Gerald Kaufman 1930-2017
After two attempts in the 1950s Gerald Kaufman became a Labour MP in 1970. He has represented people in inner-city Manchester ever since. I suspect that he could retrieve the details of every constituency case he has handled, with the same facility as recalling the credits of movies and lyrics from musical comedy. Before entering Parliament he was a successful journalist and was part of the golden age of British satire on BBC Television’s That Was The Week That Was. He created the legendary sketch Silent Men of Westminster about the MPs who never spoke. Where are they now when we need them?
Then Labour got into government, and as Parliamentary Press Officer he became a target for satirists himself, a regular cast member of “Mrs Wilson’s Diary” in Private Eye. He was a minister for every day of the Labour government of 1974-79, first in Environment and then at Industry. From that experience, he wrote How To Be A Minister. It is still the essential manual on the subject, and it ought to be a set book for all politics students.
In opposition he was the regular first choice of Labour MPs for the Shadow Cabinet, despite (or perhaps because of) his description of Labour’s 1983 election manifesto as the “longest suicide note in history.” As Shadow Home Secretary he was tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, long before Tony Blair got the idea, or even Gordon Brown. As Shadow Foreign Secretary, he glided the Labour party away from unilateral disarmament.
In 1992 he abandoned the Front Bench to become Chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Select Committees are typically cosy and forgettable. Not this one. It was once said of him as Chairman that he was never satisfied until some senior executive was reduced to sobs of contrition. In 1999 he also found time to chair the Booker Prize Committee. After reading all the books, he then studied the books of the BBC, whence his Select Committee held a long inquiry into its resources and future funding. He has been both a staunch defender of the BBC and a stern critic of its managers – and a frequent contributor both at home and to the World Service.
Gerald Kaufman has one of the most powerful minds in British politics – and he has never been afraid to speak it, most notably about Israel and its policies. An evening with him is certain to be contentious, revealing – and highly entertaining.