As a student I was a big fan of the SDP. That is, for some reason, not as easy to admit now as it was in 1981 when Britain’s political landscape was changed forever. Some have argued that the SDP allowed Thatcher and her stormtroopers to rule unopposed for more than a decade but the Gang of Four certainly broke the mould. Amongst them was the late great Roy Jenkins, a superb biography of whom has recently been published. (‘A Well-Rounded Life’ by John Campbell).
Jenkins lived a rich and fulfilled life. He was widely mocked and nicknamed ‘Woy’ by the press and the public because of inability to pronounce the letter R but from humble origins (he was the son of a Welsh miner) he made friends across the entire spectrum of British society. There were rumours of affairs – with both men and women – but nothing so scandalous as to rock the foundations of Parliament. He was described as a class traitor because he was known to share his love of good wine with many a Tory grandee but in government he oversaw some of the most significant social reforms of the 60’s and 70’s.
His life was certainly interesting but it was the manner of his passing that has made him, for me, a legend. Not for him the long decline into senility and incontinence that awaits so many of us. He died on January 5th 2003, just a few pages short of completing a biography of President Roosevelt. It would have been his 23rd book. His last words to Jennifer, his loyal and tolerant wife of 62 years, were to ask for ‘two eggs, lightly poached.” When she came back with them, he was gone.