Roy Jenkins, a biography, by John Campbell (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £10.95).
ROY JENK1N'S stands in a long tradition of British statesmen who have combined private ambition and public service. He was a reforming Home Secretary, a successful Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a relatively unsuccessful President of the EEC Commission. He also founded the first new national political party of any significance in Britain for 80 years. An impressive catalogue by any standards. Yet the British political system has never quite allowed his talents full rein. First the structure of the Labour party and later the structure of the electoral system seems likely to keep him away from 10 Downing Street.
In this sympathetic biography John Campbell portrays Jenkins as a patrician, self-consciously modelled on his Liberal hero, Asquith. Jenkins' acute sense of history, derived from his biographies of Asquith and Alice, and his study of the 190911 constitutional crisis, coloured his interpretation of events within the Labour Party after Gaitskill's death in 1963.
Jenkin's membership of Labour was hereditary and was based on the doctrines of social reformism and belief in the state as an agent of change. His father, a former miner and a Labour MP was comfortably off and young Jenkins grew up in a world of aldermanic respectability. _ Campbell also attempts to demolish the common remarks about Jenkins as a high-living wine bibber: if he does not wholly convince, he at least places the caricature in its proper perspective. For Jenkins has always felt at ease with the political assumptions and social values of Britain's governing elite. Bill his career has made
him peculiarly susceptible to charges of snobbery and lack of sympathy for the problems of an average elector; even though this was clearly not the impression he left on Warrington or Hillhead.
Perhaps Jenkins's real remoteness was from the trade unions and hence from the most important organisational section of the Labour Party. He turned down the chance to write the biography of Ernest Bevin because he "did not feel close enough to the crude heavyweight figure of Labour's greatest trade unionist".
Nor did Jenkins's friend Anthony Crosland, but as Campbell demonstrates repeatedly, Crosland was a middle-class socialist who found in the company of working class trade unionists the justification he needed for his own brand of evolutionary socialism. Jenkins who came from a working class area of Britain and enjoyed the exercise of power, felt no such need.
Jenkins has stated more than once that the best political biographies are those written by politicians. Although he refrained from reading the text of this one until it was completed, he can hardly be disappointed by the impression it leaves.