How ‘posh’ Roy Jenkins proved himself to Glasgow

Roy Jenkins, right, tours Hillhead to thank voters after his by-election win in 1982. Picture: TSPL
Roy Jenkins, right, tours Hillhead to thank voters after his by-election win in 1982. Picture: TSPL
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HE WAS a celebrated bon viveur who hoped to win election in Glasgow, a city he viewed as “slightly sinister”.

The inside story of how Roy Jenkins won Glasgow Hillhead for the SDP has been revealed in a new biography that details how one of his supporters, a posh English lady, was banned from wearing lilac tights for fear of putting off working class Scots voters.

The by-election in 1982 saw Labour try to portray the former home secretary as a political “carpet bagger” who had more interest in swilling wine than reducing unemployment.

A new biography of the political elder statesman, Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life, by John Campbell, reveals how Jenkins was initially concerned that the constituency was too working class but, on further investigation declared that the area, which encompassed Glasgow University, the Glasgow School of Art and the Western Infirmary, was “the most highly educated constituency in Scotland, arguably Britain”.

The former Labour Cabinet minister, who had vowed to build a “civilised society” by abolishing capital punishment and theatre censorship and legalising homoexuality, had quit Labour in dismay at what viewed as a drift to the left.

Together with Shirley Williams, David Steel and David Owen, the “Gang of Four” founded the Social Democratic Party and Jenkins sought election after the death of Tam Galbraith, the sitting Conservative MP.

Jenkins was assisted by Pastor Jack Glass, who also stood for election and campaigned against the Tory candidate, Gerry Malone.

Campbell wrote: “Labour banged away at [Jenkin’s] claret-swilling image: at an eve-of-poll meeting no less a figure than Denis Healey thought to shock the Glaswegians by asserting that Jenkins had brought with him a supply of ‘an Italian wine called Valpolicella’, which he probably thought would sound wickedly foreign and expensive.”

Among his supporters was Celia Goodhart, the wife of William Goodhart, a Liberal Democrat peer, whose intriguing sense of style concerned Jenkins’s supporters who feared it might cost him votes.

As Campbell wrote: “One quintessentially Kensington lady drew satirical attention for running up and down some of the poorest tower blocks in shocking lilac tights.”

She was told not to wear them. Only after a poll revealed that he was four points ahead did Jenkins say she could wear her lilac tights again.

Jenkins eventually won by a majority of 2,038 votes. A noted gourmet, the politician, who died in 2003, was relieved to find in Glasgow two restaurants to his taste, the Ubiquitous Chip and Rogano.

As for Glaswegians, he characterised them as possessing “a curiosity about outside things accompanied by a contentment within one’s own skin”. By comparison Edinburgh was portrayed as like “a splendid salmon laid out on slab, handsome but dead”.

Yesterday, Mr Campbell said: “There certainly was a fear that Jenkins was too posh and too English for Hillhead. But he loved it as a real place.”

Roy Jenkins was defeated in the 1987 general election by George Galloway, the Labour candidate. When prime minister Margaret Thatcher heard of Jenkins’ defeat, she said: “A man of such distinction and stature. It was dreadful. It tells you something about the Scots.”