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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what if?
A very good, excellently written book. The chapters on his youth and in the war at Bletchley were interesting. After that I thought the book really took off from about 1963 onwards, how Jenkins positioned himself vis a vis Wilson and how he rose from Aviation Minister in 1964 to probably the best Home Secretary and Chancellor of the 20th century for those of liberal...
Published 5 months ago by peter mackie

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars This is a big fat book - is the same thing available more succinctly elsewhere?
As an add-on to Jenkins' own writings (in particular his excellent auto-biography) this is a fine book that should stand the test of time. It adds sexual peccadilloes (both with his own sex, while a student at Oxford, and, in very brief detail, later with women) which are quite naturally not there in the autobiography - or, for that matter, in John Campbell's own 1983...
Published 1 day ago by Emma Barker


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what if?, 11 May 2014
By 
peter mackie (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Hardcover)
A very good, excellently written book. The chapters on his youth and in the war at Bletchley were interesting. After that I thought the book really took off from about 1963 onwards, how Jenkins positioned himself vis a vis Wilson and how he rose from Aviation Minister in 1964 to probably the best Home Secretary and Chancellor of the 20th century for those of liberal persuasion. From then on the story of how he (or Labour) lost the way in the 1970s, the rise and fall of the SDP and the Blair relationship are gripping reading for voyeurs of politics. For me Campbell comprehensively debunks the myth that Jenkins was lazy. A bit like Healey he prioritised life differently, couldn't be bothered to put the time in in the Commons tea room, did not do red boxes till midnight and gave himself the space to talk,listen and think. Bravo. But there was a price to pay.

Campbell also does Jenkins's other lives well, especially the author role. His books on Asquith, Gladstone and Churchill are really classics of their kind and are given due attention. I was hoping for a list of words used by Jenkins not in the averagely well educated vocabulary but that never came.

I didn't really have a different view of Jenkins as a result of reading the book but what it did well was to identify some crucial moments in British politics when life might have gone differently and in several of which Jenkins was involved.How he would have hated the politics of the last decade.Look at the expression on Vince Cable's face and imagine the distaste of Jenkins for the way the system has gone.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More important than most PMs., 22 April 2014
This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Hardcover)
John Campbell is fast becoming the most prolific and the best political biographer of British politics.Along wih Charles Moore on Thatcher this will be one of the great political biographies.Campells style is extremely readable -indeed it is hard to put the book down at some points.Campbell covers not just Jenkins political but comprehensively chronicles his complicated private life and his extensive writings as an author.
By the end of the book I was not sure that I really liked Jenkins, the smooth social climber from the Welsh valleys,who by the end of his life was able to patronise the Queen(and get away with it!),however the book forces you to recognise his importance.With the exceptions of Attlee and Thatcher ,he had more influence in shaping modern Britain than any post-war PM.Through his reforms as Home Secretary in the 60s -he largely shaped the country we now live in -for good or ill!Among non-PM politicians ,only Nye Bevan(of whom Campbell also wrote a biography) can match his influence.
If you lived through this period ,or have even the slightest interest in British politics-buy this book!-not to be missed!You will see that however pompous and self-regarding he was Jenkins towers above the current pygmies of British politics Cameron, Clegg and Milliband.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An affectionate portrait..., 11 Jun 2014
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Kindle Edition)
Roy Jenkins was one of the most influential British Labour politicians of the second half of the twentieth century. The son of a miner, he was however far from working-class. His father had risen to become a successful Member of Parliament and made sure his son was given an advantageous education culminating in an Oxford degree. His socialism therefore was always of an intellectual kind rather than being rooted in the unions as his father's had been. And like many socialists, especially of that era, he gradually moved from the left towards the centre. A prominent Cabinet minister in the '60s and '70s, Jenkins held at different times two of the great offices of state, as Home Secretary and Chancellor, and was accounted to be successful in both positions. In the first role he is credited with pushing through the socially liberal legislation that some later claimed led to the 'permissive society', while as Chancellor he was seen as having transformed the balance of trade and fiscal position of the UK, which were still suffering from the aftermath of WW2. Consistently pro-Europe, he was one of the strongest proponents for Britain's entry to the Common Market.

Had the tensions between left and right within the Labour Party not become so toxic during the 1970s, there is very little doubt that Jenkins would have become party leader and quite probably Prime Minister. Instead, he decided to leave parliament to take up the post of President of the European Commission. But on his return, when the Labour Party was showing every sign of lurching even further to the Left, Jenkins ended up leading the breakaway group that was briefly known as the Social Democratic Party, before merging with the Liberal Party to become the Lib-Dems we all know and love today. Jenkins returned to Parliament for a while as MP for Glasgow Hillhead, but it was soon clear that the SDP was not going to fulfil the hopes of its followers by replacing the Labour Party as one of the two major parties in Britain, and Jenkins was defeated at the next election.

Alongside this lengthy political career, Jenkins had a second career, perhaps equally successful and certainly more lucrative, as a journalist and political biographer of, amongst others, Asquith and Churchill. Add in a complicated personal life, and a huge network of friendships with many of the most influential people of his time, and it's clear that any biographer of Jenkins himself has his work cut out for him.

John Campbell is the author of many political biographies and won the 1994 NCR Award for his biography of Edward Heath. He admits in the introduction to this book that he admired Jenkins a good deal, and hopes that he has not allowed this to stop him being critical when required. I, on the other hand, always found Jenkins to be a pompous, arrogant buffoon who was serially disloyal to the parties to which he belonged. So the question for me was whether Campbell would be able to persuade me that I, in my youthful ignorance, had misjudged the man.

The biography is hugely long and detailed, but written with a clarity and flow that make it a pleasurable read. I kept feeling that surely something could have been cut to make the size more manageable, but concluded eventually that it was the fullness and complexity of Jenkins' life that led to the length, rather than any failing on the part of the author. There is a fairly heavy emphasis on Jenkins' personal life in the early part of the book - specifically his relationships with Tony Crosland, then his wife and his multiple mistresses. But happily, once Campbell had made his point about the unconventionality of Jenkins' lifestyle (or perhaps one should say conventionality, since it bears comparison with that of politicians of earlier days), he allows the subject to fade into the background and concentrates much more on the political side of his life.

I did feel that Campbell's partiality for Jenkins showed through too clearly in some places, letting him off the hook on occasion, and giving him a little more praise than necessary. In general, though, I prefer affectionate biographies to hatchet jobs, so overall Campbell's approach worked well for me. I was somewhat less keen on the way he portrayed some of the politicians on the left of the Labour Party - it wasn't so much that I disagreed with his depiction of them as that I felt he adopted an almost sneering tone at times that led his account to feel as if it were being somewhat biased by his own personal political stance.

Overall, though, I found this a well written and hugely informative biography. While sticking closely to his subject, Campbell sets Jenkins' life in the context of the times at all stages and as such this is also a revealing look at the wider political history of the second half of the twentieth century. Jenkins lived a well-rounded life indeed, never allowing the pressures of his various roles to get in the way of the more hedonistic side of his nature, but Campbell convinced this reader at least that the charge of laziness that was sometimes made against him was unfair. While I still stand by pompous and arrogant, Campbell has persuaded me that I must retract the word 'buffoon' - no-one who achieved so much in so many fields deserves that title. And while he was disloyal to his parties, it seems he remained loyal to his core beliefs, which in the end may be more honourable - so I acquit him of that charge. Jenkins' life was a full and interesting one, and this biography does its subject justice - highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Origins Of Repressive Tolerance, 30 Aug 2014
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Hardcover)
At the 1945 Labour Party Conference Denis Healey said, "The upper classes in every country are selfish, depraved, dissolute and decadent". What he never envisaged was that the new political class would adopt those characteristics and impose them on society under the guise of 'a more civilised society'. Roy Jenkins was at the forefront of change which was based on his own dissolute and decadent values of 'adultery without guilt' and hypocrisy without conscience. He legitimised the hypocrisy that abounded in British politics in the 1960s where the ruling class from both sides of the political divide swapped mistresses in pursuit of personal pleasure. Born into a Labour family Jenkins was never part of the working classes. The Jenkins's had a motor car and a live-in maid. His father was a full-time union official who became a Labour MP. The younger Jenkins shamelessly tried to inherit his father's Parliamentary seat, eventually becoming MP for Stechford, a constituency he rarely visited and often took for granted.

Jenkins senior was parliament private secretary to Clement Attlee, a connection his son exploited to the full. He went to Oxford where he formed a homosexual attachment to Antony Crosland whose strict background seems to have propelled him to adopt a foul mouthed approach to things and people he disliked. Their pathetic correspondence reads like an illiterate version of Romeo and Juliet. At Oxford his fondness for wine became a life-long addiction. In Opposition Jenkins supported changes to narrow the definition of 'obscene', effectively making it non-existent and opening the way for the explosion of pornography and its availability to minors. In office Jenkins found time for the Abortion Bill, introduced by the naive David Steel who was duped by the abortion lobby. Jenkins's claim that it would not lead to abortion on demand was proved wrong. He also supported Leo Abse's decriminalisation of homosexual acts. As Campbell notes, 'He probably did not envisage the positive flaunting of gay and lesbian culture that would explode a generation on, let alone the legalisation of same-sex marriage'. His idea that governmental neutrality in social matters produced no social harm was demonstrably false.

Jenkins labelled the permissive society the civilised society. In practice the society to which he referred was the ruling class to whom he belonged. He acted as the 'benevolent sponsor' of a series of social measures based on assumptions which proved to be horrendously inaccurate but was in the liberal tradition of John Stuart Mill, a tradition which was incapable of understanding the damage to social cohesion caused by government neutrality. The changes he introduced were to provided legitimacy for his own dissolute values. He dismissed the value of prison in the fight against crime and denied his prison reform programme would result in a weakening of the punishment of crime. Yet under the current justice system the element of punishment and deterrent has disappeared. He claimed the abolition of hanging would not lead to an increase in murder. A House of Commons Research paper in 2001 pointed out it had. (For purposes of clarity this reviewer is opposed to capital punishment but favours longer prison sentences). ' Equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance' has become repressive tolerance in pursuit of political correctness and aggressive minority influence in social and judicial matters.

The idea that Jenkins could ever have been Prime Minister is a figment of the media's imagination. He was widely despised throughout the Party, even if he was admired by those in the ruling elite. Never averse to nepotism Jenkins appointed his friend Mark Bonham Carter (whose wife was Jenkins's lover) to head the Race Relations Board (having already considered Gaitskell's widow and younger brother). His Cabinet colleagues resented his 'tireless self-promotion' and Barbara Castle noted, 'I believe he is temperamentally incapable of leading the Party. Despite all his care, his instinctive high-handedness will slip out'. His high-handedness led him out of the Labour Party into the formation of the Social Democratic Party. When Mayhew and other Gaitskellites plotted to remove Wilson Jenkins kept his head below the parapet. His time as Chancellor was known less for its value to the British people as to the 'gnomes of Zurich'. He knew he had no future as a potential Labour Prime Minister when he led a revolt of Labour MP's in favour of entry to the Common Market and was miffed when the position of Foreign Secretary, a post he coveted, went to Crosland. He took the role of President of the European Commission instead. Six months later Crosland was dead and Jenkins was stranded in Brussels.

Jenkins was not as malleable in government as some Labour Ministers but his days were punctured with long liquid lunches, nighttime peccadilloes and country house parties. Unlike MacDonald he wasn't changed by moving in society circles, it was his natural habitat, more so than being with his Labour colleagues in the House of Commons. The liberal press built him up into a potential leader. His small inner circle of friends were often consulted to the annoyance of the mandarins in Whitehall. He was not in favour of creating a centre party until such time as he could lead it. In 1981 he joined Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and David Owen, who matched Jenkins for arrogance, to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The result was a split in the non-Tory vote which ushered Margaret Thatcher to power. David Owen stated, "the SDP was just a disposable vehicle for his ambition to be Prime Minster" and when the SDP failed to make its hoped-for break through in 1983 Jenkins resigned as leader.

Campbell's admiration for Jenkins and his wife seeps through, detracting from the book as a whole. However, it would be miserly not to award four stars for a book which will outlast Jenkins's own literary output which was well received by the mutual admiration society to which he belonged.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roy Jenkins, a Labour hero., 30 April 2014
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This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Hardcover)
I enjoyed it immensely. I was born in Newport, South Wales. I saw parallels between his life and mine, though his achievements are unmatched. What a pity he didn't stay with the Labour Party! From our current perspective it is so clear his contributions that brought better lives for all were far in excess of Benn's or Foot's.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MAN WHO ENJOYED LIFE TO THE FULL & DID SOME GOOD TOO, 2 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Kindle Edition)
A really well-written and fascinating journey through British politics in the second half of the 20th century. The case for Jenkins' importance is well-made. He split the Left to Mrs Thatcher's huge benefit, paved the way for New Labour, and was partly responsible for the UK entering and staying in the EU. Never mind that in my opinion only one of these three results was a good thing. He also helped to bring about "the permissive society", which in my book was a great thing, particularly his reforms on abortion and homosexuality.

Jenkins was a great example of the 80/20 principle. He achieved a great deal without extraordinary effort, finding time to have a very full social (and sexual) life, while also writing some excellent biographies that alone would have justified his time on this planet. He lunched well almost every day of his adult life. And despite being the son and grandson of a miner, he exemplified the value of the urbane liberal elite in which he lived and moved and had his being.

This book is well researched and extremely well written. I could have done with knowing less about the author's views on everything, but this is a small price to pay for a first-rate book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the few politicians one can admire, 22 Aug 2014
This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Hardcover)
For anyone interested in the workings of government, the inside maneuvering for position inside parties, the dishonesty of political activities this is a first class read. Somewhat heavy, certainly but giving, on the whole. some justification for admiring a politician who attempted to be honest. was concerned about the welfare of the population and who put his concern into action when given the chancebut who was sufficiently human to have his doubts and weaknesses. There are occasional parts which are perhaps too detailed. and some are quite heavy going but I found intensely interesting - it took me some time to read through. There is also some interesting personal revelations which show that despite his concern for liberal ideas and service to the public he had his very human desire for good living and enjoyment of the ladies. High ideals and enjoyment of life can live together - with proper arrangement!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A patrician's progress, 8 Aug 2014
By 
D. Callaghan (London England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Hardcover)
Enjoyable read. Difficult not to have a sneaking liking for Jenkins through it all despite the endless grandiosity. Could have done with less extracts from the private letters in the early part of the story and the slightly gushing tones in which Jennifer Jenkins is mentioned, formidable and tolerant lady that she undoubtedly is. Campbell declares a conflict of interest early on regarding admiration for his subject and never quite manages to detach himself from this position, with Jenkins invariably judged to have been correct or 'prescient' in all the policy positions he advocated.
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2.0 out of 5 stars This is a big fat book - is the same thing available more succinctly elsewhere?, 29 Oct 2014
This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Hardcover)
As an add-on to Jenkins' own writings (in particular his excellent auto-biography) this is a fine book that should stand the test of time. It adds sexual peccadilloes (both with his own sex, while a student at Oxford, and, in very brief detail, later with women) which are quite naturally not there in the autobiography - or, for that matter, in John Campbell's own 1983 biography of Jenkins.
That said, there is a huge amount of words here, and anyone would agree, that Jenkins was himself a brilliant wordsmith and writer. A general reader interested in Jenkins should certainly first read Jenkins' own book, and perhaps those keenly interested, could move on to his other books (e.g. the little-read Brussels diary).
Campbell is a 'self-confessed' SDP-supporting Jenkinsite, so this is not an 'alternative view' of Jenkins that hugely contrasts with the autobiography, though Campbell is very clear that Jenkins was indeed the claret-loving bon viveur, sending his own children to some of the country's smartest private schools, who wanted at heart to be an Edwardian gentleman.
Another (very very pro-Jenkins) excellent read is edited by Andrew Adonis, a Jenkins-collaborator initially asked to be his official biographer 'Roy Jenkins: A Retrospective' with contributions from supporters after the death of Lord Jenkins (co-edited with Keith Thomas).
In short, this is certainly a good book, with decent writing style. Potential readers would be advised to steer clear of it, unless they have first read Jenkins' own excellent book on himself, and probably others either by him or about him. If, after that, readers still have an appetite for Jenkinsiana, then this is indeed a great book with new details.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic example of the biographer's art, 13 Jun 2014
By 
David (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Roy Jenkins (Hardcover)
John Campbell is a good biographer of figures like John Major and Mrs Thatcher. Politically he is closer to Jenkins than either of them, but this is an asset - he remains objective throughout, whilst managing to capture the real sense of excitement about Jenkins' period as a reforming Home Secretary and the early days of the SDP, when they came incredibly close to breaking the old two party mould. It is fascinating reading it in 2014, after Liberal Democrats managed to become part of Government for the first time in almost 100 years and as a result may find themselves on the brink of destruction. An other interesting contemporary take is how Britain's membership of the EU, which Jenkins thought he put beyond doubt, is now widely questioned. The final contemporary take is how illiberal and inegalitarian the current political climate is, it is dificult to imagine someone on the right wing of the Labour Party today, as Jenkins was, being as committed and articulate an advocate of social liberalism and redistributive economic policy. This is an incredibly well researched and beautifully written book, which does full justice to one of the most important political figures of the last half of the Twentieth Century and vividly recreates the world in which he lived.
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Roy Jenkins
Roy Jenkins by John Campbell (Hardcover - 27 Mar 2014)
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