Page 6, 6th January 1989

6th January 1989
Page 6
Page 6, 6th January 1989 — Principles of a private peer

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Locations: Waldheim


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Principles of a private peer

Gallery of Twentieth Century Portraits and Oxford Papers by Roy Jenkins (David & Charles, £12.95) Lord Longford I HAVE good reasons, one of them recent, for a bias in favour of Roy Jenkins. But even the most dispassionate critic must acknowledge the high quality of these essays. They are, it is true, a by-product of his literary output not to mention his political achievements. But they have 4 style and flavour which no contemporary politician can equal.

Churchill's biographical sketches, written in his literary prime, between the wars, suggest a comparison. Both wrote with the authority of high political success and the inside knowledge of great policy decisions. Yet both exhibit a capacity for detachment that comes from many hours spent in the enjoyment of historical books.

Jenkins is not so dramatic or rhetorical as Churchill. There is nothing there to compare with the latter's description of Lenin ending with the words: "his sympathies cold and wide as the Arctic Ocean, his hatreds tight as the hangman's noose." But Jenkins is even more adept at producing unusual words. "Nodal" was not known to me previously. Nor have I often come across "viscous" in a political context.

He is always happiest when he drives home his point with a novel metaphor. Of Gaitskell's treatment of Aneurin Bevan he writes: " Gaitskell's method of dealing with this sulky but important bear was remarkably unskilful. He frequently prodded him with a stick, and then believed that he could control the enraged animal by tying him up with manifestly ineffective strips of disciplinary paper " For sheer virtuosity it would be difficult to surpass the obituary tribute to John Kennedy written within 24 hours of his death, though inevitably cast in terms of unstinted eulogy. Jenkins remarks in a throwaway line that he has known seven Presidents of the United States, which must be a pleasure enjoyed by few presentday English politicians.

Special attention attaches to his two Essays on Hugh Gaitskell, his leader and close friend, and to that on Anthony Crosland, his contemporary friend but "penultimately, alas! political rival." When the issue of the Common Market became acute Jenkins came out firmly in favour of British entry, though Gaitskell, regarded up till then as its patron, was to say the least reserved and was regarded by "marketeers" as hostile.

Jenkins at first thought that the political difference would damage his close personal relations with Gaitskell. But then Hugh Gaitskell "made it clear that he was still faithful to his old rule of the primacy of private relations. For the last few weeks of his active life we were back on terms of the closest friendship."

The Essay on Crosland is perhaps the most interesting in the book while that on Waldheim could have usefully been omitted.

Roy Jenkins, in spite of a manner that used to be diffident, and is now appropriate to the Chancellor of Oxford University, has always fought actively for principle in the

hurly-burly of politics. When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer he produced a budget in which he still takes legitimate pride but his I.eft Wing critics were quick to denounce him for ignoring political calculations and losing the Labour Party the Election of 1970.

In the long run his principled stand probably cost him the Leadership of the Party and incidentally the Premiership. For good or for ill he was the true founder of the Alliance Party which has since split into two halves.

When he led the breakaway he had ceased to believe that the Labour Party was still the band of brothers in which he had grown up as the faithful son of one of its most respected members. I have no means of knowing whether he ever felt the kind of devotion to the Party which has retained many

Roy Jenkins intellectuals in its ranks despi intellectual difficulties.

He that as it may he acted once again on principle, leaving to great sadness among his friends No one who is seriously interested in the history of the last fifty years of Britain or the United States can fail to enjOy this book or gain new insighis into the men and matteis concerned.

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