Lord Kinnock Conversations


Lord Kinnock

Sean Curran talks to former Labour party leader Neil Kinnock about his life and political career.


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Conversations.

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Today, my guest is the son of a nurse and a coalminer

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from the Valleys of South Wales,

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who grew up to lead the Labour Party through some of its toughest times.

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He was Leader of the Opposition

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against the most formidable postwar Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

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A one-time man of the left who became a moderniser,

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who transformed his party

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and paved the way for the electoral success of Tony Blair

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and the New Labour years.

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He went on to serve as one of the UK's European Commissioners.

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He is Neil, Lord Kinnock.

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-Lord Kinnock, welcome.

-Thank you.

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Let's start at the beginning

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and the beginning of your political life.

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Some people get their politics from a university seminar,

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some from experience.

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Are you one of those who inherited his politics in the Valleys?

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You could put it like that.

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It certainly came from the community in which I grew up

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and the family that I was hugely fortunate to have.

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It wasn't that they were stridently political.

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They were socialists...

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matter-of-factly.

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And trade unionists.

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And I learned very, very early on

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that the only source of strength that we really had

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was our own diligence

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and the strength of numbers of collective action.

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I was just under 15 when, illegally,

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in terms of the Labour Party rules then,

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I was permitted to join the Labour Party by our local ward secretary,

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who was also our county councillor, a marvellous fellow.

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And that's where, really, my politics,

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my democratic socialist politics, came from.

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Further inspired, I must say,

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by the fact that our Member of Parliament was Aneurin Bevan.

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And not only was he worshipped by my family and everybody I knew,

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but he was the model

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of how you could mix inspiration and construction.

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So what was the culture like in South Wales?

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Because your father, he came from a big family

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and a lot of them had had very tough lives, hadn't they?

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I mean, really difficult times with industrial injuries

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and really hard work for a really long time

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in a way that, probably, people starting work now

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couldn't possibly imagine.

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Did that influence your culture and your political culture?

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Well, people starting work now, hopefully, will never experience...

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My father was one of seven surviving children.

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My grandmother had had 13 pregnancies

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and, of those, nine produced children,

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seven of whom survived.

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That was typical. That wasn't in any sense extraordinary.

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And it was a similar, slightly smaller numbers,

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pattern with my mother's family, as well.

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And...

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..amongst those seven children, six were boys

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and all but one of them became miners, colliers,

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like my grandfather and just about all the men in my family,

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except for those who were bakers.

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And...

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of those, two remained in the pits after the 1930s.

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The rest were forced to leave, become migrants.

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And they made their way to, ultimately, very successful jobs,

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two in the steel industry, one in electronics.

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They did all kinds of things.

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They were in boxing bouts, they were wrestlers,

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they were steelworkers

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and that's the kind of background.

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My father stayed in the pit.

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He loved being a coalminer

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and he had a redoubtable reputation

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as a Stakhanovite - a great producer.

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He was the kind of generous guy who,

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as people told me after he died,

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during the war,

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when people were kept on in the pits, experienced miners,

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way past the time they should have been going underground

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and had dreadful asthma,

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product of pneumoconiosis, dermatitis and so on.

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If they were ill, he'd cut their tonnage

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and then cut his own -

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and that's the kind of guy he was.

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My mother was a similarly generous spirit.

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-Your mother was the district nurse, wasn't she?

-Yes, she was.

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She was a sort of sheriff of North Tredegar.

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She knew everybody, everybody knew her.

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And she was always immensely smart in her uniform.

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She was welcomed everywhere she went,

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but she had a sense of order

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that was quite remarkable, and a real presence.

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She was quite a woman. Highly intelligent.

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But for the 1926 General Strike, when she was 16...

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..I think she probably would have gone on to study medicine,

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despite the awful poverty of her family.

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They had kept her in school

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after she'd got a scholarship to the grammar school,

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but the 1926 General Strike came,

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there was a new baby in the house and it was simply unsustainable,

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so she left and then took nursing training instead.

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But she was a redoubtable, wonderful woman.

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-Your parents obviously had a great influence on you.

-Yeah.

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They obviously worked very hard for you, to give you an opportunity.

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Was that an opportunity to leave the Valleys, do you think?

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Or did they want you to stay and be a big figure there?

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It never translated itself in those terms, funnily enough.

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I never remember a single conversation of that kind.

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Their whole emphasis was on my self-fulfilment,

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what the Americans would call my self-actualisation.

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Though they would have fallen over if they'd heard that one!

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And they wanted me to do the best that I could.

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And at 11, I was immensely promising.

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I had no difficulty flying into a very, very creamed

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boys-only grammar school.

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The only problem was, I had to travel about three hours a day

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to get there and back.

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But it was a highly thought of grammar school.

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Lloyd George called it the Eton of Wales,

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as if that was the greatest flattery!

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And I had a miserable time in school.

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Maybe because I was ginger, I was bullied.

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And that's where I learned to fight

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and where I took some of my politics from, actually,

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because I've always loathed and sought to fight back

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against bullies of every description

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and I guess, in the school, that wasn't a bad training ground.

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I eventually got to like it in the sixth form,

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when I was treated as an adult by good teachers

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and went to university.

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Let's stop for a second

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because, for all of us who've had a hard time

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after not doing well at our O-levels,

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you're a bit of an inspirational story,

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because you didn't do very well in your O-levels, either.

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Appallingly badly.

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I didn't realise until I was actually sitting the O-levels

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that revision was required.

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I mean, I eventually collected quite a lot of them,

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but only after I'd had this real punch between the eyes

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of getting very good marks in three subjects

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which, of course, was utterly useless,

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so I had to stay on for an extra year and do more O-levels

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before I was permitted to go into the sixth form.

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Would your parents have let you leave school, then, at that point?

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No, no, no, no.

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I did everything I could to get out.

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I applied to the NCB, the National Coal Board,

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for a management traineeship and was accepted.

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When they discovered that I was going to become

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someone in the coal-mining industry,

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they went berserk.

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And I said to my father, "But you loved being a coalminer."

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By this time, because of industrial dermatitis,

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which was a dreadful disability,

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he had his hands wrapped for the rest of his life.

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But he loved being a coalminer.

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They transferred him because of a dust allergy!

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HE CHUCKLES

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They transferred him out to the blast furnaces

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in the Ebbw Vale steelworks,

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which is even more dusty than being underground.

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Anyway, I said, "But you loved it."

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And he said, "I loved it, but if you went down there, I'd hate it."

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And they really were very, very resistant

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and I knew I was making them miserable, so I didn't do it.

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I then applied to go to the Army and they said,

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"No, no, no. You can be a soldier, by all means be a soldier,

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"we think it's a fine thing to be a soldier,

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"but do your A-levels first and then make a decision."

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And I stuck that for a couple of months

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and then I applied to join the police force.

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And when they found out about that, they said,

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"We think being a policeman is a terrific thing,

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"it's absolutely great,

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"but wait until you've done your A-levels."

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Which I did and then I did...reasonably at A-levels,

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got into university.

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When I got elected to the Students' Representative Council

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in my second year,

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I went home at Easter time and my mother and father congratulated me.

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I'd got quite a good result, it was very good, and my father said,

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"You're taking this politics seriously?"

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I said, "Yes, it's the only way to get things done.

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He said, "Oh, I agree with that. Oh, I agree with that.

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"Hm... You won't be growing a beard, will you?"

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And I said, "Why the hell not?"

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And he said,

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"Because politicians should always have to shave in the morning

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"to look at themselves in the mirror."

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And like a clever Dick, I said, "Oh, what about women?"

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And he looked at me and he said,

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"Lipstick!"

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So, no chance, even if I had been a revolutionary,

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of being a bearded one!

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Now, you left with a degree but, of course,

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you also met your wife, Glenys, now Lady Kinnock,

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a formidable politician in her own right.

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And even in those days, you were called "the power and the glory".

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-Yes.

-Which was which?

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I was the power, she was the glory

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and all you had to do was to look at a photograph of us

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and you'd know which was which.

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The title was given to us by a dear, dear, dear friend

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called John Collins, who is a very active councillor

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up in his native Preston, still.

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And John wrote a column about us and called us "the power and the glory"

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and it stuck.

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And, of course, mischievous or malevolent people

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wanted to turn it the other one -

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she was the power, I was the glory.

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But that's certainly not how John wrote it in the first place.

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And, I mean, she was a hugely effective organiser.

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I really had to win her out of her shyness, an innate shyness.

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And of course, when she did find her feet on the platform,

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she was immensely convincing because...

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I remember we had a conversation when she was running to become,

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after years of me trying to persuade her and her rebuffs,

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to become an elected politician,

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because, you know, she really has got the kit.

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There's no question about that.

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She's not only articulate and intelligent

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and very strongly committed,

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but she's also charming.

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Something I missed out on, but there you are!

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And I tried and other people tried,

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but she always dismissed it while the kids were growing up.

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When Rachel, our daughter, went off to university,

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the first weekend after that that we were going to see her in Bristol...

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..Glenys announced that she was going to try and secure nomination

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to become the Member of the European Parliament for South East Wales.

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And I was so shocked, I really nearly drove off the road.

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I had to stop, it was so amazing.

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I was delighted, but I was amazed.

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And she said to me, as we were driving along afterwards, she said,

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"I'm not sure I can do it, but I'm going to give it a try."

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And I said, "Of course you can do it."

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She said, "Well, you know, what about...what about speaking?"

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And I said, "Well, you've done lots of public speaking."

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She said, "Yes, but it's not the same.

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"It's nearly all been with friendly audiences."

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I said, "Look, you've spent the last several years

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"teaching seven-year-olds to read.

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"All you've got to do is to treat the world

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"as if it was seven years of age

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"and take the same attitude and you'll never have any problems."

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And, I mean, she's a born teacher

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and it has stood her in good stead, I must say.

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How important has she been to your life?

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Oh, vital, in all respects.

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You know, I could give instances of...

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..inspiration and consolation.

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She was largely responsible for bringing up the kids,

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especially in their teens.

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I became elected leader of the Labour Party when my son was 13

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and my daughter was 11.

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And, obviously, I had preoccupations.

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They always knew, as they've told me since,

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that I was doing my damnedest to get to a school concert

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or a football game or a netball game, to be there,

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but I, obviously and unavoidably, missed quite a lot

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and it was Glenys that provided

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the absolute rock-solid steadiness, stability, encouragement

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and they've turned out to be very, very fine people.

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Erm...

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So I owe her...

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Sorry.

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I don't know how I would have made it through the death of my parents

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within eight days of each other in 1971

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if Glenys hadn't been my mainstay and partner.

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Producing Rachel a week after my mother died,

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which was a wonderful preoccupation.

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So I guess that eased it.

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Was she supportive of your desire to become an MP?

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Because you were very young, weren't you?

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We should just remind people, you were only 28 when you were elected.

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The circumstances were odd, in many ways.

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Fortuitous in others.

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We got married in 1967

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and because her job was in Abersychan grammar school,

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Roy Jenkins' alma mater...

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Didn't he say that was the Eton of Wales, perhaps?

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He might have, but it...but it wasn't!

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And that was her first teaching job.

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And I was the Workers' Education Association tutor organiser

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for South East Wales

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and most of my work was over towards the Cynan Valley,

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the Rhondda and westward of that, down to Swansea.

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And we needed to find somewhere that was halfway between them.

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And the place was Blackwood.

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And when I turned up there,

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obviously, we transferred our membership of the Labour Party

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from, as it happened, from Ebbw Vale to what was then Bedwellty.

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And I'd thought the MP, about whom I knew little,

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was a guy in his late 50s.

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Anyway, he turned out - a very decent man called Harold Finch -

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to be in his late 60s.

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And I was sitting there in 1969 as the minute secretary

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of the Constituency Labour Party Executive...

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HE CHUCKLES

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..taking notes with my pencil of the proceedings

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and we came to any other business in January 1969

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and Jack Beddy, the President, a dear old comrade of mine, said,

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"Is there any other business?"

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And the MP said,

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"Yes, Jack, I've got something in any other business.

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"I've decided I'm not going to run at the next General Election."

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And if you look at the minute book, you can see where my pencil broke!

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So immediately after the meeting,

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some friends who were on the executive and I,

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young men and women, went down to our usual haunt,

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the working men's club

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and Glenys joined us.

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And I said, "Right, who are we going to run?"

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And they looked at me and they said, "You, you silly sod!"

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And I said, "Oh, too young."

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I was 27, then.

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"Too young," I said.

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"No, you're not. You've got what it takes.

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"We are going to run you."

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And six months later, in the selection meeting,

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I drew with a veteran of the Spanish Civil War,

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a guy I would have voted for, if I hadn't been running - Lance Rogers.

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75 votes each.

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And we were called in again to make another speech

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and I won by 76-74 and secured the nomination.

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So you arrive as a very young man in the House of Commons

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and, of course, this is the pre-television age,

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so had you actually ever seen the House of Commons

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or been there before?

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I'd been there once for a demonstration and not got in,

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and once to see Michael Foot shortly after I was selected.

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He was in the middle of the House of Lords No 2 Bill,

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campaigning successfully to defeat the government

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in its proposals to reform the House of Lords

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in a way that he strongly detested.

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We had tea and a drink

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and that was the only time I'd been in there previously.

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How easy did you find it to stand up

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and make a speech in the Commons chamber?

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Difficult, always.

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But I don't enjoy speaking in any case.

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I never have.

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I quite like teaching and I used to teach adults.

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I learned more from them than they learned from me.

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I'm certain any adult teacher will say the same thing.

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Especially the kind of men and women I had in my classes,

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who were extraordinary.

0:18:270:18:29

And...

0:18:300:18:32

-So you don't like speaking?

-No.

0:18:320:18:34

I think many people would regard you as...

0:18:340:18:37

as one of the great orators of the '80s and '90s.

0:18:370:18:40

Well, yeah, people are very kind about that

0:18:400:18:44

and I know I've made some good and a few outstanding speeches.

0:18:440:18:50

I know that.

0:18:500:18:52

And I'm very fortunate

0:18:520:18:54

that I've been able to articulate ideas, arguments.

0:18:540:18:57

But I think anybody will tell you that

0:18:590:19:02

my most fluent and effective speaking is done in a corner.

0:19:020:19:09

Well, let's just pause for a second,

0:19:110:19:13

because we've got a clip of one of your most famous speeches.

0:19:130:19:18

So let's have a look at that now.

0:19:180:19:21

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday...

0:19:230:19:26

..I warn you not to be ordinary.

0:19:270:19:29

I warn you not to be young.

0:19:300:19:32

I warn you not to fall ill.

0:19:340:19:36

And I warn you not to grow old.

0:19:360:19:39

APPLAUSE

0:19:390:19:42

Hm...

0:19:440:19:45

Now, if people hadn't heard of Neil Kinnock

0:19:460:19:49

before you made that speech,

0:19:490:19:50

they'd certainly heard about you afterwards.

0:19:500:19:53

That brought you to the attention.

0:19:530:19:55

It was just a few hours before the election.

0:19:550:19:57

Is that something that you'd worked on for a long time, that speech?

0:19:580:20:02

No.

0:20:020:20:03

Glenys comes into the picture again.

0:20:030:20:05

It was the Tuesday before the election

0:20:070:20:11

and I was due to speak in Bridgend, in South Wales.

0:20:110:20:14

But I'd been...

0:20:150:20:16

..campaigning in London and the Home Counties

0:20:170:20:21

and so the only way for me to get to South Wales

0:20:210:20:24

was for Glenys to drive me down

0:20:240:20:26

while I worked in the back of the car.

0:20:260:20:28

And very unusually, I think it was the only speech,

0:20:280:20:32

maybe one other,

0:20:320:20:34

that I wrote during that election campaign

0:20:340:20:37

and I sat in the back of the car with a clipboard

0:20:370:20:40

and drafted the speech.

0:20:400:20:42

And I had been working on it for about 20 minutes

0:20:420:20:45

and I said to Glenys, "What do you think of this?"

0:20:450:20:48

And I sort of read it and she said, "Hm, it sounds like blank verse."

0:20:480:20:52

So I then wrote the rest of it in blank verse

0:20:520:20:56

and it's become known as the I Warn You speech.

0:20:560:20:59

The tragedy is, of course, that so much of it came true.

0:20:590:21:02

And do you think you would have become Labour leader,

0:21:020:21:05

just a short time later, if you hadn't made that speech?

0:21:050:21:08

Yes, I think so, because I'd been very active

0:21:080:21:12

in the trade union and Labour movement in a variety of ways

0:21:120:21:16

for the 13 years that I'd been a Member of Parliament.

0:21:160:21:20

And I had a degree of respect, even amongst my opponents,

0:21:200:21:24

because I always tried to play straight with people.

0:21:240:21:26

Always have.

0:21:270:21:29

And I could tell a joke,

0:21:290:21:30

and I could turn quite grim situations with a sense of humour,

0:21:300:21:36

which is also appreciated.

0:21:360:21:38

And then, really, given the state of the Labour Party

0:21:390:21:45

in the wake of the 1983 General Election,

0:21:450:21:49

the movement, generally, was looking for a leader

0:21:490:21:52

who was unquestionably from the left

0:21:520:21:55

but sane and sensible.

0:21:550:21:58

And I'd taken on Tony Benn and his element in the Labour Party

0:21:580:22:06

and, people say, denied him the deputy leadership of the party

0:22:060:22:09

by organising the abstention of Tribune,

0:22:090:22:14

as I say, Bevanite Members of Parliament,

0:22:140:22:17

in his bid to be elected deputy leader in 1981.

0:22:170:22:23

And Denis Healey won by 0.6 of 1%.

0:22:230:22:28

I was sitting there on the platform, waiting for the result,

0:22:280:22:30

and I thought, "You clown! Why didn't you vote for Denis?

0:22:300:22:34

"You disagree with him,

0:22:340:22:36

"but the party's in safe hands with Denis Healey.

0:22:360:22:39

"It'll be wrecked if Tony gets elected."

0:22:390:22:44

Much as, in some ways, I admired Tony,

0:22:440:22:47

I thought that his brand of ultra-leftism

0:22:470:22:52

was toxic for the standing of the Labour Party.

0:22:520:22:55

And, anyway, as it happened,

0:22:560:22:59

I didn't have cause for regret because Denis did win.

0:22:590:23:02

But taking him on...

0:23:030:23:05

..got me unintentional notoriety in some quarters

0:23:060:23:11

and applause in others.

0:23:110:23:14

Do you enjoy campaigning? Do you enjoy a political campaign?

0:23:140:23:17

Yes.

0:23:170:23:18

First of all, in terms of the opportunity

0:23:190:23:22

of encouraging and inspiring our side, which is vital.

0:23:220:23:27

It's part of leadership, I guess.

0:23:280:23:30

But also, in the opportunity to confront the enemy

0:23:300:23:34

and to do it in the circumstances of election,

0:23:340:23:38

when you don't have to take refuge in the niceties or the formalities.

0:23:380:23:44

Of course, you must always try to be courteous,

0:23:440:23:47

but if attacked, you hit back.

0:23:470:23:50

And I used to get attacked a fair amount, so I always did hit back.

0:23:500:23:53

And it's rumbustious.

0:23:540:23:56

It isn't the definition of democracy,

0:23:580:24:01

but without it democracy is much weaker, much poorer,

0:24:010:24:05

much less vibrant, less meaningful to a lot of people.

0:24:050:24:10

People look for contest,

0:24:100:24:12

sincere, authentic contest, not a put-up show.

0:24:120:24:16

A year after you became leader, we had the miners' strike in 1984,

0:24:160:24:20

a very bitter industrial dispute

0:24:200:24:23

and you found yourself at the heart of it,

0:24:230:24:26

because one of the big arguments about that

0:24:260:24:29

was the whole issue of whether or not the union,

0:24:290:24:33

the National Union of Mineworkers, should have held a ballot or not.

0:24:330:24:36

That put you at odds with the leader of the union,

0:24:360:24:39

Arthur Scargill, didn't it?

0:24:390:24:41

Without reservation, I supported the case for coal.

0:24:410:24:44

Not only on the grounds of maintaining the industry

0:24:440:24:47

and the communities dependent upon it,

0:24:470:24:50

but on grounds of national interest,

0:24:500:24:52

because we were still then heavily dependent on coal

0:24:520:24:57

and, by definition,

0:24:570:24:59

domestically-generated coal and energy

0:24:590:25:03

is much more secure than dependence on imports.

0:25:030:25:08

So I wholeheartedly had always and did support the case for coal.

0:25:080:25:13

And the first conversation I had about it

0:25:140:25:18

with Scargill in October 1983,

0:25:180:25:22

just weeks after I was elected as leader of the Labour Party,

0:25:220:25:28

was satisfactory,

0:25:280:25:29

because he appeared to agree with the view that I expressed

0:25:290:25:33

that we had to uphold the case for coal.

0:25:330:25:35

We had to contest the closure programme

0:25:350:25:38

and we had to do it by ensuring that men came off the coalfield

0:25:380:25:43

and went to communities around the country,

0:25:430:25:46

market towns, London suburbs,

0:25:460:25:49

and explain why it was a matter of the national interest

0:25:490:25:53

to sustain the coal-mining industry.

0:25:530:25:56

Not every last pit but, nevertheless, substantially.

0:25:560:25:59

And to invest in it and exploit Britain's massive,

0:25:590:26:03

still massive, coal reserves.

0:26:030:26:07

But then came the work-to-rule in the coal-mining industry

0:26:070:26:10

which, again, I endorsed as a way of demonstrating

0:26:100:26:16

the need for an intelligent investment programme.

0:26:160:26:19

And, of course, the men in my constituency -

0:26:190:26:21

I'd over 4,000 miners in my constituency -

0:26:210:26:24

were part of that.

0:26:240:26:27

And they took wage cuts, sacrifices in doing that.

0:26:270:26:32

So that when, by a series of ridiculous errors,

0:26:330:26:39

the board gave the appearance of closing a colliery,

0:26:390:26:45

an English colliery, Cottonwood,

0:26:450:26:48

which proved to be erroneous,

0:26:480:26:51

and the rolling strike started

0:26:510:26:55

with men just stopping going into the pit.

0:26:550:26:57

And the South Wales miners going to different coalfields,

0:26:570:27:01

to the canteens, and making the argument with the men

0:27:010:27:04

that they had to fight to sustain the industry and their communities,

0:27:040:27:09

it accumulated.

0:27:090:27:11

And by the Easter of 1984...

0:27:120:27:15

lots of people, including myself

0:27:160:27:18

and, indeed, including Mick McGahey, the vice-president of the NUM,

0:27:180:27:21

who was a dear, dear comrade of mine, had been for decades...

0:27:210:27:24

..thought that the reason

0:27:270:27:28

for convening a special conference of the miners

0:27:280:27:31

was to change the rule on strike procedure,

0:27:310:27:35

which would have been sensible,

0:27:350:27:37

and then have a ballot for the strike,

0:27:370:27:41

following the precedent, on every occasion,

0:27:410:27:44

on which there had been a dispute in the coal-mining industry

0:27:440:27:47

in the 20th century.

0:27:470:27:49

And that wasn't Scargill's thought.

0:27:490:27:52

He actually thought that he could,

0:27:520:27:54

by a kid of Syndicalist insurrection,

0:27:540:27:57

win the strike.

0:27:570:27:59

And I knew immediately that was supreme folly,

0:27:590:28:03

not least because the government had,

0:28:030:28:05

with great care and in detail,

0:28:050:28:07

prepared for the strike with huge stockpiles,

0:28:070:28:11

vastly in excess of what the usual stockpile was

0:28:110:28:14

and lots of other developments,

0:28:140:28:17

including social security powers and so on.

0:28:170:28:20

So I knew that it was utter folly not to have the ballot

0:28:200:28:23

and gain a democratic mandate for the strike.

0:28:230:28:26

It was guaranteed to divide the labour force, which it did,

0:28:260:28:30

and a divided labour force in that industry or, indeed any industry...

0:28:300:28:34

..was doomed to failure.

0:28:360:28:38

And the loyalty of the miners to Arthur Scargill

0:28:380:28:41

was hideously exploited.

0:28:410:28:44

And out of it came dreadful misery and desperate poverty

0:28:460:28:49

for a lot of the coal-mining communities,

0:28:490:28:52

where people lived, literally,

0:28:520:28:55

on the charitable efforts of the rest of the trade union movement,

0:28:550:28:59

the Labour Party, generous communities,

0:28:590:29:02

foreign mining communities.

0:29:020:29:05

And that isn't how those men and women wanted to live.

0:29:050:29:09

But they sustained the strike.

0:29:090:29:11

And my constituency,

0:29:110:29:15

the men in my constituency, were first out and last back,

0:29:150:29:18

as I would have expected.

0:29:180:29:19

They are incomparable.

0:29:190:29:22

As the strike wore on, and the bitterness increased

0:29:230:29:26

and the poverty deepened,

0:29:260:29:28

I was determined that Scargill

0:29:280:29:30

would never be able to use me as an excuse,

0:29:300:29:34

or the Labour Party as an excuse, for the failure of the strike.

0:29:340:29:37

I was determined that the full blame would be where it belonged,

0:29:370:29:43

and that was him.

0:29:430:29:45

Not on the miners' executive,

0:29:450:29:46

who were kept in the dark for much of the dispute.

0:29:460:29:48

Or on the miners themselves, who were...

0:29:510:29:54

..stalwart to a superhuman level

0:29:560:29:59

and their families and wives were extraordinary.

0:29:590:30:02

I was determined that he would historically carry the blame.

0:30:020:30:06

And that is pretty much, except for his closest adherents,

0:30:060:30:10

is what's happened.

0:30:100:30:12

I took no pleasure in it,

0:30:120:30:13

but I wanted to see justice done.

0:30:130:30:16

Now, the 1980s were a tumultuous time in British politics

0:30:170:30:21

and one of the things you were trying to do

0:30:210:30:24

was to change the Labour Party and, of course, in 1985,

0:30:240:30:29

and we're going to hear it in a minute,

0:30:290:30:31

you made another very famous speech about Militant tendency.

0:30:310:30:36

I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises.

0:30:360:30:40

You start...

0:30:400:30:42

with far-fetched resolutions.

0:30:420:30:44

They are then pickled into a rigid dogma code

0:30:450:30:50

and you go through the years sticking to that -

0:30:500:30:54

outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs

0:30:540:30:59

and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council -

0:30:590:31:03

a Labour council - hiring taxis to scuttle round a city,

0:31:030:31:08

handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.

0:31:080:31:11

SHOUTS AND APPLAUSE

0:31:110:31:13

And we saw there Derek Hatton,

0:31:180:31:20

who was technically the deputy leader of the council, heckling you.

0:31:200:31:24

Another Liverpool politician, the Liverpool MP Eric Heffer -

0:31:240:31:29

he walked out, didn't it?

0:31:290:31:32

What did it feel like when you're making a speech like that,

0:31:320:31:37

of such force and with such a reaction?

0:31:370:31:40

I think you - if I'm honest with myself -

0:31:410:31:44

derive a certain degree of stimulus from...

0:31:440:31:49

..if you like, rhetorically fixing your bayonet and charging.

0:31:500:31:53

And I also felt a sense of relief

0:31:550:31:57

because I'd wanted to make this speech the year before,

0:31:570:32:01

but the year before was the middle of the miners' strike

0:32:010:32:03

and I knew that, with all of the swirling emotions of solidarity

0:32:030:32:08

and the inclination towards ultra-leftism

0:32:080:32:12

and the war against Thatcherism,

0:32:120:32:16

I never would have got a hearing,

0:32:160:32:19

and it was vital for me to deliver that message

0:32:190:32:22

directly to the Labour movement, if you like, between its eyes.

0:32:220:32:28

Knowing that the Liverpool Militants were there.

0:32:280:32:31

And so I really didn't give a damn what happened to me afterwards.

0:32:310:32:36

What I wanted to do was to expose and destroy them

0:32:360:32:42

and make whatever contribution I could

0:32:420:32:46

to saving the city of Liverpool from the abyss into which

0:32:460:32:51

it would have been plunged with the continuation of their policies.

0:32:510:32:56

We said at the beginning that you were a man of the left.

0:32:560:32:58

I guess you probably still say that you're a man of the left?

0:32:580:33:01

-Oh, I am, yeah.

-But you were certainly more left-wing

0:33:010:33:04

than, say, James Callaghan or Harold Wilson,

0:33:040:33:07

and yet you moved to this stage in your leadership

0:33:070:33:09

where you were talking about things like common sense and realism.

0:33:090:33:13

It didn't sound very ideological.

0:33:130:33:15

Well, I've always done that, though, you see.

0:33:150:33:18

We talked earlier about the way I was brought up and the values,

0:33:180:33:23

political and other values, that I imbibed without consciously doing so

0:33:230:33:30

and that was there all the time.

0:33:300:33:33

If it doesn't work, it's no good to working-class people. I mean...

0:33:330:33:37

HE CHUCKLES

0:33:370:33:39

And you can enchant people by ideological flights of fancy

0:33:390:33:44

but that's not going to help them at all.

0:33:440:33:47

The greatest guide to that was the man

0:33:470:33:51

that I considered to be my lodestar,

0:33:510:33:56

and that's Nye Bevan.

0:33:560:33:58

Bevan, the father of the National Health Service,

0:33:580:34:02

which he based on a working model that they had

0:34:020:34:05

through the collective provision of quality health care,

0:34:050:34:09

paid for by tiny contributions by all the workers in Tredegar,

0:34:090:34:14

the town I came from.

0:34:140:34:16

That showed that socialism had to work in practice,

0:34:160:34:21

or it was a decoration

0:34:210:34:23

and being a socialist was nothing better than a hobby.

0:34:230:34:26

And, to me...

0:34:260:34:29

to me, it's still the way to emancipate the world.

0:34:290:34:32

Do you anticipate that the next generation of leaders

0:34:320:34:37

would be more technocratic, would be a bit more like New Labour became?

0:34:370:34:42

Obviously, you were hoping for Neil Kinnock to be in Number Ten,

0:34:450:34:48

-not for somebody else.

-Sure.

0:34:480:34:50

But was your vision of the Labour Party in the future

0:34:500:34:53

that it would be a more technocratic party?

0:34:530:34:56

I was ecstatic when the Labour Party,

0:34:560:35:00

first of all under John Smith, who tragically died,

0:35:000:35:03

and then Tony Blair, went from strength to strength.

0:35:030:35:07

I think the problem was that,

0:35:070:35:09

despite great talent in that government -

0:35:090:35:12

I mean, seriously profound talent - and certainly a sense

0:35:120:35:18

of progressive, decent and patriotic mission...

0:35:180:35:22

..they allowed themselves to lose impetus.

0:35:230:35:29

Because... Pierre Mendes France said that socialism is like a bicycle -

0:35:290:35:34

if it doesn't go forward, it falls over.

0:35:340:35:37

I mean, it's a very basic analogy but it is entirely appropriate.

0:35:370:35:42

And I understand the pressures and the distractions

0:35:420:35:46

and indeed the temptations, in some ways.

0:35:460:35:49

But in the very frequent conversations I had with Tony -

0:35:490:35:52

and he was always immensely generous with his time, as was Gordon Brown -

0:35:520:35:57

I tried to get that across, and I would simply get agreement,

0:35:570:36:01

and there's nothing more infuriating

0:36:010:36:05

than getting agreement and then no action.

0:36:050:36:08

I think that's what happened.

0:36:080:36:10

It meant that, very gradually, that breadth of appeal

0:36:110:36:16

which gives social democracy, democratic socialism, New Labour...

0:36:160:36:21

I don't give a damn about the label on it!

0:36:210:36:24

..real momentum.

0:36:270:36:30

Underneath it all, the confidence was declining.

0:36:300:36:34

And I greatly, greatly regret that

0:36:340:36:37

because these were good, talented people

0:36:370:36:41

with a noble cause and the only way to do it

0:36:410:36:46

to its full extent is to maintain the momentum.

0:36:460:36:49

Now you've talked about some big figures - Nye Bevan,

0:36:490:36:52

Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Denis Healey.

0:36:520:36:54

One of the biggest figures of the 20th century was Margaret Thatcher.

0:36:560:36:59

-You faced her against the dispatch box.

-Yes.

0:36:590:37:03

What was she like as an opponent?

0:37:030:37:05

It wasn't easy. She was a woman of distinction.

0:37:050:37:08

She was 17 years older than I am,

0:37:080:37:11

and I don't know whether it was my upbringing or...

0:37:110:37:13

..innate courteous deference or whatever else -

0:37:140:37:18

I don't know, I'm making no excuses, these are just realities -

0:37:180:37:22

I could never really tackle her in the way

0:37:220:37:25

in which I was able to tackle, for instance, John Major,

0:37:250:37:28

a man of the same age, the same kind of background.

0:37:280:37:32

And I could be as relentless as I liked with him.

0:37:320:37:36

If I misjudged it with Margaret Thatcher,

0:37:360:37:40

and even managed to land a blow...

0:37:400:37:42

..the consequences would not be full credit

0:37:440:37:47

against a woman who, without exaggeration,

0:37:470:37:50

as you will probably know yourself cos you were around at the time,

0:37:500:37:53

was profoundly hated amongst many people

0:37:530:37:57

in a large part of the country.

0:37:570:37:59

Certainly as hated as she was, in other parts of the country, admired.

0:37:590:38:04

The reality is that I didn't sort of consciously sit down

0:38:070:38:12

and think that I should be reserved in my attack,

0:38:120:38:18

but I knew that in my choice of language

0:38:180:38:21

and in my choice of targets, I had to take a degree of care.

0:38:210:38:25

Mrs Thatcher would, I think, often for self-defensive reasons,

0:38:250:38:30

seize upon a maxim...

0:38:300:38:33

..and make it an ideology.

0:38:340:38:36

I mean, Thatcherism emerged in that way.

0:38:360:38:39

It wasn't an "ism" until pretty much..

0:38:390:38:43

..around the time of the Falklands War,

0:38:450:38:48

when Britain was making a noticeable but slight recovery

0:38:480:38:55

from the devastation wrought

0:38:550:38:57

by the misplaced policies of she and Geoffrey Howe -

0:38:570:39:00

a lovely man, he was, but nevertheless he was wrong -

0:39:000:39:03

in '79 and '80, when 25% of British manufacturing capacity

0:39:030:39:09

was eradicated.

0:39:090:39:11

And it took quite a time for that to recover

0:39:110:39:13

but it was starting to recover,

0:39:130:39:16

and the newspapers started speaking of "Thatcher-ism"

0:39:160:39:21

and I think Mrs Thatcher inhaled.

0:39:210:39:25

And eventually, of course, it brought her downfall.

0:39:250:39:28

So she was replaced by John Major,

0:39:280:39:30

and so you're fighting the 1992 election against him.

0:39:300:39:34

In many ways, you're both similar sort of campaigners.

0:39:340:39:38

John Major would take to his soapbox,

0:39:380:39:41

you always seem very happy when you're wandering along streets

0:39:410:39:45

-or popping into cafes and talking to people in the pub.

-Yeah.

0:39:450:39:48

Was it an old-fashioned campaign, do you think?

0:39:500:39:53

Was it perhaps the last old-fashioned campaign we've had?

0:39:530:39:55

No, in both the '87 and '92 elections,

0:39:550:39:59

people said, "If it had been judged on the campaigns, you won."

0:39:590:40:03

And we were good. I mean, we were very professional

0:40:030:40:07

but we also had vigour and we had a sense of belief.

0:40:070:40:12

And that carried us. More in '87, when we were really up against it

0:40:120:40:18

and we had to stop being third in that election,

0:40:180:40:21

which we succeeded in doing.

0:40:210:40:24

In '92, we were very good, too, even more professional.

0:40:240:40:28

Now along comes John, John Major,

0:40:280:40:31

and he's a kid from an even more difficult background...

0:40:310:40:35

Well, my background wasn't difficult,

0:40:350:40:36

my background was wonderful,

0:40:360:40:39

but he had a difficult background.

0:40:390:40:41

He won his way through the ranks of the Tory Party and, in desperation,

0:40:430:40:48

because the wheels were coming off their campaign,

0:40:480:40:52

he literally pulled out an orange box or whatever it was

0:40:520:40:57

from the boot of his coach and got a bullhorn

0:40:570:41:01

and did what he'd done on the streets 25 years before.

0:41:010:41:05

So people looking for the big change from Thatcher, Thatcherism...

0:41:050:41:12

..were presented not just with somebody

0:41:140:41:17

who manifestly wasn't Margaret Thatcher,

0:41:170:41:19

but with a guy who was proving by his very physical existence

0:41:190:41:27

and presentation that the great change had come.

0:41:270:41:31

So the people who wanted to vote for the big change

0:41:310:41:35

could vote for the change and continue to vote Conservative.

0:41:350:41:40

You didn't win. How did it feel in those hours after defeat?

0:41:400:41:44

A deep, bone marrow disappointment,

0:41:460:41:51

but here's the extraordinary thing.

0:41:510:41:53

This is what happens at times when people grieve.

0:41:530:41:59

The distraction of being

0:42:000:42:03

absolutely preoccupied with trying to help the people

0:42:030:42:07

who'd given me their lives in my staff with their future

0:42:070:42:12

meant that months passed before I sort of woke up one morning

0:42:120:42:15

and thought, "What about losing that election?" You know?

0:42:150:42:20

Then I gave way for a week or so, it certainly wasn't more than that,

0:42:200:42:25

to attempts at self-consolation,

0:42:250:42:31

assisted by Glenys, but that didn't last long,

0:42:310:42:34

because the water had flowed

0:42:340:42:37

and the curtain had come down, to use John Major's phrase.

0:42:370:42:42

I was just grateful that that preoccupation

0:42:420:42:47

had made my life much too busy,

0:42:470:42:50

and too concerned to be bothered much about losing the election.

0:42:500:42:56

You were joking earlier, before we started,

0:42:560:42:59

-that your time as Labour leader had been your midlife crisis.

-Yes.

0:42:590:43:03

Not many people can date their midlife crisis with precision.

0:43:030:43:08

Mine started on October the 2nd 1983 and it ended on July the 18th 1992!

0:43:080:43:14

HE CHUCKLES

0:43:140:43:15

But since then you've been a European Commissioner,

0:43:150:43:17

you're now a member of the House of Lords.

0:43:170:43:20

Did you enjoy your time in Europe?

0:43:200:43:22

Well, short of another ice age,

0:43:220:43:25

I was born and brought up and have always lived in Europe

0:43:250:43:28

cos that's where the UK is,

0:43:280:43:30

and Europe's had many reasons to be grateful for that

0:43:300:43:33

and will continue to, despite what happened in the referendum.

0:43:330:43:39

As a young man, you were very critical of the Common Market,

0:43:390:43:42

as it was called, so do you understand

0:43:420:43:46

why people wanted to reject the European Union?

0:43:460:43:49

Er...

0:43:490:43:51

I understand why they...

0:43:510:43:55

accepted the absolutely false prospectus that was hurled at them

0:43:550:44:00

over 30 years by newspapers and by some politicians

0:44:000:44:05

and latterly by those who argued for the Leave campaign.

0:44:050:44:09

I understand that.

0:44:090:44:10

But the awful reality is that the people who will suffer most

0:44:120:44:17

as a result of the dislocation and long-term uncertainty...

0:44:170:44:23

..economically, will be a lot of the people who voted to leave

0:44:240:44:30

because they were taught to become obsessed with immigration,

0:44:300:44:33

particularly in areas where there is no immigration to speak of.

0:44:330:44:38

I'm actually still devastated by the outcome.

0:44:380:44:42

Not in personal terms.

0:44:420:44:43

You know, Glenys and I are in our 70s.

0:44:450:44:48

Our children are successful,

0:44:480:44:50

our grandchildren are bright and fit and will make their own way.

0:44:500:44:54

That's all fine.

0:44:540:44:56

But for our country, I grieve at the way in which this...

0:44:560:45:03

..dislocation, this withdrawal took place for all the wrong reasons...

0:45:050:45:09

..and that's dreadful.

0:45:100:45:12

So, at the end of this interview,

0:45:120:45:14

we've spanned quite a long period of time

0:45:140:45:17

from your beginnings in the Valleys to life now.

0:45:170:45:21

If you had that 15-year-old Neil Kinnock here,

0:45:210:45:25

the boy who joined the Labour Party illegally,

0:45:250:45:29

what would you say to him?

0:45:290:45:31

Um...

0:45:310:45:32

"Carry on. Gird your loins, sustain your beliefs.

0:45:340:45:38

"Work for enlightenment and emancipation."

0:45:400:45:43

And that would sound a bit pompous, actually.

0:45:430:45:45

I'd translate it into slightly different terms.

0:45:450:45:48

I might say, "Don't ever think of a CAREER in politics."

0:45:490:45:54

Cos all the people that I've ever met who think of...

0:45:540:45:57

who say to me, "Mr Kinnock, I would like a career in politics,"

0:45:570:46:00

I say, "Don't!"

0:46:000:46:02

Because some of the biggest dolts I've ever met,

0:46:020:46:05

some of the most useless articles I've ever met

0:46:050:46:07

are people who've thought of "a career in politics".

0:46:070:46:10

It's not a career. It's...

0:46:100:46:12

..the fact that if you want to change the world

0:46:140:46:18

and you've got the sense to organise for that,

0:46:180:46:22

if you're very, very, very lucky,

0:46:220:46:24

other people will put their trust in you and give you their vote,

0:46:240:46:28

but never think of it as a career.

0:46:280:46:31

I might even say, um...

0:46:310:46:34

No, I wouldn't. I was going to say,

0:46:340:46:36

"Be a bit more cautious in your choice of causes and associates,

0:46:360:46:41

"because if you pick the wrong ones,

0:46:410:46:45

"or they are a long way from convention,

0:46:450:46:50

"it'll come up to bite you," but I wouldn't.

0:46:500:46:52

I think you've got to take some risks in any case,

0:46:520:46:54

and be true to yourself.

0:46:540:46:55

I suppose if I had to use a phrase...

0:46:550:46:58

..it would be the one that my father used.

0:46:590:47:02

"Be true to yourself."

0:47:020:47:03

-Neil, Lord Kinnock, thank you very much.

-Thank you.

0:47:050:47:08

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