BOOK REVIEW / Where now for the valleys' golden boy?: 'Neil Kinnock' - Eileen Jones: Robert Hale, 17.99

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The Independent Online
IT IS two years since Neil Kinnock stood down as Leader of the Labour Party, to make way for an older and, tragically, less healthy man. As a result of the new gap at the top, Eileen Jones's biography of Labour's nearly man will command more attention than could have been anticipated when it was commissioned.

What happened to Kinnock after the unexpected failure of his triumphalist 1992 general election campaign? According to Jones, the Labour leader was shattered by defeat. 'Devastated' is the word she attributes to the union boss Tom Sawyer, Kinnock's closest confidant. Kinnock had spent nine years trying to make his party electable and was simply unprepared to soldier on in Opposition. And he had come to accept the general view that he was part of the party's problem, rather than part of the solution to that problem.

In the immediate aftermath of the debacle, Kinnock blustered about 'the victory of fear over hope', adding gracelessly: 'I make and seek no excuses and I express no bitterness when I say that the Conservative- supporting press has enabled the Tory party to win yet again when the Conservative Party could not have secured victory for itself on the basis of its record, its programmme or its character.' Britain's best-selling newspaper fed his paranoia when it crowed 'It's the Sun wot won it'.

Jones emphasises in this authorised biography that within months Kinnock had picked himself up, dusted himself down and produced a more honest and cruel analysis, in which media bias played a less crucial part.

'The basic fact,' Kinnock wrote during the summer of 1992, 'was that there are still people in Britain who cannot forget the wounds the Labour Party inflicted on itself in the early 1980s.' For a while it seemed that Kinnock's honesty was about to overwhelm him. For example, interviewed for the ITV series Kinnock: The Inside Story, he spoke of himself as a personal and political failure, which was taking self-abasement a bit far. Worse was to come. Invited by David Dimbleby to define his public image on polling day for BBC 2, Kinnock came up with words such as shallow, short-tempered, lacking in intelligence and intellect. Even when he was perceived to be strong, as when he took on Militant, this was, he said, 'translated as the strength of a weak man'.

The awful thing is that there was much truth in the public assessment of Kinnock. As a golden-tongued child from a Labour mining family in the valleys of South Wales, Neil had it made. He floated effortlessly into Parliament. And it was only in the crisis of the early Eighties that he was forced to think about what he and his party stood for.

Although he dragged Labour and himself from the far left to the fringes of electability, he could not persuade the public to accept him as prime ministerial material. Unlike, say, Tony Blair, he carried too much baggage. Yet within a year of standing down, the boyo from the Welsh valleys was back to his old irrepressible self. He stood in for Jimmy Young as a BBC 2 disc jockey for a couple of weeks, enjoyed himself on Have I Got News for You, and would have been a European Union commissioner had John Major not vetoed his proposed appointment.

Now, Glenys is an MEP, and Neil is the consort. It is hard to believe that Kinnock, at 52 and in rude health, will be satisfied to play that part alone. But it is almost impossible to see what is left for the man who did so much to save the Labour Party.