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Roy Jenkins by John Campbell

Roy Jenkins

Biography / Autobiography   All Shortlists and Winners   eBook Favourites   

Sue Baker's view...

Shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award 2014.

Shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize.

Following Roy Jenkins from his not-quite working class roots through to his rise in politics and influence on post-war Britain. Jenkins can be seen either as an usher in of liberal policies and the man who helped break the Labour Party or as his supporters see him, “the Greatest Prime Minister We Never Had”. John Campbell steers a path between these disparate views, his sympathetic portrait of Roy Jenkins heralded as one of the top political biographies of recent years.

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Who is Sue Baker

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. Born into a Labour family whose lifestyle was anything but socialist, Roy Jenkins became what the press termed ‘the best prime minister Britain never had’. He certainly achieved notable success, not least managing to balance the books as Chancellor in the late 1960s. However, his love for the finer things in life drove a wedge between himself and many Labour supporters, and when he left the party to form the SDP he knowingly sacrificed any lofty ambitions he might have had. Campbell paints in this authorised biography an affectionate portrait of a man who never truly fulfilled his potential.
~ Carl Hughes


Roy Jenkins by John Campbell

Shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award 2014.

Shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize.

Jenkins was probably the best Prime Minister Britain never had. But though he never reached 10 Downing Street, he left a more enduring mark on British society than most of those who did. His career spans the full half-century from Attlee to Tony Blair during which he helped transform almost every area of national life and politics. First, as a radical Home Secretary in the 1960s he drove through the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the legalisation of abortion, abolished theatre censorship and introduced the first legislation to outlaw discrimination on grounds of both race and gender. Attacked by conservatives as the godfather of the permissive society, he was a pioneering champion of gay rights, racial equality and feminism. He also reformed the police and criminal trials and introduced the independent police complaints commission. Second, he was an early and consistent advocate of European unity who played a decisive role in achieving British membership first of the Common Market and then of the European Union. From 1977 to 1980 he served as the first (and so far only) British president of the European Commission. Public opinion today is swinging against Europe; but for the past forty years participation in Europe was seen by all parties as an unquestioned benefit, and no-one had more influence than Jenkins in that historic redirection of British policy. Third, in 1981, when both the Conservative and Labour parties had moved sharply to the right and left respectively he founded the centrist Social Democratic Party (SDP) which failed in its immediate ambition of breaking the mould of British politics - largely because the Falklands war transformed Mrs Thatcher's popularity - but merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats and paved the way for Tony Blair's creation of New Labour. On top of all this, Jenkins was a compulsive writer whose twenty-three books included best-selling biographies of Asquith, Gladstone and Churchill. As Chancellor of Oxford University he was the embodiment of the liberal establishment with a genius for friendship who knew and cultivated everyone who mattered in the overlapping worlds of politics, literature, diplomacy and academia; he also had many close women friends and enjoyed an unconventional private life. His biography is the story of an exceptionally well-filled and well-rounded life.


'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

'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 magnificent biography... By any reckoning this was a remarkable life, to which Campbell has done full justice.' -- Chris Mullins Observer

'Magnificent. As plump and benign as its subject.' -- A N Wilson Evening Standard

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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Book Info

Publication date

30th November 1999


John Campbell

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