Sean Curran talks to former Labour party leader Neil Kinnock about his life and political career.
Browse content similar to Lord Kinnock. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Hello and welcome to Conversations.
Today, my guest is the son of a nurse and a coalminer
from the Valleys of South Wales,
who grew up to lead the Labour Party through some of its toughest times.
He was Leader of the Opposition
against the most formidable postwar Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
A one-time man of the left who became a moderniser,
who transformed his party
and paved the way for the electoral success of Tony Blair
and the New Labour years.
He went on to serve as one of the UK's European Commissioners.
He is Neil, Lord Kinnock.
-Lord Kinnock, welcome.
Let's start at the beginning
and the beginning of your political life.
Some people get their politics from a university seminar,
some from experience.
Are you one of those who inherited his politics in the Valleys?
You could put it like that.
It certainly came from the community in which I grew up
and the family that I was hugely fortunate to have.
It wasn't that they were stridently political.
They were socialists...
And trade unionists.
And I learned very, very early on
that the only source of strength that we really had
was our own diligence
and the strength of numbers of collective action.
I was just under 15 when, illegally,
in terms of the Labour Party rules then,
I was permitted to join the Labour Party by our local ward secretary,
who was also our county councillor, a marvellous fellow.
And that's where, really, my politics,
my democratic socialist politics, came from.
Further inspired, I must say,
by the fact that our Member of Parliament was Aneurin Bevan.
And not only was he worshipped by my family and everybody I knew,
but he was the model
of how you could mix inspiration and construction.
So what was the culture like in South Wales?
Because your father, he came from a big family
and a lot of them had had very tough lives, hadn't they?
I mean, really difficult times with industrial injuries
and really hard work for a really long time
in a way that, probably, people starting work now
couldn't possibly imagine.
Did that influence your culture and your political culture?
Well, people starting work now, hopefully, will never experience...
My father was one of seven surviving children.
My grandmother had had 13 pregnancies
and, of those, nine produced children,
seven of whom survived.
That was typical. That wasn't in any sense extraordinary.
And it was a similar, slightly smaller numbers,
pattern with my mother's family, as well.
..amongst those seven children, six were boys
and all but one of them became miners, colliers,
like my grandfather and just about all the men in my family,
except for those who were bakers.
of those, two remained in the pits after the 1930s.
The rest were forced to leave, become migrants.
And they made their way to, ultimately, very successful jobs,
two in the steel industry, one in electronics.
They did all kinds of things.
They were in boxing bouts, they were wrestlers,
they were steelworkers
and that's the kind of background.
My father stayed in the pit.
He loved being a coalminer
and he had a redoubtable reputation
as a Stakhanovite - a great producer.
He was the kind of generous guy who,
as people told me after he died,
during the war,
when people were kept on in the pits, experienced miners,
way past the time they should have been going underground
and had dreadful asthma,
product of pneumoconiosis, dermatitis and so on.
If they were ill, he'd cut their tonnage
and then cut his own -
and that's the kind of guy he was.
My mother was a similarly generous spirit.
-Your mother was the district nurse, wasn't she?
-Yes, she was.
She was a sort of sheriff of North Tredegar.
She knew everybody, everybody knew her.
And she was always immensely smart in her uniform.
She was welcomed everywhere she went,
but she had a sense of order
that was quite remarkable, and a real presence.
She was quite a woman. Highly intelligent.
But for the 1926 General Strike, when she was 16...
..I think she probably would have gone on to study medicine,
despite the awful poverty of her family.
They had kept her in school
after she'd got a scholarship to the grammar school,
but the 1926 General Strike came,
there was a new baby in the house and it was simply unsustainable,
so she left and then took nursing training instead.
But she was a redoubtable, wonderful woman.
-Your parents obviously had a great influence on you.
They obviously worked very hard for you, to give you an opportunity.
Was that an opportunity to leave the Valleys, do you think?
Or did they want you to stay and be a big figure there?
It never translated itself in those terms, funnily enough.
I never remember a single conversation of that kind.
Their whole emphasis was on my self-fulfilment,
what the Americans would call my self-actualisation.
Though they would have fallen over if they'd heard that one!
And they wanted me to do the best that I could.
And at 11, I was immensely promising.
I had no difficulty flying into a very, very creamed
boys-only grammar school.
The only problem was, I had to travel about three hours a day
to get there and back.
But it was a highly thought of grammar school.
Lloyd George called it the Eton of Wales,
as if that was the greatest flattery!
And I had a miserable time in school.
Maybe because I was ginger, I was bullied.
And that's where I learned to fight
and where I took some of my politics from, actually,
because I've always loathed and sought to fight back
against bullies of every description
and I guess, in the school, that wasn't a bad training ground.
I eventually got to like it in the sixth form,
when I was treated as an adult by good teachers
and went to university.
Let's stop for a second
because, for all of us who've had a hard time
after not doing well at our O-levels,
you're a bit of an inspirational story,
because you didn't do very well in your O-levels, either.
I didn't realise until I was actually sitting the O-levels
that revision was required.
I mean, I eventually collected quite a lot of them,
but only after I'd had this real punch between the eyes
of getting very good marks in three subjects
which, of course, was utterly useless,
so I had to stay on for an extra year and do more O-levels
before I was permitted to go into the sixth form.
Would your parents have let you leave school, then, at that point?
No, no, no, no.
I did everything I could to get out.
I applied to the NCB, the National Coal Board,
for a management traineeship and was accepted.
When they discovered that I was going to become
someone in the coal-mining industry,
they went berserk.
And I said to my father, "But you loved being a coalminer."
By this time, because of industrial dermatitis,
which was a dreadful disability,
he had his hands wrapped for the rest of his life.
But he loved being a coalminer.
They transferred him because of a dust allergy!
They transferred him out to the blast furnaces
in the Ebbw Vale steelworks,
which is even more dusty than being underground.
Anyway, I said, "But you loved it."
And he said, "I loved it, but if you went down there, I'd hate it."
And they really were very, very resistant
and I knew I was making them miserable, so I didn't do it.
I then applied to go to the Army and they said,
"No, no, no. You can be a soldier, by all means be a soldier,
"we think it's a fine thing to be a soldier,
"but do your A-levels first and then make a decision."
And I stuck that for a couple of months
and then I applied to join the police force.
And when they found out about that, they said,
"We think being a policeman is a terrific thing,
"it's absolutely great,
"but wait until you've done your A-levels."
Which I did and then I did...reasonably at A-levels,
got into university.
When I got elected to the Students' Representative Council
in my second year,
I went home at Easter time and my mother and father congratulated me.
I'd got quite a good result, it was very good, and my father said,
"You're taking this politics seriously?"
I said, "Yes, it's the only way to get things done.
He said, "Oh, I agree with that. Oh, I agree with that.
"Hm... You won't be growing a beard, will you?"
And I said, "Why the hell not?"
And he said,
"Because politicians should always have to shave in the morning
"to look at themselves in the mirror."
And like a clever Dick, I said, "Oh, what about women?"
And he looked at me and he said,
So, no chance, even if I had been a revolutionary,
of being a bearded one!
Now, you left with a degree but, of course,
you also met your wife, Glenys, now Lady Kinnock,
a formidable politician in her own right.
And even in those days, you were called "the power and the glory".
-Which was which?
I was the power, she was the glory
and all you had to do was to look at a photograph of us
and you'd know which was which.
The title was given to us by a dear, dear, dear friend
called John Collins, who is a very active councillor
up in his native Preston, still.
And John wrote a column about us and called us "the power and the glory"
and it stuck.
And, of course, mischievous or malevolent people
wanted to turn it the other one -
she was the power, I was the glory.
But that's certainly not how John wrote it in the first place.
And, I mean, she was a hugely effective organiser.
I really had to win her out of her shyness, an innate shyness.
And of course, when she did find her feet on the platform,
she was immensely convincing because...
I remember we had a conversation when she was running to become,
after years of me trying to persuade her and her rebuffs,
to become an elected politician,
because, you know, she really has got the kit.
There's no question about that.
She's not only articulate and intelligent
and very strongly committed,
but she's also charming.
Something I missed out on, but there you are!
And I tried and other people tried,
but she always dismissed it while the kids were growing up.
When Rachel, our daughter, went off to university,
the first weekend after that that we were going to see her in Bristol...
..Glenys announced that she was going to try and secure nomination
to become the Member of the European Parliament for South East Wales.
And I was so shocked, I really nearly drove off the road.
I had to stop, it was so amazing.
I was delighted, but I was amazed.
And she said to me, as we were driving along afterwards, she said,
"I'm not sure I can do it, but I'm going to give it a try."
And I said, "Of course you can do it."
She said, "Well, you know, what about...what about speaking?"
And I said, "Well, you've done lots of public speaking."
She said, "Yes, but it's not the same.
"It's nearly all been with friendly audiences."
I said, "Look, you've spent the last several years
"teaching seven-year-olds to read.
"All you've got to do is to treat the world
"as if it was seven years of age
"and take the same attitude and you'll never have any problems."
And, I mean, she's a born teacher
and it has stood her in good stead, I must say.
How important has she been to your life?
Oh, vital, in all respects.
You know, I could give instances of...
..inspiration and consolation.
She was largely responsible for bringing up the kids,
especially in their teens.
I became elected leader of the Labour Party when my son was 13
and my daughter was 11.
And, obviously, I had preoccupations.
They always knew, as they've told me since,
that I was doing my damnedest to get to a school concert
or a football game or a netball game, to be there,
but I, obviously and unavoidably, missed quite a lot
and it was Glenys that provided
the absolute rock-solid steadiness, stability, encouragement
and they've turned out to be very, very fine people.
So I owe her...
I don't know how I would have made it through the death of my parents
within eight days of each other in 1971
if Glenys hadn't been my mainstay and partner.
Producing Rachel a week after my mother died,
which was a wonderful preoccupation.
So I guess that eased it.
Was she supportive of your desire to become an MP?
Because you were very young, weren't you?
We should just remind people, you were only 28 when you were elected.
The circumstances were odd, in many ways.
Fortuitous in others.
We got married in 1967
and because her job was in Abersychan grammar school,
Roy Jenkins' alma mater...
Didn't he say that was the Eton of Wales, perhaps?
He might have, but it...but it wasn't!
And that was her first teaching job.
And I was the Workers' Education Association tutor organiser
for South East Wales
and most of my work was over towards the Cynan Valley,
the Rhondda and westward of that, down to Swansea.
And we needed to find somewhere that was halfway between them.
And the place was Blackwood.
And when I turned up there,
obviously, we transferred our membership of the Labour Party
from, as it happened, from Ebbw Vale to what was then Bedwellty.
And I'd thought the MP, about whom I knew little,
was a guy in his late 50s.
Anyway, he turned out - a very decent man called Harold Finch -
to be in his late 60s.
And I was sitting there in 1969 as the minute secretary
of the Constituency Labour Party Executive...
..taking notes with my pencil of the proceedings
and we came to any other business in January 1969
and Jack Beddy, the President, a dear old comrade of mine, said,
"Is there any other business?"
And the MP said,
"Yes, Jack, I've got something in any other business.
"I've decided I'm not going to run at the next General Election."
And if you look at the minute book, you can see where my pencil broke!
So immediately after the meeting,
some friends who were on the executive and I,
young men and women, went down to our usual haunt,
the working men's club
and Glenys joined us.
And I said, "Right, who are we going to run?"
And they looked at me and they said, "You, you silly sod!"
And I said, "Oh, too young."
I was 27, then.
"Too young," I said.
"No, you're not. You've got what it takes.
"We are going to run you."
And six months later, in the selection meeting,
I drew with a veteran of the Spanish Civil War,
a guy I would have voted for, if I hadn't been running - Lance Rogers.
75 votes each.
And we were called in again to make another speech
and I won by 76-74 and secured the nomination.
So you arrive as a very young man in the House of Commons
and, of course, this is the pre-television age,
so had you actually ever seen the House of Commons
or been there before?
I'd been there once for a demonstration and not got in,
and once to see Michael Foot shortly after I was selected.
He was in the middle of the House of Lords No 2 Bill,
campaigning successfully to defeat the government
in its proposals to reform the House of Lords
in a way that he strongly detested.
We had tea and a drink
and that was the only time I'd been in there previously.
How easy did you find it to stand up
and make a speech in the Commons chamber?
But I don't enjoy speaking in any case.
I never have.
I quite like teaching and I used to teach adults.
I learned more from them than they learned from me.
I'm certain any adult teacher will say the same thing.
Especially the kind of men and women I had in my classes,
who were extraordinary.
-So you don't like speaking?
I think many people would regard you as...
as one of the great orators of the '80s and '90s.
Well, yeah, people are very kind about that
and I know I've made some good and a few outstanding speeches.
I know that.
And I'm very fortunate
that I've been able to articulate ideas, arguments.
But I think anybody will tell you that
my most fluent and effective speaking is done in a corner.
Well, let's just pause for a second,
because we've got a clip of one of your most famous speeches.
So let's have a look at that now.
If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday...
..I warn you not to be ordinary.
I warn you not to be young.
I warn you not to fall ill.
And I warn you not to grow old.
Now, if people hadn't heard of Neil Kinnock
before you made that speech,
they'd certainly heard about you afterwards.
That brought you to the attention.
It was just a few hours before the election.
Is that something that you'd worked on for a long time, that speech?
Glenys comes into the picture again.
It was the Tuesday before the election
and I was due to speak in Bridgend, in South Wales.
But I'd been...
..campaigning in London and the Home Counties
and so the only way for me to get to South Wales
was for Glenys to drive me down
while I worked in the back of the car.
And very unusually, I think it was the only speech,
maybe one other,
that I wrote during that election campaign
and I sat in the back of the car with a clipboard
and drafted the speech.
And I had been working on it for about 20 minutes
and I said to Glenys, "What do you think of this?"
And I sort of read it and she said, "Hm, it sounds like blank verse."
So I then wrote the rest of it in blank verse
and it's become known as the I Warn You speech.
The tragedy is, of course, that so much of it came true.
And do you think you would have become Labour leader,
just a short time later, if you hadn't made that speech?
Yes, I think so, because I'd been very active
in the trade union and Labour movement in a variety of ways
for the 13 years that I'd been a Member of Parliament.
And I had a degree of respect, even amongst my opponents,
because I always tried to play straight with people.
And I could tell a joke,
and I could turn quite grim situations with a sense of humour,
which is also appreciated.
And then, really, given the state of the Labour Party
in the wake of the 1983 General Election,
the movement, generally, was looking for a leader
who was unquestionably from the left
but sane and sensible.
And I'd taken on Tony Benn and his element in the Labour Party
and, people say, denied him the deputy leadership of the party
by organising the abstention of Tribune,
as I say, Bevanite Members of Parliament,
in his bid to be elected deputy leader in 1981.
And Denis Healey won by 0.6 of 1%.
I was sitting there on the platform, waiting for the result,
and I thought, "You clown! Why didn't you vote for Denis?
"You disagree with him,
"but the party's in safe hands with Denis Healey.
"It'll be wrecked if Tony gets elected."
Much as, in some ways, I admired Tony,
I thought that his brand of ultra-leftism
was toxic for the standing of the Labour Party.
And, anyway, as it happened,
I didn't have cause for regret because Denis did win.
But taking him on...
..got me unintentional notoriety in some quarters
and applause in others.
Do you enjoy campaigning? Do you enjoy a political campaign?
First of all, in terms of the opportunity
of encouraging and inspiring our side, which is vital.
It's part of leadership, I guess.
But also, in the opportunity to confront the enemy
and to do it in the circumstances of election,
when you don't have to take refuge in the niceties or the formalities.
Of course, you must always try to be courteous,
but if attacked, you hit back.
And I used to get attacked a fair amount, so I always did hit back.
And it's rumbustious.
It isn't the definition of democracy,
but without it democracy is much weaker, much poorer,
much less vibrant, less meaningful to a lot of people.
People look for contest,
sincere, authentic contest, not a put-up show.
A year after you became leader, we had the miners' strike in 1984,
a very bitter industrial dispute
and you found yourself at the heart of it,
because one of the big arguments about that
was the whole issue of whether or not the union,
the National Union of Mineworkers, should have held a ballot or not.
That put you at odds with the leader of the union,
Arthur Scargill, didn't it?
Without reservation, I supported the case for coal.
Not only on the grounds of maintaining the industry
and the communities dependent upon it,
but on grounds of national interest,
because we were still then heavily dependent on coal
and, by definition,
domestically-generated coal and energy
is much more secure than dependence on imports.
So I wholeheartedly had always and did support the case for coal.
And the first conversation I had about it
with Scargill in October 1983,
just weeks after I was elected as leader of the Labour Party,
because he appeared to agree with the view that I expressed
that we had to uphold the case for coal.
We had to contest the closure programme
and we had to do it by ensuring that men came off the coalfield
and went to communities around the country,
market towns, London suburbs,
and explain why it was a matter of the national interest
to sustain the coal-mining industry.
Not every last pit but, nevertheless, substantially.
And to invest in it and exploit Britain's massive,
still massive, coal reserves.
But then came the work-to-rule in the coal-mining industry
which, again, I endorsed as a way of demonstrating
the need for an intelligent investment programme.
And, of course, the men in my constituency -
I'd over 4,000 miners in my constituency -
were part of that.
And they took wage cuts, sacrifices in doing that.
So that when, by a series of ridiculous errors,
the board gave the appearance of closing a colliery,
an English colliery, Cottonwood,
which proved to be erroneous,
and the rolling strike started
with men just stopping going into the pit.
And the South Wales miners going to different coalfields,
to the canteens, and making the argument with the men
that they had to fight to sustain the industry and their communities,
And by the Easter of 1984...
lots of people, including myself
and, indeed, including Mick McGahey, the vice-president of the NUM,
who was a dear, dear comrade of mine, had been for decades...
..thought that the reason
for convening a special conference of the miners
was to change the rule on strike procedure,
which would have been sensible,
and then have a ballot for the strike,
following the precedent, on every occasion,
on which there had been a dispute in the coal-mining industry
in the 20th century.
And that wasn't Scargill's thought.
He actually thought that he could,
by a kid of Syndicalist insurrection,
win the strike.
And I knew immediately that was supreme folly,
not least because the government had,
with great care and in detail,
prepared for the strike with huge stockpiles,
vastly in excess of what the usual stockpile was
and lots of other developments,
including social security powers and so on.
So I knew that it was utter folly not to have the ballot
and gain a democratic mandate for the strike.
It was guaranteed to divide the labour force, which it did,
and a divided labour force in that industry or, indeed any industry...
..was doomed to failure.
And the loyalty of the miners to Arthur Scargill
was hideously exploited.
And out of it came dreadful misery and desperate poverty
for a lot of the coal-mining communities,
where people lived, literally,
on the charitable efforts of the rest of the trade union movement,
the Labour Party, generous communities,
foreign mining communities.
And that isn't how those men and women wanted to live.
But they sustained the strike.
And my constituency,
the men in my constituency, were first out and last back,
as I would have expected.
They are incomparable.
As the strike wore on, and the bitterness increased
and the poverty deepened,
I was determined that Scargill
would never be able to use me as an excuse,
or the Labour Party as an excuse, for the failure of the strike.
I was determined that the full blame would be where it belonged,
and that was him.
Not on the miners' executive,
who were kept in the dark for much of the dispute.
Or on the miners themselves, who were...
..stalwart to a superhuman level
and their families and wives were extraordinary.
I was determined that he would historically carry the blame.
And that is pretty much, except for his closest adherents,
is what's happened.
I took no pleasure in it,
but I wanted to see justice done.
Now, the 1980s were a tumultuous time in British politics
and one of the things you were trying to do
was to change the Labour Party and, of course, in 1985,
and we're going to hear it in a minute,
you made another very famous speech about Militant tendency.
I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises.
with far-fetched resolutions.
They are then pickled into a rigid dogma code
and you go through the years sticking to that -
outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs
and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council -
a Labour council - hiring taxis to scuttle round a city,
handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.
SHOUTS AND APPLAUSE
And we saw there Derek Hatton,
who was technically the deputy leader of the council, heckling you.
Another Liverpool politician, the Liverpool MP Eric Heffer -
he walked out, didn't it?
What did it feel like when you're making a speech like that,
of such force and with such a reaction?
I think you - if I'm honest with myself -
derive a certain degree of stimulus from...
..if you like, rhetorically fixing your bayonet and charging.
And I also felt a sense of relief
because I'd wanted to make this speech the year before,
but the year before was the middle of the miners' strike
and I knew that, with all of the swirling emotions of solidarity
and the inclination towards ultra-leftism
and the war against Thatcherism,
I never would have got a hearing,
and it was vital for me to deliver that message
directly to the Labour movement, if you like, between its eyes.
Knowing that the Liverpool Militants were there.
And so I really didn't give a damn what happened to me afterwards.
What I wanted to do was to expose and destroy them
and make whatever contribution I could
to saving the city of Liverpool from the abyss into which
it would have been plunged with the continuation of their policies.
We said at the beginning that you were a man of the left.
I guess you probably still say that you're a man of the left?
-Oh, I am, yeah.
-But you were certainly more left-wing
than, say, James Callaghan or Harold Wilson,
and yet you moved to this stage in your leadership
where you were talking about things like common sense and realism.
It didn't sound very ideological.
Well, I've always done that, though, you see.
We talked earlier about the way I was brought up and the values,
political and other values, that I imbibed without consciously doing so
and that was there all the time.
If it doesn't work, it's no good to working-class people. I mean...
And you can enchant people by ideological flights of fancy
but that's not going to help them at all.
The greatest guide to that was the man
that I considered to be my lodestar,
and that's Nye Bevan.
Bevan, the father of the National Health Service,
which he based on a working model that they had
through the collective provision of quality health care,
paid for by tiny contributions by all the workers in Tredegar,
the town I came from.
That showed that socialism had to work in practice,
or it was a decoration
and being a socialist was nothing better than a hobby.
And, to me...
to me, it's still the way to emancipate the world.
Do you anticipate that the next generation of leaders
would be more technocratic, would be a bit more like New Labour became?
Obviously, you were hoping for Neil Kinnock to be in Number Ten,
-not for somebody else.
But was your vision of the Labour Party in the future
that it would be a more technocratic party?
I was ecstatic when the Labour Party,
first of all under John Smith, who tragically died,
and then Tony Blair, went from strength to strength.
I think the problem was that,
despite great talent in that government -
I mean, seriously profound talent - and certainly a sense
of progressive, decent and patriotic mission...
..they allowed themselves to lose impetus.
Because... Pierre Mendes France said that socialism is like a bicycle -
if it doesn't go forward, it falls over.
I mean, it's a very basic analogy but it is entirely appropriate.
And I understand the pressures and the distractions
and indeed the temptations, in some ways.
But in the very frequent conversations I had with Tony -
and he was always immensely generous with his time, as was Gordon Brown -
I tried to get that across, and I would simply get agreement,
and there's nothing more infuriating
than getting agreement and then no action.
I think that's what happened.
It meant that, very gradually, that breadth of appeal
which gives social democracy, democratic socialism, New Labour...
I don't give a damn about the label on it!
Underneath it all, the confidence was declining.
And I greatly, greatly regret that
because these were good, talented people
with a noble cause and the only way to do it
to its full extent is to maintain the momentum.
Now you've talked about some big figures - Nye Bevan,
Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Denis Healey.
One of the biggest figures of the 20th century was Margaret Thatcher.
-You faced her against the dispatch box.
What was she like as an opponent?
It wasn't easy. She was a woman of distinction.
She was 17 years older than I am,
and I don't know whether it was my upbringing or...
..innate courteous deference or whatever else -
I don't know, I'm making no excuses, these are just realities -
I could never really tackle her in the way
in which I was able to tackle, for instance, John Major,
a man of the same age, the same kind of background.
And I could be as relentless as I liked with him.
If I misjudged it with Margaret Thatcher,
and even managed to land a blow...
..the consequences would not be full credit
against a woman who, without exaggeration,
as you will probably know yourself cos you were around at the time,
was profoundly hated amongst many people
in a large part of the country.
Certainly as hated as she was, in other parts of the country, admired.
The reality is that I didn't sort of consciously sit down
and think that I should be reserved in my attack,
but I knew that in my choice of language
and in my choice of targets, I had to take a degree of care.
Mrs Thatcher would, I think, often for self-defensive reasons,
seize upon a maxim...
..and make it an ideology.
I mean, Thatcherism emerged in that way.
It wasn't an "ism" until pretty much..
..around the time of the Falklands War,
when Britain was making a noticeable but slight recovery
from the devastation wrought
by the misplaced policies of she and Geoffrey Howe -
a lovely man, he was, but nevertheless he was wrong -
in '79 and '80, when 25% of British manufacturing capacity
And it took quite a time for that to recover
but it was starting to recover,
and the newspapers started speaking of "Thatcher-ism"
and I think Mrs Thatcher inhaled.
And eventually, of course, it brought her downfall.
So she was replaced by John Major,
and so you're fighting the 1992 election against him.
In many ways, you're both similar sort of campaigners.
John Major would take to his soapbox,
you always seem very happy when you're wandering along streets
-or popping into cafes and talking to people in the pub.
Was it an old-fashioned campaign, do you think?
Was it perhaps the last old-fashioned campaign we've had?
No, in both the '87 and '92 elections,
people said, "If it had been judged on the campaigns, you won."
And we were good. I mean, we were very professional
but we also had vigour and we had a sense of belief.
And that carried us. More in '87, when we were really up against it
and we had to stop being third in that election,
which we succeeded in doing.
In '92, we were very good, too, even more professional.
Now along comes John, John Major,
and he's a kid from an even more difficult background...
Well, my background wasn't difficult,
my background was wonderful,
but he had a difficult background.
He won his way through the ranks of the Tory Party and, in desperation,
because the wheels were coming off their campaign,
he literally pulled out an orange box or whatever it was
from the boot of his coach and got a bullhorn
and did what he'd done on the streets 25 years before.
So people looking for the big change from Thatcher, Thatcherism...
..were presented not just with somebody
who manifestly wasn't Margaret Thatcher,
but with a guy who was proving by his very physical existence
and presentation that the great change had come.
So the people who wanted to vote for the big change
could vote for the change and continue to vote Conservative.
You didn't win. How did it feel in those hours after defeat?
A deep, bone marrow disappointment,
but here's the extraordinary thing.
This is what happens at times when people grieve.
The distraction of being
absolutely preoccupied with trying to help the people
who'd given me their lives in my staff with their future
meant that months passed before I sort of woke up one morning
and thought, "What about losing that election?" You know?
Then I gave way for a week or so, it certainly wasn't more than that,
to attempts at self-consolation,
assisted by Glenys, but that didn't last long,
because the water had flowed
and the curtain had come down, to use John Major's phrase.
I was just grateful that that preoccupation
had made my life much too busy,
and too concerned to be bothered much about losing the election.
You were joking earlier, before we started,
-that your time as Labour leader had been your midlife crisis.
Not many people can date their midlife crisis with precision.
Mine started on October the 2nd 1983 and it ended on July the 18th 1992!
But since then you've been a European Commissioner,
you're now a member of the House of Lords.
Did you enjoy your time in Europe?
Well, short of another ice age,
I was born and brought up and have always lived in Europe
cos that's where the UK is,
and Europe's had many reasons to be grateful for that
and will continue to, despite what happened in the referendum.
As a young man, you were very critical of the Common Market,
as it was called, so do you understand
why people wanted to reject the European Union?
I understand why they...
accepted the absolutely false prospectus that was hurled at them
over 30 years by newspapers and by some politicians
and latterly by those who argued for the Leave campaign.
I understand that.
But the awful reality is that the people who will suffer most
as a result of the dislocation and long-term uncertainty...
..economically, will be a lot of the people who voted to leave
because they were taught to become obsessed with immigration,
particularly in areas where there is no immigration to speak of.
I'm actually still devastated by the outcome.
Not in personal terms.
You know, Glenys and I are in our 70s.
Our children are successful,
our grandchildren are bright and fit and will make their own way.
That's all fine.
But for our country, I grieve at the way in which this...
..dislocation, this withdrawal took place for all the wrong reasons...
..and that's dreadful.
So, at the end of this interview,
we've spanned quite a long period of time
from your beginnings in the Valleys to life now.
If you had that 15-year-old Neil Kinnock here,
the boy who joined the Labour Party illegally,
what would you say to him?
"Carry on. Gird your loins, sustain your beliefs.
"Work for enlightenment and emancipation."
And that would sound a bit pompous, actually.
I'd translate it into slightly different terms.
I might say, "Don't ever think of a CAREER in politics."
Cos all the people that I've ever met who think of...
who say to me, "Mr Kinnock, I would like a career in politics,"
I say, "Don't!"
Because some of the biggest dolts I've ever met,
some of the most useless articles I've ever met
are people who've thought of "a career in politics".
It's not a career. It's...
..the fact that if you want to change the world
and you've got the sense to organise for that,
if you're very, very, very lucky,
other people will put their trust in you and give you their vote,
but never think of it as a career.
I might even say, um...
No, I wouldn't. I was going to say,
"Be a bit more cautious in your choice of causes and associates,
"because if you pick the wrong ones,
"or they are a long way from convention,
"it'll come up to bite you," but I wouldn't.
I think you've got to take some risks in any case,
and be true to yourself.
I suppose if I had to use a phrase...
..it would be the one that my father used.
"Be true to yourself."
-Neil, Lord Kinnock, thank you very much.