Magazine article The Spectator

Was It All a Terrible Mistake?

Magazine article The Spectator

Was It All a Terrible Mistake?

Article excerpt

The rooftop view from the sixthfloor office of the chairman of the British Council - at the cheaper end of The Mall up against Admiralty Arch encompasses the political landmarks of the new occupant. There's the Welsh Office, for the man's roots, halfway down Whitehall on the left; the office of the European Commission, to the right of Westminster Abbey and Methodist Central Hall; and, slap in the middle, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. The one thing you never need to buy is a clock,' says Neil Kinnock.

The new Lord Kinnock of Bedwellty, as he will be known when he is introduced to the House of Lords later this month, is no stranger to mockery, and has lately had to endure a lot of stick for becoming a peer and thus, so the indictment goes, abandoning his commitment to an elective democracy. When he chaired Have I Got News For You the other day, he was bullied and humiliated for his apparent perfidy. It was so hideous, in fact, that I imagined he must have regretted having appeared. 'No! I had a good time!' he says. (The Mandy RiceDavies Rule applies here: 'He would, wouldn't he.') He knew that he would be a bit of a target, but, well, 'you know where they're going to come from'. Apart from that, however, His Lordship professes to be untroubled by a programme that would have caused most people I know to contemplate an immediate retirement from public life. If not suicide.

'Why did he go on HlGNFYT hisses a source who knows the man well. 'The answer is vanity.'

Some years ago Lord Kinnock liked to say that he would rather have been a television presenter than a politician, because politics was basically unrewarding. Tm not so sure about that now,' he says. 'I remember saying it and it was to do with the effect you can have on people's understanding, not only on current affairs but also on how they were governed - that was a very long time ago. As things turned out, maybe I had my share of luck.'

He would have done some things differently, however. How so? Did he perhaps regret not accepting a junior post in the Labour government led by James Callaghan after Harold Wilson bowed out? Yes, he says. It is true that he enjoyed a backbencher's freedom during the Labour party's troubles in the late 1970s, but the troubles got worse, and he inherited them when he became party leader in 1983. Now he says he should have accepted Callaghan's offer as a junior spokesman on industry not only because the experience would have been invaluable but bizarrely - because 'if I had I probably wouldn't have been leader of the Labour party'. So, Neil - sorry, Lord Kinnock you regret having been leader of the Labour party? 'Sure. I only did it because it had to be done. That sounds a bit pious, but it's not. It had to be done.'

And there we have it, really, a man's life and career changed by one wrong call in pursuit of - what? Political independence? Where has that got him?

He thinks his good luck vastly outweighs the bad. He has the only post-Commission job he ever wanted, as the (unpaid) chairman of the British Council. Helena Kennedy did it before and she is a member of the House of Lords. That, says Kinnock, 'was such an effective combination that it needs to be repeated'. Is it the sort of job, being unpaid, that means he doesn't have to get out of bed in the morning if he doesn't feel like it? He responds stiffly with details of a punishing weekly schedule. …

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