Roy Jenkins was born in Abersychan, Monmouthshire, on 11th November, 1920. His father was Arthur Jenkins, president of the South Wales Miners' Federation and the Labour Party MP for Pontypool. Jenkins was educated at Abersychan Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford, where he won a first in 1941.
During the Second World War Jenkins served in the Royal Artillery and for a while he worked as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park.
The Conservative Party held power between 1951 and 1964. After the Labour Party won the 1964 GeneraI Election the new prime minister, Harold Wilson, appointed Jenkins as aviation minister. The following year, Jenkins became home secretary. While in this post he encouraged the passing of private members' bills that legalized homosexuality and abortion.
Denis Healey later argued: "In my view, Roy Jenkins's best period in office was as Home Secretary in the Cabinet of 1966; he then succeeded in stamping his liberal humanism on a department not notorious for that quality. He was not well suited to the politics of class and ideology which played so large a role in the Labour Party. His natural environment was the Edwardian age on which he wrote so well. He saw politics very much like Trollope, as the interplay of personalities seeking preferment, rather than, like me, as a conflict of principles and programmes about social and economic change."
In 1967 Jenkins became chancellor of the exchequer, the second most important post in the Cabinet. Over the next three years his main strategy was to get the balance of payments in the black. By the time of the 1970 General Election he had acquired the nickname of "Surplus Jenkins".
The Conservative Party won the 1970 election. When the new House of Commons assembled Jenkins was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party. At the 1971 Party Conference he argued strongly for Britain to join the European Community. Jenkins lost the vote by five-to-one and he upset the party when he defied a three-line whip to vote with the Conservatives on this issue.
The Labour Party won the 1974 General Election and Jenkins once again became home secretary. The following year he led the successful "yes" campaign in the referendum on membership of the European Economic Community. When Harold Wilson resigned in 1976 Jenkins stood for the leadership of the party. However, he came only third behind James Callaghan and Michael Foot.
In 1977 Jenkins left the House of Commons to become president of the European Commission in Brussels. In this post he began to advocate the idea of European monetary union. This was considered to be too radical at the time and the result was the introduction of the European monetary system. However, he had laid the foundations for what was later to become the single currency in 2002.
The political views of Jenkins were unpopular in the Labour Party and in 1981 he joined Shirley Williams, David Owen and William Rodgers in setting up the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Jenkins became leader of the new party and in 1982 he returned to the House of Commons as MP for Glasgow Hillhead.
At the 1983 General Election the SDP-Liberal Alliance achieved 25% of the popular vote. However, the SDP won only 6 seats. After the election Jenkins resigned as leader and was replaced by David Owen. In the 1987 General Election Jenkins lost his seat at Glasglow Hillhead. Created Lord Jenkins of Hillhead he became the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.
In retirement Jenkins concentrated on writing and published several books including an autobiography, A Life At The Centre (1991) and two best-selling biographies, Gladstone (1995) and Churchill (2001).
Roy Jenkins died on 5th January, 2003.
Hugh Gaitskell showed great courage in leading and organizing a nationwide campaign against Suez. He was an obvious target for the Conservative press, who were loyally supporting their Prime Minister, for, as past history since the Boer War has shown, calm statesman-like criticism of a government's action during a war is quickly branded as treachery and a betrayal of HM forces.
We all took part in the operation, christened the 'Law not War' campaign. At one Shadow Cabinet meeting I reminded my colleagues of the occasion during the Boer War (when the Liberal Opposition was split on the issue) that Lloyd George had had to be smuggled out of Birmingham Town Hall disguised as a policeman to save his life. I said that I hoped that the luck of the draw would not lead to my being sent to Birmingham.
I was, in fact, sent there. The main hall was packed, as was a smaller hall which was linked to the platform by a public address system. Roy Jenkins, himself a Birmingham MP, rightly accused the Government of causing "enormous damage" to the chances of success of the simultaneous Hungarian revolt against Russia "for the sake of a squalid adventure in the Middle East". In fact, I did not have to don police uniform and, together with Roy, was cheered to the echo.
In my view, Roy Jenkins's best period in office was as Home Secretary in the Cabinet of 1966; he then succeeded in stamping his liberal humanism on a department not notorious for that quality. He was not well suited to the politics of class and ideology which played so large a role in the Labour Party. His natural environment was the Edwardian age on which he wrote so well. He saw politics very much like Trollope, as the interplay of personalities seeking preferment, rather than, like me, as a conflict of principles and programmes about social and economic change.
Though his father had been a miners' agent in South Wales, who served as Attlee's Parliamentary Private Secretary, Roy's drawling voice, his pronunciation of 'r' as 'w', and his sometimes lackadaisical manner limited his appeal to the Party activists. Yet he was a brilliant Parliamentary debater, and could rouse enthusiasm even in the Labour Party Conference when he spoke on a subject like the Common Market, on which he was passionately committed. He had the same capacity as Nye Bevan and Hugh Gaitskell to inspire a deep and personal devotion among his disciples.
Former Labour Chancellor and Home Secretary Lord Jenkins of Hillhead has died, aged 82. He collapsed at his home in Oxfordshire on Sunday morning, a spokeswoman for his family said.
After serving twice as home secretary in a Labour Government, Lord Jenkins was one of the "Gang of Four" who formed the breakaway SDP party in 1981.
Former Labour Prime Minister Lord Callaghan said: "He was one of the outstanding statesmen of his era."
Lord Owen, a co-founder of the SDP, said: "He was by any standards a major political figure and historical figure in the context of the last century."
Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: "He was a big political figure and his passing is a sad moment."
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: "Roy Jenkins was a great man and a great personal friend."
Roy Jenkins was one of the most remarkable people ever to grace British politics. His influence on it is as great as many who held the office of Prime Minister. He had intellect, vision and an integrity that saw him hold firm to his beliefs of moderate social democracy, liberal reform and the cause of Europe throughout his life.
Even those of us who disagreed with the decision to form the SDP admired the way he never wavered from the view that the British people should have the chance to vote for a progressive politics free from rigid doctrine and ideology and one that stood in the tradition of Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge as much as Keir Hardie, Attlee and Bevan.
He was a friend and support to me and someone I was proud to know as a politician and as a human being. As his brilliant biographies demonstrate he had extraordinary insight and a naturally unprejudiced mind. He was above all a man of reason. I will miss him deeply.