Roy Jenkins

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Roy Jenkins

Roy Harris Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead OM PC (11 November 19205 January 2003) was a British politician. First elected as a Labour Member of Parliament and becoming a liberalising Home Secretary in the 1960s, he subsequently became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Alarmed at the increasingly left-wing stance of the Labour Party, he went on to be one of the four principal founders of the centrist Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the early 1980s. He was also a distinguished writer, especially of biographies.


  • I am myself convinced that the existing law on abortion is uncertain and is also, and perhaps more importantly, harsh and archaic and that it is in urgent need of reform. I certainly shall have no hesitation in voting for the Second Reading of the Bill. I take this view because I believe that we have here a major social problem. How can anyone believe otherwise when perhaps as many as 100,000 illegal operations a year take place, that the present law has shown itself quite unable to deal with the problem? I believe this, too, because of the danger which exists at present to those who are forced to resort to back-street abortionists and to the misery which is caused to some of those who fail to get an abortion. I believe it also because we all know...that the law is consistently flouted by those who have the means to do so. It is, therefore, very much a question of one law for the rich and one law for the poor.
    • Speech in favour of the Bill legalising abortion (22 July 1966).
  • It would be a mistake to think...that by what we are doing tonight we are giving a vote of confidence or congratulation to homosexuality. Those who suffer from this disability carry a great weight of loneliness, guilt and shame. The crucial question, which we are nearly at the end of answering decisively, is, should we add to those disadvantages the full rigour of the criminal law? By its overwhelming decisions, the House has given a fairly clear answer, and I hope that the Bill will now make rapid progress towards the Statute Book. It will be an important and civilising Measure.
    • Speech in favour of the Bill decriminalising homosexuality (3 July 1967).
  • No one contemplating the present position and looking back at the whole series of vicissitudes which has beset the British economy throughout the past 20 years can find the prospect other than very difficult at present. But I believe that there is also a great opportunity at present. There is certainly no quick, easy road to prosperity for this country, but the changes which must be made are fairly marginal. They must be made with absolute determination, but if they are so made, and accepted by the people, the whole outlook can change. The Government can only provide the right framework. Unless they do that, our national energies will be misdirected, but once they have done it the opportunities for export and growth and efficiency must be seized by everyone. There will still be two years of hard slog ahead. But at the end of it we could have a more securely-based prosperity than we have known for a generation.
    • Speech as Chancellor of the Exchequer (17 January 1968).
  • There has been a lot of talk about the formation of a new centre party. Some have even been kind enough to suggest that I might lead it. I find this idea profoundly unattractive. I do so for at least four reasons. First, I do not believe that such a grouping would have any coherent philosophical base...A party based on such a rag-bag could stand for nothing positive. It would exploit grievances and fall apart when it sought to remedy them. I believe in exactly the reverse sort of politics...Second, I believe that the most likely effect of such an ill-considered grouping would be to destroy the prospect of an effective alternative government to the Conservatives...Some genuinely want a new, powerful anti-Conservative force. They would be wise to reflect that it is much easier to will this than to bring it about. The most likely result would be chaos on the left and several decades of Conservative hegemony almost as dismal and damaging as in the twenties and thirties. Third, I do not share the desire, at the root of much such thinking, to push what may roughly be called the leftward half of the Labour Party...out of the mainstream of British politics...Fourth, and more personally, I cannot be indifferent to the political traditions in which I was brought up and in which I have lived my political life. Politics are not to me a religion, but the Labour Party is and always had been an instinctive part of my life.
    • Speech to the Oxford University Labour Club (9 March 1973), quoted in The Times (10 March 1973), p. 4.
  • The sense of shame that the Chancellor should have felt is far more personal. It is a sense of shame for having taken over an economy with a £1,000 million surplus and running it to a £2,000 million deficit. It is a sense of shame for having conducted our internal financial affairs with such profligacy that our public accounts are out of balance as never before. It is a sense of shame for having presided over the greatest depreciation of the currency, both at home and abroad, in our history. It is a sense of shame for having left us at a moment of test far weaker than most of our neighbours...There is, I believe, a greater threat to the effective working of our democratic institutions than most of us have seen in our adult lifetimes. I do not believe that it springs primarily from the machinations of subversively-minded men, although no doubt they are there and are anxious to exploit exploitable situations. It comes much more dangerously from a widespread cynicism with the processes of our political system. I believe that the Chancellor contributed to that on Monday. I believe that it poses a serious challenge to us all...None of us should seek salvation through chaos. There is a duty too to recognise that we could slip into a still worse rate of inflation and a world spiral-ling downwards towards slump, unemployment and falling standards, with our selves, temporarily at least, well in the vanguard. What is required is neither an imposed solution nor an open hand at the till. The alternative to reaching a settlement with the miners is paralysis...The task of statesmanship is to reach a settlement but to do it in a way which opens no floodgates for if they were opened, it would not only damage everyone but it would undermine the differential which the miners deserve and which the nation now needs them to have.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (19 December 1973).
  • It is the police who are our main protection against terrorism and it is to the police that we must give our sustenance and support. It cannot be without reluctance that we contemplate powers of the kind proposed in the Bill, involving as they must some encroachment—limited but real—on the liberties of individual citizens. Few things would provide a more gratifying victory to the terrorists than for this country to undermine its traditional freedoms in the very process of countering the enemies of those freedoms. This we must keep in mind not only today but in the future as we persevere in what may not be a short struggle to eradicate terrorism from this country...the Bill proposes strengthened powers in four broad areas. First, it proscribes the IRA and makes display of support for it illegal. Second, the Bill makes it possible to make exclusion orders against persons who are involved in terrorism. Third, the Bill gives the police wide powers to arrest and detain, within limits, suspected terrorists. Fourth, it gives the police powers to carry out a security check on all travellers entering and leaving Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
  • I do not think you can push public expenditure significantly above 60 per cent and maintain the values of a plural society with adequate freedom of choice. We are here close to one of the frontiers of social democracy
    • Speech in Anglesey (23 January 1976).
    • Michael Hatfield, "Inflation fight goes on, Mr Jenkins tells left", The Times (24 January 1976).
  • Our determination to ensure good community relations is unswerving. There is no room for racial hatred in our crowded island. We cannot afford not to make a success of a multi-racial society. A moving speech was made the other day in the other place by Lord Pitt, himself a distinguished citizen of London of West Indian origin. In that speech, he looked forward hopefully to a harmonious multiracial Britain setting an example to the world. He spoke on a high level of moral seriousness, but reminded us too that our self-interest is also served by racial harmony and tolerance. I agree with that view, and would share Lord Pitt's hope, but I do not see it as an easy or even a certain outcome, at any rate in this generation. Its accomplishment will depend on the minority community accepting that this country will not take, in Lord Pitt's own words, a "large and unending stream" of dependants, and on the majority community accepting that tolerance is one of the greatest and most traditional of British virtues and that if that tradition is broken we shall all of us suffer deeply, both minority and majority, and suffer for many years to come.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on immigration (5 July 1976).
  • I therefore believe that the politics of the left and centre of this country are frozen in an out-of-date mould which is bad for the political and economic health of Britain and increasingly inhibiting for those who live within the mould. Can it be broken?
    • Speech to the Parliamentary Press Gallery (9 June 1980)
  • Many of the early nationalisation measures were right. They have remained part of the social fabric. I favour measures of that type.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (Hansard, 10th November 1982, Col. 579).
  • First, there is really no sign at all of any significant reduction in unemployment without a major change in policy...Unemployment has probably levelled out but at a totally unacceptable figure. Secondly, contrary to what the Secretary of State said, the post-oil surplus prospect—not merely the post-oil prospect, because the oil will take a long time to go, but the surplus, the big balance of payments surplus, which is beginning to decline quite quickly—still looks devastating...our balance of payments is now overwhelmingly dependent on this highly temporary and massive oil surplus. Our manufacturing industry is shrunken and what remains is uncompetitive...We have a manufacturing trade deficit of approximately £11 billion, all of which has built up in the past three to four years. This is containable by oil and by nothing else. Invisibles can take care of about £4 billion or £5 billion but they cannot do the whole job. As soon as oil goes into a neutral position we are in deep trouble. Should it go into a negative position, the situation would be catastrophic...To sell off a chunk of capital assets and to use the proceeds for capital investment in the rest of the public sector might just be acceptable. However, that is not what is proposed, and what is proposed cannot be justified on any reputable theory of public finance; and when it is accompanied by a Minister using the oil—which might itself be regarded as a capital asset; certainly it is not renewable—almost entirely for current purposes, it amounts to improvident finance on a scale that makes the Prime Minister's old friend General Galtieri almost Gladstonian.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (12 November 1985).
  • Several fallacies have been accepted too freely recently about the position of our manufacturing industry in the balance of our economy. The biggest fallacy is the view that salvation lies in services, and only in services. The corollary to that is that it is inevitable and desirable that over the past two decades there has been a reduction of nearly 3 million in employment in manufacturing industry. That is a massive reduction and represents nearly 40 per cent. of the total in manufacturing industry over that time. I do not believe that that should have been the case. That has been precipitate and dangerous and it has not been associated with an increase in productivity which has led to our maintaining our relative manufacturing position...I have come increasingly to the view that the Government stand back too much from industry. In my experience, they do so more than any other Government in the European Community. They do so more than the United States Government. We have to remember the vast US defence involvement in industry. They certainly stand back more than do the Japanese Government. To some extent, the motive is the feeling that we have had an uncompetitive and rather complacent industry which must be exposed to the full blasts of competition, and if that means contracts, even Government contracts, going overseas, we should shrug our shoulders and say that the wind should be stimulating. That process has been carried much further in Britain than in any other comparable rival country. I am resolutely opposed to protectionism. I am sure that it diminishes the employment and wealth-creating capacity of the world as a whole. That would be the result of plunging back into that policy. I also believe, however, that this totally arm's-length approach in the relationship between Government and industry is something that no other comparable Government contemplate to the extent that we do. It is not producing good results for British industry and it is a recipe for a further decline in Britain's position in the Western world. The Government should examine it carefully and reverse it in several important respects.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (7 July 1986).
  • The combined efforts of Government policy since 1979 have been not to improve but substantially to worsen our competitive position. We have gone from a huge manufacturing surplus of £5.5 billion in 1980 to a 1986 third quarter deficit of £8 billion a year...Even with oil production continuing for some time, the current account has gone from a £3 billion surplus to a deficit predicted by the Chancellor of £1.5 billion...Sadly, the Government's great contribution, having refused to stimulate the economy by more respectable means, is a roaring consumer boom, which there is not the slightest chance of their moderating before an election. A roaring consumer boom does not, to any significant extent, mean more employment. In our competitive position, worsening under the Government, it means overwhelmingly higher imports, a still worse balance of payments position and a classic path to perdition. To have produced, after seven and a half years, the combination of total monetary muddle, a worsened competitive position, a widespread doubt in other countries as to how we are to pay our way in the future, a desperately vulnerable currency and the prospect of an unending plateau of the highest unemployment in a major country in the industrialised world is a unique achievement over which the Chancellor is an appropriate deputy acting presiding officer.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (6 November 1986).
  • We have Mr. Wright's allegation that a surveillance operation was mounted against Lord Wilson of Rievaulx when he was Prime Minister in the mid-1970s...Many criticisms can be made of Lord Wilson's stewardship—I have made some in the past and I have no doubt that I may make some more in future—but the view that he, with his too persistent record of maintaining Britain's imperial commitments across the world, with his over-loyal lieutenancy to Lyndon Johnson, with his fervent royalism, and with his light ideological luggage, was a likely candidate to be a Russian or Communist agent is one that can be entertained only by someone with a mind diseased by partisanship or unhinged by living for too long in an Alice-Through-the-Looking-glass world in which falsehood becomes truth, fact becomes fiction and fantasy becomes reality. The result of the allegation has been substantially to fortify the view that I expressed in a letter to The Times 18 months ago, which is that MI5 should now be pulled totally out of its political surveillance role.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (3 December 1986).
  • Undoubtedly, looking back, we nearly all allowed ourselves, for decades, to be frozen into rates of personal taxation which were ludicrously high...That frozen framework has been decisively cracked, not only by the prescripts of Chancellors but in the expectations of the people. It is one of the things for which the Government deserve credit...However, even beneficial revolutions have a strong tendency to breed their own excesses. There is now a real danger of the conventional wisdom about taxation, public expenditure and the duty of the state in relation to the distribution of rewards, swinging much too far in the opposite direction...I put in a strong reservation against the view, gaining ground a little dangerously I think, that the supreme duty of statesmanship is to reduce taxation. There is certainly no virtue in taxation for its own sake...We have been building up, not dissipating, overseas assets. The question is whether, while so doing, we have been neglecting our investment at home and particularly that in the public services. There is no doubt, in my mind at any rate, about the ability of a low taxation market-oriented economy to produce consumer goods, even if an awful lot of them are imported, far better than any planned economy that ever was or probably ever can be invented. However, I am not convinced that such a society and economy, particularly if it is not infused with the civic optimism which was in many ways the true epitome of Victorian values, is equally good at protecting the environment or safeguarding health, schools, universities or Britain's scientific future. And if we are asked which is under greater threat in Britain today—the supply of consumer goods or the nexus of civilised public services—it would be difficult not to answer that it was the latter.
    • Speech in the House of Lords (24 February 1988).
  • We might have been more cautious about allowing the creation in the 1950s of substantial Muslim communities here, although when one observes the, in some ways, greater problems which France and Germany have in this respect, it is an illusion to believe that in the integrated world of today any major country can remain exclusively indigenous.
    • 'On Race Relations and the Rushdie Affair', The Independent Magazine (4 March 1989), p. 16.
  • My broad position remains firmly libertarian, sceptical of official cover-ups and uncompromisingly internationalist, believing sovereignty to be an almost total illusion in the modern world, although both expecting and welcoming the continuance of strong differences in national traditions and behaviour. I distrust the deification of the enterprise culture. I think there are more limitations to the wisdom of the market than were dreamt of in Mrs Thatcher's philosophy. I believe that levels of taxation on the prosperous, having been too high for many years (including my own period at the Treasury), are now too low for the provision of decent public services. And I think the privatisation of near monopolies is about as irrelevant as (and sometimes worse than) were the Labour Party's proposals for further nationalisation in the 1970s and early 1980s.
    • A Life at the Centre (London: Macmillan, 1991), p. 617.
  • My central belief is that there are only two coherent British attitudes to Europe. One is to participate fully in all the main activities of the Union and to endeavour to exercise as much influence and gain as much benefit as possible from inside. The other is to recognise that Britain's history, national psychology and political culture may be such that we can never be other than a foot-dragging and constantly complaining member. If so, it would be better, and certainly would produce less friction, to accept this and to move towards an orderly and, if possible, reasonably amicable withdrawal.
    • 'Britain and Europe: The problem with being half pregnant', in Keith Sutherland (ed.), The Rape of the Constitution? (Imprint Academic, 2000), p. 277


  • Roy Jenkins was both radical and contemporary; and this made him the most influential exponent of the progressive creed in politics in postwar Britain. Moreover, the political creed for which he stood belongs as much to the future as to the past. For Jenkins was the prime mover in the creation of a form of social democracy which, being internationalist, is peculiarly suited to the age of globalisation and, being liberal, will prove to have more staying power than the statism of Lionel Jospin or the corporatist socialism of Gerhard Schröder.
  • Roy Jenkins was the first leading politician to appreciate that a liberalised social democracy must be based on two tenets: what Peter Mandelson called an aspirational society (individuals must be allowed to regulate their personal lives without interference from the state); and that a post-imperial country like Britain could only be influential in the world as part of a wider grouping (the EU).

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