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Monday, January 13, 2003

As I have to be back on Airstrip One before the end of the month, my thoughts have turned to what is going on there. Not a lot, as I understand it: floods, snow (ha ha) and ricin. But another piece of news - the death of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead (Roy Jenkins) is worthy of comment.

When I last saw him, at Encaenia last autumn, he seemed a shadow of his former self: his ruddy cheeks betraying a life spent too close to the claret. Never a champagne socialist, as I understand the term, he was more of a Lafite Fabian. But it is worth remembering his part in some of the most reformist legislation of the twentieth century. How big his contribution was in respect of abortion and homosexual law reform is debatable - they were, I think, private members' bills. Nevertheless, the government provided the time and support for both of these measures.

Another piece of positive legislation concerned race relations. While the Act was generally to be welcomed, it mistakenly did not apply to the Police, with regrettable consequences. Another mistake was allowing race and religion to be conflated. This mistake has been further compounded in recent legislation to protect religious sensibilities..

His legacy was largely positive: support for the European Community and the single currency but I suppose he will be best remembered for his formation, with Ted Rogers, David Owen and Shirley Williams, of the Social Democratic Party. Largely irrelevant and divisive at the time, this move can be seen as the earliest hints of New Labour to come.

There are many politicians whose influence one can regret; Roy Jenkins is one of those rare beasts, like R.A. Butler, who could, with advantage, have been more influential.

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