his final year in 1964 and had to resit, finally obtaining his degree in 1965. A year later, Kinnock obtained a postgraduate diploma in education, gaining a C for Teaching theory but a grade A for Teaching practice. Between August 1966 and May 1970 Kinnock worked as a Tutor for a WEA.
Early political career
In June 1969 he won the Labour Party nomination for the constituency of Bedwellty in South Wales (later Islwyn). 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. Kinnock was one of six south Wales Labour MPs to campaign against devolution. In the Wales referendum, 1979, the proposal for devolution was rejected. Following Labour's defeat in the 1979 General Election, James Callaghan appointed him 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 was known as a left-winger, and gained notoriety for his attacks on Margaret Thatcher's handling of the Falklands War.
Leadership of the Labour Party
Nicknamed "the Welsh Windbag" by Private Eye magazine, an image repeated on Spitting Image, and "Kinocchio" by the Conservatives, he had the thankless task of leading the Labour Party during a protracted period out of government.1
First period (1983 - 1987)
His first period as party leader—between the 1983 and 1987 elections—was dominated by his struggle with the hard left. Although Kinnock had come from the left of the party he parted company with many of his previous allies on his appointment to the shadow cabinet. In 1981, 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 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 widely regarded as the best he ever delivered stating:
“ 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 and the rise of the Militant tendency meant that 1985's Labour conference in Bournemouth should have been a disaster for Kinnock (as 1984's - in the middle of the strike - had been). Instead, by sheer force of personal will, Kinnock turned it into a triumph with a powerful attack on the Militant-dominated Liverpool City Council and the direct confrontation with Scargill referred to above. The passage of his speech referring to Militant and Liverpool is one of the most famous of any post-war British politician's:
“ 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. ”
In 1986, the party's position appeared to strengthen further with excellent 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 the Militants 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 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 with a good 35% of the vote - effectively cutting into the Tory majority but not yet in government.
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 coal mining communities where he grew up), and a speech to that year's Welsh Labour conference (that was later appropriated disastrously by Joe Biden) asking why he was the "first Kinnock in a thousand generations" to go to university.
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.
Second period (1987 - 1992)
The second period of Kinnock's leadership was dominated by his drive to reform the party's policies and so win power. 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 autumn 1987.
In organisational terms, the party leadership continued to battle with the Militant, though by now Militant was in retreat in the party and was simultaneously attracted by the opportunities to grow outside Labour's ranks - opportunities largely created by Margaret Thatcher's hugely unpopular poll tax.
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 and not public ownership.
In 1988, Kinnock was challenged by Tony Benn for the party leadership. Later many identified this as a particular 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. In the end, though, Kinnock's victory humiliated Benn.
The policy review - reporting in 1989 - saw Labour move ahead in the polls just as the poll tax row was destroying Conservative support and Labour won big victories in local by-elections. Kinnock also scored hits on Margaret Thatcher in the Commons - previously an area in which he was seen as weak - and finally Conservative MPs voted to remove Thatcher as their leader, after disagreements with her on Europe and the poll tax, installing John Major. Public reaction to Major's elevation was highly positive. A new Prime Minister and the fact that Kinnock became the longest serving current leader of a major party reduced the impact of calls for "Time for a Change".
1992 general election
In the 1992 election, Labour made considerable progress - reducing the Conservative majority from ??? to just 21 seats. It came as a shock to many when the Conservatives remained in power, but the perceived triumphalism of a Labour party rally in Sheffield (together with Kinnock's performance on the podium) may have contributed to putting off voters. (Although most of those directly involved in the campaign believe that the rally only really came to widespread attention following the election itself). On the day of the 1992 election, The Sun ran a famous 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.
Kinnock himself later claimed to have half-expected the loss and proceeded to turn himself into a media personality, even hosting a chat show on BBC Wales and twice appearing - with considerable success - on 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, though this was less memorable for the right reasons.
He remains on the Advisory Council of the Institute for Public Policy Research, which he helped set up in the 1980s.
European Union Commissioner
He was appointed one of Britain's two members of the European Commission, which he served as Transport Commissioner under Commission president Jacques Santer. Following the forced Santer Commission Resignation in 1999, Kinnock was also forced to resign prior to his being re-appointed to the Commission under new president Romano Prodi. He became vice-president of the European Commission, 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. On 20 February 2004 it was announced that with effect from 1 November 2004 he would become head of the British Council. 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, amongst others.
He is married to Glenys Kinnock, Labour Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Wales from 1999 to present, and MEP for South Wales East from 1994 to 1999. The two met while studying at University College, Cardiff and they married om 25 March 1967. They live together in Peterston-Super-Ely, a village near the western outskirts of Cardiff.
They have two children, Stephen and Rachel. Stephen is married to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is the leader of the Danish Social Democrats political party.
In 1984 he appeared in the video for the Tracy Ullman song "My Guy" as a someone with a clipboard canvassing on a council estate. The record reached #24 in the charts.
Before university, Kinnock attended Lewis School Pengam, which he criticised for its record on corporal punishment (caning).
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, Northwest of London.