Neil Kinnock Q&A: “I should get out more, I know”

The Labour peer on the golden era of Welsh rugby and why enlightened values will prevail.

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Neil Kinnock was born in Monmouthshire in 1942. He was first elected as a member of parliament in 1970, and was leader of the Labour Party from 1983 to 1992. In 2005 he became a member of the House of Lords.

What’s your earliest memory?

Tredegar’s VJ Night fireworks, August 1945. I was in my dad’s arms. I learned later that because so many Tredegar men fought in the Far East – with hundreds taken as Japanese prisoners of war – the celebrations were particularly uproarious.

Who are your heroes?

Gilbert Parkhouse (Glamorgan and England batsman), Cliff Morgan, John Charles, my grandfathers, and Aneurin Bevan, who was our MP until his death in 1960. To me, he has always been truly heroic in his achievements.

What book last changed your thinking?

How to be a Liberal by Ian Dunt, which recently gave me much needed fresh confidence that enlightened people and values will prevail because they are consistent with the strongest elements of human nature and intellect, and have overcome evil and bigotry so many times.

Which political figure do you look up to?

A long list from Thomas Paine to Robert Tressell and Sylvia Pankhurst to RH Tawney, JM Keynes and Paul Robeson. Now, the brave Hong Kong democrats who are risking everything against the might of Chinese dictatorship.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Welsh rugby’s golden era of 1969-79, with players who glowed with spirit and talent, and gave us endless enjoyment and pride.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d like to be 30 in 2070 – for the advances and spread of medical science and expanded understanding of the interdependence of humanity.

What TV show could you not live without?

The news, and rugby, football and cricket matches. I should get out more, I know.

Who would paint your portrait?

Andrew Tift. He painted my wife and me in 2001 and really “got” us, as individuals and as a couple.

What’s your theme tune?

“Comrades in Arms” (Adolphe Adam) by Cwmbach Male Choir, “Light Cavalry” (Franz von Suppé) by the world-class Tredegar Town Band, or “The Gadfly Suite” (Shostakovich). They all thrill me.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Be yourself” – offered by my parents. I’ve tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes disastrously.

What’s currently bugging you?

Boris Johnson’s apparent impunity. So far.

What single thing would make your life better?

The end of Johnson’s impunity. It’s inevitable, of course. But I hope that it is not far away and that it will bring a necessary re­start for accountable democracy in the UK.

When were you happiest?

The late 1970s and the mid-2010s when our children, and then our grandchildren, were young. Those holidays, Christmases, birthdays and other joys were blissful.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

An adult tutor – useful, very fulfilling. Or maybe a sports reporter – useful, very fulfilling, and with tickets.

Are we all doomed?

Not unless we choose to be – and I don’t think we will. 

This article appears in the 21 July 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Chinese century

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