'England at Dawn' fails to rise as Kinnock original gets just £36 in charity auction

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Indy Politics

For those expecting a glimpse of artistic skills honed by a former leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, the disappointment must have been akin to that felt by Labour supporters late on the evening of 9 April 1992. They came to view, and perhaps bid, for a work by Neil Kinnock, the man who could not quite deliver electoral success for Labour. And on this occasion he could not deliver much for a countryside charity either; his rudimentary sketch raising the grand sum of £36.

Entitled England at dawn, the former Labour leader's free-wheeling drawing of the sun rising was trounced by a range of celebrity and political offerings, including a juvenile doodle of "three trees and a rabbit" by his former House of Commons sparring partner Ann Widdecombe.

To add insult to injury, Lord Kinnock's sketch failed to beat David Cameron who was accused of submitting a particularly weak entry of a postcard emblazoned with the Conservative Party's green tree logo.

Lord Kinnock, who could not resist a dig at the English by informing the viewer that his picture of England was improved by virtue of the fact it was drawn from the perspective of Wales, may have inadvertently alienated fund-raisers for the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

The Archbishop of York's more honest interpretation of the English countryside raised £264, while Darcy Bussell's delicate drawing of a songbird in a tree attracted bids as high as £312.

But perhaps the most impressive of all was a piece of work by the Labour veteran Tony Benn, who donated a drawing of a twig of holly which he had created in 1932 when he was seven years old. It fetched £90.

A spokeswoman for Lord Kinnock said that the former Labour leader was not disheartened by the relatively small amount of money raised by his postcard sketch.

She said: "He's very interested in all the arts, particularly music, and loves singing with male Welsh choirs. But I don't think he does much painting - for one thing he hasn't got the time. It might be something he does when he retires. Did Gordon Brown donate anything?"

Since stepping down as leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock has had much more success grafting as a political artisan rather than as a tortured aesthete.

Within a year of his shock 1992 defeat he had bounced back by launching his media career and appearing on satirical panel shows such as Have I Got News For You. Further forays into television included hosting a chat show on BBC Wales.

But Lord Kinnock achieved much more solid success as a European commissioner, based in Brussels from 1995 to 2004, and later chairman of the British Council. In 1995 he was made a life peer when he was given the title Baron Kinnock of Bedwellty.

The auction at Bonhams in London raised nearly £5,000 for the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and included work by the fashion designer Sir Paul Smith who put together a striking collage of daffodils, a church and a fox, while the TV weatherman Michael Fish attached a satellite image of a hurricane. As well as the celebrity sketches there were more traditional works of art by Rachel Whiteread, Sam Taylor-Wood and Mary Fedden. The highest bid of £1,200 was made for Fedden's picture of flowers.

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