Neil Kinnock – In Conversation

With a lifelong passion to help improve and preserve communities for future generations, writer and politician Neil Kinnock always had a very clear vision to invest in our youth. Becoming a member of the Labour Party aged just fourteen, he saw the significance in understanding and contributing to the political democratic community. These were the days when the United Kingdom was just that and British people all shared the same national identity. Therefore it didn’t matter if you were Scottish, Welsh, Irish or English because all citizens of the British Isles shared the same ideals and belief system. With the exception of popular culture; sports and entertainment etc, Britain remained united and were proud of it. Yet Neil Kinnock believes that over the past twenty years, this has all changed and this sense of unity has given way to a bizarre sequence of civil unrest.

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Being the same political generation as Margaret Thatcher, Neil’s career ran in parallel with hers so by the time he became leader of the Labour Party in 1983, the pair knew each other well. Despite being totally opposed to her conservative, right wing values, there was a degree of respect between the two political heavyweights which always made for memorable exchanges in the House of Commons during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions. The Labour Party have its roots firmly set in the preservation of communities. Generalised as the party for the working class, Labour take an utilitarian approach to society and Kinnock has a real passion for offering equal opportunities for all. This was the subject of great debate between Kinnock’s Labour Party and Thatcher’s Tory cabinet as they both fought forthrightly for what each party stood for and looking back, Kinnock believes that this made for quality and hearty debate.


The huge difference in values between the Labour and Conservative Party was perfectly illustrated by the approaches towards the treatment of the Falkland Islands. Back in 1978, just a year earlier from Thatcher’s famous landslide victory, the Labour government led by Jim Callaghan had ordered military protection of the Falklands in order to attempt a solution to the problem. A very minor conflict resulting in no casualties or fatalities on either side was seen as a very successful operation. However, just three years later and under the guidance of a very power motivated Conservative Party, the conflict escalated with vast bloodshed on either side which could have all been avoided if the same aforementioned values had been upheld. Kinnock isn’t against the use of military force to settle a large scale situation and would have ordered an army invasion if things were unable to be settled via peaceful means. However, the heavy-handed, bullish approach of Thatcher and Conservative party resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths on either side and created social turmoil for a generation.


The sinking of The Belgrano was symbolic of Thatcher’s cavalier attitude towards the sacrality of life which was passionately opposed by Kinnock and the Labour Party. As a utilitarian, he found this to be an absolute disgrace on part of the government who had the responsibility to protect lives but tragically due to the power hungry attitude of the Tories, this ethic was sacrificed in order to flex our political muscle. Throughout the succeeding years, this subject remained on the radar of many journalists and interviewers and not even the cunning tones of the legendary David Frost could tease an apology from the aptly named Iron Lady. Kinnock remembers one specific interviewer who managed to produce an emotional reaction and for a moment it felt like Thatcher was showing a little compassion. Yet all this was to no avail as the famous condescending look reappeared as a safety mechanism. Sadly Kinnock believes that she went to her death still unable to take responsibility for the 255 British personnel who lost their life in what many argue was an unjustified war.


The satire boom of the 1980’s would have severe consequences for those who resided in Whitehall who all had differing opinions over the damage it was to have on their political reputation. ITV’s Spitting Image was first broadcast on Sunday 26th February 1984 and was an instant hit, defining a generation for British satire. Kinnock was very happy to accept the lampooning aspect of the series and insists many of the sketches in the show were very funny. Yet the only objection which he upheld was the problems it created for his children who were still at school and were forced to be subjected to the reaction to the show every Monday morning. To Neil, satire remains funny when it doesn’t affect members of the subject’s family who are somewhat helpless to the behaviour of their political party. This was a difficult time for the entire Kinnock family and as a father, he was desperate to protect the dignity of his children.


The so-called footage of him falling over on Brighton pier which was used in the opening titles of Spitting Image was in fact fabricated by the show’s producers. Having a fantastic sense of humour, Neil wasn’t offended by the show’s insinuation that he was a mad Welshman and forever being hushed by Roy Hattersley’s popular climax to sketches saying “You ridiculous man” and always saw the funny side of the situations which his puppet was involved with. In hindsight it’s difficult to establish how damaging this portrayal was to the Labour Party but the saving grace was Spitting Image lampooned everyone and everything so therefore was devoid of political bias. Therefore while others mulled over the sheer brass and utter disrespect of this comedy show, Neil took a lighthearted attitude towards the jibes directed at him and was able to share in the humour of the programme.


During Kinnock’s tenure of leader of the Labour Party, he reformed the position of the party in the eyes of the electorate and despite being unable to secure the all important keys to Number 10, he left the party in a better place than where he found it. Surviving the 1987 election when Labour narrowly lost by just 12% of the votes which was heralded as a modest success by senior Labour MPs, Kinnock continued to lead the party through the political turmoil of the late 1980’s. Although he had failed to get into office, it appeared that Kinnock had achieved his mission to change some perceptions of the party which had manifested under the previous administration and prepared it for the revolution of New Labour just a few years later spearheaded by Tony Blair. It was because of the foundations which had been set during the Kinnock era which gave New Labour the wings to fly and both Blair and Brown are still quick to acknowledge Kinnock’s contribution to the growth of the party. A difficult job well done.


In 2005 Neil was invested into the prestigious House of Lords to take up his official title as Baron Kinnock, of Bedwellty in the County of Gwent and continues to debate and discuss the biggest issues affecting the United Kingdom. Since he was fourteen,, Neil has had a deep passion and ability to make a difference to the world around us and at the tender age of eighty, he’s still upholding his duty. With an enthusiasm for making the world a place of unlimited opportunity for the younger generations, he still radiates passion of a man half his age and isn’t about to stop anytime soon. It was a great pleasure to interview the inspirational Neil Kinnock and with such a refreshingly positive outlook on life, it remains fascinating to see how his political story shall end.