Roy Jenkins

From Academic Kids

Roy Harris Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead, OM, PC (November 11, 1920January 5, 2003) was a British politician and a prominent Labour MP in the 1960s and 1970s, and founding member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).


Early life

Born in Abersychan, Monmouthshire in south-eastern Wales, as an only child. He was the son of an National Union of Mineworkers official, Arthur Jenkins, who was wrongly imprisoned during the 1926 General Strike for his supposed involvement in a riot, and later a MP, who was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Clement Attlee and briefly a minister in the 1945 government. His mother, Hattie Harris was the daughter of a local steelworks manager. Jenkins was educated at Abersychan County School, University College, Cardiff, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he took First Class Honours in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). University colleagues included Tony Crosland, Denis Healey, and Edward Heath. During World War II he served with the Royal Artillery and then at Bletchley Park. He married Jennifer Morris in 1945.

MP and Minister

Having previously failed to win in Solihull in 1945, he entered the British House of Commons in 1948 as representative for Southwark; owing to constituency boundary changes this seat was due to be abolished, however. In 1950 he became MP for Stetchford and represented the division until 1977. Jenkins was principal sponsor, in 1959, of the bill which became the Obscene Publications Act, which was responsible for establishing the liable to "deprave and corrupt" criteria as a basis for a prosecution of suspect material and literary merit as a defence.

At first Minister for Aviation in the Wilson government elected in 1964, he was Home Secretary from 1965 to 1967, where he was responsible for the relaxation of the laws relating to divorce, abolition of theatre censorship and gave government support to David Steel's Private Member's Bill for the legalisation of abortion and Leo Abse's bill for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Wilson, with his puritan background, was not especially sympathetic to these developments, however. Jenkins replied to public criticism by asserting that the so called permissive society was in reality the civilised society.

From 1967 to 1970 he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, replacing James Callaghan following the devaluation of the pound in November 1967. He quickly gained a reputation as a particularly tough Chancellor, although he was hesitant about increasing taxes and reducing expenditure. It is though, generally assumed that Labour's defeat in 1970 was partly the consequence of one month's bad trade figures announced a few days before the election and his delivery of a fiscally neutral Budget shortly before the election.

Jenkins was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party in July 1970, but resigned in 1972 over the party's European policy; his position had been undermined the previous year by his decision to lead sixty-nine Labour MPs through the division lobby in support of the Heath's government's motion to take Britain in to the (then) EEC.

When Labour returned to power he was made Home Secretary again, serving from 1974 to 1976. In this period he undermined his previous liberal credentials to some extent by pushing through the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, which, among other things, extended the length of time suspects could be held in custody and instituted exclusion orders.

President of the European Commission

Although he was tempted to challenge for leadership of Labour in March 1976 he instead was the first ever British subject to be President of the European Commission, succeeding François-Xavier Ortoli, remaining in Brussels until 1981.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP)

On November 22, 1979 Jenkins delivered the annual Dimbleby Lecture which he called "Home Thoughts from Abroad", detailing what he saw as the reasons for Britain's persistent underperformance as a failure of adaptability and the two party system. More importantly he advocated a new "radical centre" and called for a new political grouping. As one of the so-called "Gang of Four", he was a founder of the SDP in January 1981 with David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams. He led the new party from March 1982 until after the 1983 elections, and served as SDP MP for Glasgow Hillhead from 1982 to 1987.

In the House of Lords

From 1987, Jenkins remained in politics as a member of the House of Lords as Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. Also in 1987, Jenkins became Chancellor of Oxford University. In 1993, he was appointed to the Order of Merit. He was leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords until 1997. In December 1997 he was appointed chair of an independent commission, which became known as the "Jenkins Commission", to consider alternative voting systems for the UK. The Jenkins Commission reported in favour of a mixed system called "Alternative vote top-up" or "limited AMS" in October 1998. No action had been taken on this recommendation at the time of Jenkins' death from a heart attack in 2003.

Jenkins is the author of 19 books, including a biography of Gladstone (1995), which won the 1995 Whitbread Award for Biography, and a much-acclaimed biography of Winston Churchill (2001). His official biographer, Andrew Adonis, was to have finished the Churchill biography had Lord Jenkins not survived heart surgery he underwent towards the end of its writing.

Selected bibliography

  • Churchill: A Biography, Macmillan 2001, ISBN 0374123543.
  • Gladstone, Random House 2002, ISBN 0812966414.
  • A Life at the Centre, Macmillan 1992
  • European Diary 1977–81, HarperCollins 1991
  • Truman, HarperCollins 1986
  • Baldwin, HarperCollins 1984
  • Asquith, Collins 1964
  • Sir Charles Dike: A Victorian Tragedy, Collins 1959
  • Mr Balfour's Poodle, Collins 1954

Preceded by:
Sir Frank Soskice
Home Secretary
Succeeded by:
James Callaghan
Preceded by:
James Callaghan
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by:
Iain Macleod
Preceded by:
Robert Carr
Home Secretary
Succeeded by:
Merlyn Rees
Preceded by:
François-Xavier Ortoli
President of the European Commission
Succeeded by:
Gaston Thorn

Template:End boxcy:Roy Jenkins de:Roy Jenkins


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