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Neil Gordon Kinnock, Baron Kinnock of Bedwellty (born 28 March 1942) is a Welsh Labour politician, who was a Member of Parliament from 1970 to 1995, and was the Leader of the Opposition from 1983 to 1992, when he resigned after being defeated in the 1992 general election. Kinnock is seen as the last leader to preside over "Old Labour" before his successor John Smith began the party's transition to a more moderate ideological direction. He served as a UK Commissioner of the European Commissionmarker from 1995 until 2004, and is now Chairman of the British Council. Kinnock served as President of Cardiff Universitymarker from 1998 until 2009.

Early life

Kinnock, an only child, was born in Tredegarmarker, Walesmarker. His father Gordon Herbert Kinnock was a coal miner who suffered from dermatitis and had to find work as a labourer; and his mother Mary Kinnock was a district nurse. Gordon died in November 1971 aged 64, and Mary died the following month aged 61.

In 1953, Kinnock went to Lewis School, Pengammarker from where he won a place to University College of South Wales and Monmouthshiremarker, obtaining a degree (his second attempt) in industrial relations and history in 1965. A year later, Kinnock obtained a postgraduate diploma in education. Between August 1966 and May 1970, he worked as a tutor for a Workers' Educational Association (WEA).

He married Glenys Parry in 1967 and they have two children - a son Stephen who was born in 1969, and a daughter Rachel who was born in 1971. They now have four grandchildren.

Member of Parliament

In June 1969 he won the Labour Party nomination for the constituency of Bedwellty in Wales (later Islwynmarker). 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. Calling himself a 'unionist', Kinnock was one of six south Wales Labour MPs to campaign against devolution on centralist, essentially British-nationalist grounds. He dismissed the idea of a Welsh identity, saying that "between the mid-sixteenth century and the mid-eighteenth century Wales had practically no history at all, and even before that it was the history of rural brigands who have been ennobled by being called princes". In the Wales referendum, 1979, the proposal for devolution was rejected.

Following Labour's defeat in the 1979 General Election, James Callaghan appointed Neil Kinnock 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

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 "Tribune" left of the party, he parted company with many of his previous allies after 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 members' 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 :

The strike's defeat and the rise of the Militant tendency were the immediate background for 1985's Labour conference in Bournemouthmarker. Kinnock attacked the Militant-dominated Liverpool City Council. The passage of his speech referring to Militant and Liverpoolmarker is one of the most famous of any post-war British politician's:

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 Ormemarker in Llandudnomarker (so emphasising his appeal as a family man and associating him with images of Wales away from the coalmining communities where he grew up), and a speech to that year's Welsh Labour Party conference asking why he was the "first Kinnock in a thousand generations" to go to university.

Former Delaware Senator, presidential candidate and future Vice President of the United States Joe Biden was so impressed with Kinnock's speech that he borrowed lines from it in his own campaign speeches in the summer of 1987. Biden sometimes attributed his words to Kinnock, but notably did not in a speech at a Democratic debate in Iowamarker in August 1987, a mistake that led to Biden's withdrawal from the race a month later.

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 Commonsmarker. However, the Conservative government's majority had come down from 144 in 1983 to 102. Labour won extra seats in Scotland, Wales and Northern England, but lost ground particularly in Southern England and London. Nevertheless, the party still made a net gain in seats.

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 Tendency, 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 rather than public ownership. At the same time the commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament was dropped, and reforms of Party Conference and the National Executive meant that local parties lost much of their ability to influence policy.

In 1988, Kinnock was challenged by Tony Benn for the party leadership. Later many identified this as a particularly 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 won a decisive victory over Benn.

The policy review - reporting in 1989 - coincided with Labour's move ahead in the polls as the poll tax row was destroying Conservative support, and Labour won big victories in local by-elections. Kinnock was also perceived as scoring in debates over 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, backbenches and retirement

Famous Sun headline
In the 1992 election, Labour made considerable progress - reducing the Conservative majority 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 helpedput voters off. (Although most of those directly involved in the campaign believe that the rally really came to widespread attention only after the election itself).

On the day of the general 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.

In the three years leading up to the 1992 election, Labour had constantly topped the opinion polls, with 1991 seeing the Tories (rejuvenated by the arrival of a new leader in John Major the previous November) snatch the lead off Labour more than once before Labour regained it. Kinnock had spent all of 1991 putting pressure on Major to hold the election that year, but Major had held out and insisted that there would be no general election in 1991.

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 the 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.

He remains on the Advisory Council of the Institute for Public Policy Research, which he helped set up in the 1980s.

European Union Commissioner

Kinnock was appointed one of Britain's two members of the European Commissionmarker, which he served first as Transport Commissioner under President Jacques Santer. He was obliged to resign as part of the forced, collective resignation of the Commission in 1999, but there was never any suggestion that he himself had done anything corrupt. He was re-appointed to the Commission under new President Romano Prodi. He now became one of the Vice-Presidents 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. During this second term of office on the Commission, he was responsible for introducing new staff regulations for EU officials, a significant feature of which was substantial salary cuts for everyone employed after 1 May 2004, reduced pension prospects for many others, and gradually worsening employment conditions. This made him disliked by many EU staff members, although the pressure on budgets that largely drove these changes had actually been imposed on the Commission from above by the Member States in Council.

In February 2004 it was announced that with effect from 1 November 2004 Kinnock would become head of the British Council. At the same time his son Stephen Kinnock was to become head of the British Council branch in St. Petersburg, Russiamarker. 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 Commonsmarker, 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.

Life peerage

He was introduced to the House of Lordsmarker 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 Lordsmarker, and his acceptance of a peerage led him to be accused of hypocrisy, by Will Self, among others.

Biden incident

Kinnock gained attention in the United States in 1987 when it was discovered that then-Senator Joe Biden of Delawaremarker quoted one of Kinnock's speeches while forgetting to credit him during Biden 's 1988 presidential campaign. This led to Biden's withdrawing from the race.

Biden later became Vice President of the United States; on 18 January 2009 Glenys Kinnock revealed on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that she and Neil Kinnock had received a personal invitation from Biden to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama and Biden on 20 January 2009 at the United States Capitolmarker in Washingtonmarker.

Personal life

He is married to Glenys Kinnock, currently Minister for Europe, and formerly Labour Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Wales from 1999 to 2009, and MEP for South Wales East from 1994 to 1999. The two met while studying at University College, Cardiffmarker, where they were known as "the power and the glory" (Glenys the power), and they married on 25 March 1967. Previously living together in Peterston-Super-Elymarker, a village near the western outskirts of Cardiffmarker, in 2008 they moved to Tufnell Parkmarker, London, to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren

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. He is assistant director of the British Council, which is chaired by his father, in Sierra Leonemarker. Rachel works in the Political Office at 10 Downing Streetmarker under Gordon Brown.

In 1984 Neil Kinnock appeared in the video for the Tracey Ullman song "My Guy" as a someone with a clipboard canvassing on a council estate. The record reached #23 in the charts.

Before university, Kinnock attended Lewis School, Pengammarker, which he later 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, west of London.

Kinnock is an agnostic.


Nicknamed "the Welsh Windbag" by Private Eyemarker magazine, an image repeated on Spitting Image, and "Kinocchio" by the Conservatives, he had the task of leading the Labour Party during a protracted period out of government. Private Eye also ran a comic strip "Dan Dire: Pilot of the future?". This was based on the comic character Dan Dare, and one in which the hapless space pilot's adventures were based on the political misfortunes of Kinnock.

Styles and Titles

  • Neil Kinnock, Esq. (1942–1970)
  • Neil Kinnock, Esq., MP (1970–1983)
  • The Rt. Hon. Neil Kinnock MP (1983–1995)
  • The Rt. Hon. Neil Kinnock (1995–2005)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Kinnock PC (2005–)

Further reading

  • Martin Westlake and Ian St. John, Kinnock, Little Brown Book Group Limited, 2001. ISBN 0-316-84871-9.
  • Peter Kellner, essay on Neil Kinnock in G. Rosen (ed.), Dictionary of Labour Biography, Politicos Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1902301188
  • Michael Leapman, Kinnock, Unwin Hyman, 1987.
  • George Drower, Neil Kinnock: The Path to Leadership, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1984.
  • Greg Rosen, Old Labour to New, Politicos Publishing, 2005 (an account of the Labour Party before, during and after the Kinnock years). ISBN 1842750453
  • Patrick Wintour and Colin Hughes, Labour Rebuilt, Fourth Estate, 1990 (an account of Kinnock's modernisation of the Labour Party).


  1. Anthony King (ed.), British Political Opinion, 1937-2000: The Gallup Polls (Politico's, 2001), pp. 105-7.
  2. Notably when Kinnock appeared, as the guest presenter, in an episode of Have I Got News For You, on Friday 3 December 2004
  3. BBC Article on his Introduction to the House
  4. Camden New Journal, 10 January 2008, p.10.

External links

Offices held

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