The legacy of Roy Jenkins: History Group discussion meeting Monday 27th June


One of the very slight crumbs of comfort to be found in the referendum campaign was the way in which, in some parts of the country, members of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Green parties were able to campaign together positively for a ‘remain’ vote. The 1975 referendum on membership of the European Community saw a very similar experience – with profound results for British politics thereafter.

In the happier of the UK’s two referendums on Europe, Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary in Harold Wilson’s Labour government, led the ‘in’ campaign alongside the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and the new Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher. Jenkins and his pro-European Labour colleagues enjoyed the good relations he developed with the Liberals, and this helped to lay the foundations for the formation of the Social Democratic Party, and its alliance with the Liberals, six years later – and, in 1988, to the merger of the two to form our own party, the Liberal Democrats.

With bitter-sweet timing, the next Liberal Democrat History Group speaker meeting, on Monday 27 June at 7.00pm, will discuss the legacy of Roy Jenkins for liberalism in Britain. These extend beyond Europe and the formation of the SDP and the Alliance.

First elected to Parliament in 1948, Jenkins became a minister in 1964 and went on to be a liberalising Home Secretary and an effective Chancellor of the Exchequer in Labour governments in the 1960s and 1970s. In his first period as Home Secretary, 1965–67, he abolished theatre censorship, passed the first effective legislation to outlaw racial discrimination and delivered government support for private members’ bills on the legalisation of homosexuality and on abortion. In 1972 he led the major Labour rebellion that saved the Conservative government’s legislation to take Britain into the European Community.

All are welcome to join us to discuss how much liberalism in Britain owes to Roy Jenkins – with John Campbell (author of Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life) and Lord David Steel (Leader of the Liberal Party 1976-88). The meeting will be chaired by Dick Newby (Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, House of Lords, and the SDP’s National Secretary  1983-88).

The meeting will take place at 7.00pm on Monday 27 June, in Committee Room 4A in the House of Lords. Access is via the main entrance to Parliament; please allow 20 minutes to get through security.

The meeting is hosted by Lord Steel; we have been advised that you may be asked to show your invitation, so we suggest you print off the relevant page from our website.

* Duncan Brack is the Editor of the Journal of Liberal History and former Vice Chair of the Federal Policy Committee.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Underhill 26th Jun '16 - 10:37pm

    “First elected to Parliament in 1948” He stood for his first seat in a constituency that was about to be abolished. He said in his memoirs that his constituents did not bother him. Plus ca change.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Jan '18 - 4:21pm

    Jenkins says in his biography of Churchill [ISBN 0 333 78290 9] that the Foreign Office was “the one great departments of state over which he never presided.” (page 514)
    WSC writes in “Their Finest Hour” chapter XXV, pages 395-403 about “Mr Eden’s mission October 1940”. This starts with his predecessor Neville Chamberlain becoming terminally ill, resigning his position in the cabinet and his leadership of the Conservative party. WSC becoming Con. leader without opposition. Eden went on a long working tour of the Med. and WSC adopted his responsibilities during the tour and ordered Eden to report on return (and therefore in secret).
    In the preface he says he was “Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury, Minister of Defence and Leader of the House of Commons.” (all at the same time)

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