Neil Kinnock

From Academic Kids

Neil Gordon Kinnock, Baron Kinnock, PC (born March 28, 1942) is a British politician. He was an MP from 1970 to 1995, and was the leader of the Labour Party from 1983 to 1992, when he resigned after the 1992 general election defeat. He subsequently served as a member of the European Commission from 1995 until 2004, and is now head of the British Council.


Career Overview

Elected in 1970 as member for Bedwellty (later Islwyn), he became a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party in 1978. He was known as a left-winger, and gained renown for his outspoken attacks on Margaret Thatcher's handling of the Falklands War.

Nicknamed "the Welsh Windbag" by Private Eye magazine and "Kinocchio" by the Conservatives, he had the thankless task of leading the Labour Party during its so-called "unelectable" period. Although he was seen as very much the coming man when he succeeded his spectacularly unsuccessful predecessor, Michael Foot, he had a long and difficult path to bring the party back to its pre-Thatcher position. Kinnock was responsible for many of the early reforms to the party which were built upon by John Smith and Tony Blair until Labour was eventually re-elected in 1997. Some of his political speeches were later copied by American Senator, Joseph Biden, from Delaware.

Becomes Labour Party Leader

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 by Michael Foot in 1980. 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 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.

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 a direct confrontation with Scargill. 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 and 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. Kinnock's personal commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament also hurt the party as voters remained concerned about the intentions of the Soviet Union even under Gorbachev. 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 and in secret Labour's aim became to secure second place and secure 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 and easily took second place, with 35 per cent to the SDP-Liberal Alliance's 22 per cent. But Labour was still seven percentage points behind the Conservatives, who retained a three-figure majority in the House of Commons.

Later Years as Party Leader

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, showed how marginal the hard left had become and marked the opening period of extraordinary productive period of leadership.

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 a area in which he was seen as weak - and finally Conservative MPs voted to remove Thatcher as their leader, installing John Major. Public reaction to Major's elevation was highly positive - many voters clearly feeling that removing the Conservatives at a general election was now no longer necessary. A new Prime Minister and the fact that Kinnock was now the longest serving leader of a major party reduced the impact of calls for "Time For A Change".

In the 1992 election Labour made some progress - reducing the Conservative majority to just 21 but the reality was that Kinnock was doomed never to get to the promised land of Labour government (at least as party leader). However his legacy was a realistic commitment to party reform, a thorough purge of Trotskyist entryism and a solid platform for his successors.

Having inevitably lost the 1987 election, Kinnock remained party leader and was hot favourite to become prime minister in the months leading up to the 1992 election. It came as a shock to many when the Conservatives remained in power, but the perceived triumphalism of a Labour party rally in Sheffield may have contributed to putting off voters. 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. In the 1980s he helped set up the Institute for Public Policy Research and remains on its Advisory Council.

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, he was 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 will 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 1978 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.

Life Peerage

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 means that the Labour and Conservative parties are now equal in numbers in the upper house of Parliament.

BBC Article on his Introduction to the House (

Personal Life

He is married to Glenys Kinnock, MEP for Wales from 1999 to present and MEP for South Wales East from 1994 to 1999. The two met at university. They have two children, Stephen and Rachel. Stephen Kinnock is married to Helle Thorning-Schmidt who is the leader of the Danish Social Democrats political party.


A biography of Neil Kinnock written by Martin Westlake and Ian St. John has been published with (ISBN 0316848719).

Preceded by:
Michael Foot
Leader of the British Labour Party
Followed by:
John Smith
cy:Neil Kinnock

de:Neil Kinnock nl:Neil Kinnock sv:Neil Kinnock zh:尼尔·基诺克


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