Roy Harris Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead, (11 November 1920 – 5 January 2003), was a British Labour Party, SDP and Liberal Democrat politician, and biographer of British political leaders.
The son of a Welsh coal-miner and trade unionist (later a Labour MP and government minister), Roy Jenkins was educated at the University of Oxford and served as an intelligence officer in the Second World War. Elected to Parliament as a Labour MP in 1948, he went on to serve in two major posts in Harold Wilson's first government. As Home Secretary from 1965 to 1967, he sought to build what he described as "a civilised society", with measures such as the effective abolition in Britain of both capital punishment and theatre censorship, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, relaxing of divorce law, suspension of birching and the liberalisation of abortion law. As Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1967 and 1970, he pursued a tight fiscal policy. He was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party on 8 July 1970, but resigned in 1972 because he supported entry to the European Communities, while the party opposed it.
When Wilson re-entered government in 1974, Jenkins returned to the Home Office. However, increasingly disenchanted by the leftward swing of the Labour Party, he chose to leave British politics in 1976; the following year he was appointed President of the European Commission, serving until 1981. He was the first British holder of this office, and is likely to be the only such (considering the United Kingdom's decision in June 2016 to leave the European Union). He returned to British politics in 1981; still dismayed with the Labour Party's leftward swing under Michael Foot, he was one of the "Gang of Four"—centrist Labour MPs who formed the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In 1982, Jenkins won a famous by-election in a Conservative seat and returned to parliament; he was "Prime Minister Designate" of the SDP-Liberal Alliance in the 1983 general election. However, after disappointment with the performance of the SDP, he resigned as its leader.
In 1987, he was elected to succeed Harold Macmillan as Chancellor of the University of Oxford following the latter's death; he held this position until his own death sixteen years later. A few months after becoming Chancellor, he was defeated in his Hillhead constituency by the Labour candidate, George Galloway. Jenkins accepted a life peerage and sat as a Liberal Democrat. In the late 1990s, he was an adviser to Tony Blair and chaired the Jenkins Commission on electoral reform. Jenkins died in 2003, aged 82.
In addition to his political career, he was also a noted historian, biographer and writer. His A Life at the Centre (1991) is regarded as one of the best autobiographies of the later 20th century, which "will be read with pleasure long after most examples of the genre have been forgotten". Read more...