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Roy Jenkins Paperback – 4 Jun 2015
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"Magnificent... A compelling account of a remarkable life" (Observer)
"Campbell is simply a master of the art... This book is effortlessly superior." (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)
"Marvellous... The highest praise I can give to John Campbell's biography is that Roy Jenkins would have been proud to have been its author." (Alan Johnson Guardian)
"A riveting and vital contribution to an understanding of postwar British politics." (Matthew Engel Financial Times)
"A wonderful, readable book. Jenkins himself would have been proud to have produced a masterpiece of this calibre." (Leo McKinstry Daily Express)
"Captivating... I read every single one of the 749 pages of this long book with relish and fascination. It is a splendid tribute to one of the greatest British politicians and writers (not necessarily in that order) of the last century." (Peter Oborne Daily Telegraph)
"Magnificent… As plump and benign as its subject." (A N Wilson Evening Standard)
"A splendidly thorough biography." (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)
"Campbell is an excellent biographer. He has a strong narrative grasp and knows how to use evidence. His books are not showy, but if you test their propositions, you almost always find them fair." (Charles Moore Daily Telegraph)
"Wonderful... It is the well-rounded life of its subject that makes this book such an entertaining, as well as an instructive, read." (Rachel Sylvester The Times)
About the Author
John Campbell is the author of many biographies including one of Edward Heath, for which he won the 1994 NCR award, The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher, from Grocer's Daughter to Iron Lady and, most recently, Pistols at Dawn: Two Hundred Years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown. He is married and lives in Kent.
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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.
Although, best remembered for his reforms as Home Secretary, which contrary to what some believe did not bring about dramatic modifications to society but merely were responses to trends and changes that were already occurring, he was also a reasonably successful Chancellor and one of the driving personalities behind the continued revival of Liberalism as a political force in Britain in the 1980s. Moreover, outside of politics in the fields of journalism and biography he was able to establish quite a reputation especially for his works on Gladstone and Churchill. To be successful in just one area of life, such as politics would be noteworthy but to achieve so much more professionally while having a rather complicated personal life suggests that Roy Jenkins was certainly a remarkable man if however, a bit of a patrician snob.
Unfortunately, this book is slightly let down by the author's acknowledged admiration for the subject which impinges somewhat on his analysis and conclusions. All in all though, a very good book about one of the most influential political figures of the last half of the twentieth century.
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This isn't a hagiography-he acknowledges Jenkins's extra-marital dalliances and also records that the...Read more