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Choices: balancing work and family
A new direction at 50
Campaigning for change
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Glenys Kinnock was strongly influenced by her father. He worked on the railways and was very involved in local Labour politics and the trade union movement. As a young girl she listened to her father's discussions about politics and felt very deeply about issues like nuclear disarmament and capital punishment. Aged 15 she joined the Labour Party.
My family was very party political, my father was very active in the labour party and a trade unionist all his life and (he) claims that in my pram I was wheeled around with labour leaflets so it goes back a long way.
She studied at Cardiff University where she met Neil Kinnock. They married and had two children. Glenys felt that it was important to be with her children rather than pursuing a political career. When they started school, she returned to teaching and was able to combine her work with looking after her children. She says that she doesn't have any regrets about her choice.
"When the children were growing up I was a teacher and I did tend to feel at that time that my husband's work as leader of the party was very time consuming. He was always very busy, worked very long hours, and I did feel the need to compensate for that and I don't regret for one moment the fact that I did that. I think if your children grow up into nice human beings that you're proud of, then that has to mean you've done something right and I feel that both parents being preoccupied with very time consuming careers was not really appropriate for us and not something I would have chosen."
Neil Kinnock became leader of the British Labour Party in 1983 but Glenys Kinnock doesn't feel that she ever lived in his shadow. She remained involved in politics as well as teaching - speaking out at Labour Party Conferences, at the United Nations and continuing to campaign for the issues she believed in.
"I made speeches and I actually during that time spoke at the United Nations on children under apartheid. I never felt in Neil's shadow, I don't think I could have tolerated that. I am very independent and I did what I wanted to do and I don't think I ever did anything to embarrass Neil or the Labour partyÉ so it was sometimes a fine line that I trod. But I think it did offer me great opportunities at that time and now at my time of life another opportunity to do something elseÉ"
The critical point in their lives came in 1992 when it looked as if the Labour party might win the national elections - making Neil Kinnock Prime Minister. In the end, the Conservative party was again victorious, and the Kinnocks had to face disappointment.
The children had now grown up and left home and Glenys realised that the moment had come. Neil helped her to campaign for the European seat and Glenys went on to win it with a massive majority. At the age of 50 and shortly to become a grandmother, she had a seat in the European Parliament.
"I had never ever really wanted to stand for elected office, but after we lost the general election we knew our lives had to take a new direction - I suddenly thoughtÉ I might throw my hat in the ring for the South Wales East European constituency and from then on that was the decision I made, I never looked back and I'm glad I didn't."
For her maiden speech Glenys Kinnock spoke out to protest at Burma's continued detention of Aung San Aung San Suu Kyi and other abuses of human rights. She takes a strong interest in the developing world and is Vice President of the ACP-EU joint assembly (for Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific).
"I did always feel passionately about things, I'm still more of a campaigner than a politician... I wouldn't presume to say you could change the world but you can maybe have some tiny influence on things. Giving people the chance to trade their way, to earn their way out of poverty and to influence those things is important because there is plenty of everything to go around in world, but there's a very severe shortage of the political will that we need to see to make those changes happen and to make our world a more just world."
Glenys Kinnock faced a problem when speaking in public - she lacked self-confidence and has had to work to overcome her fears. This lack of confidence meant that she didn't believe that she could speak about issues she felt strongly about.
"It's fearing that the words wouldn't be there or that I wouldn't articulate ideas properly. But what I've found is that, if you do feel strongly about something, and if you do lack that confidence, then it is important to prepare and don't be afraid to say that you feel like that. There's an American feminist, called Gloria Steinem, and I always remember that everytime when she was going do something that she was afraid of doing, she used to say to herself you will not die. So I still find myself saying that, whatever I feel like, I'll still be alive at the end of it, and if it's not perfect, so what, you can have another go another time."
Glenys Kinnock believes that women bring unique skills to politics that are connected to their family responsibilities and their different ways of dealing with each other. She says that men go in for "wheeler dealing", women are better at co-operation and negotiation by consensus.
"I think women have very different skills, they bring different attitudes, different experiences to politics. I think that we don't wheeler deal in the same way that men do, that we do find it easier to seek agreements and to build co-operation between other politicians in order to get what we think are important objectives. And I think the fact that most of us have families, children, that brings a different experience, a huge breadth of knowledge and understanding that men don't bring to the job."
Glenys Kinnock says that she is very concerned to encourage more women into politics. She works with women's organisations locally and globally, from old Welsh mining communities to parts of the developing world, she believes that it's important for women to help each other.
"There are some women who are burdened with this queen bee notion where, once they reach power and influence, they don't want to share it, and they don't want to offer a hand up to other women. And I certainly feel I would like get more women in politics, women's representatives in parliament, in local councils, local levels - that's very important because that's where a lot of the things that influence women's lives are"
"You need to be twice as determined and twice as strong as the men who want the political positions and you have to believe in yourself and believe that you have a very special contribution to make because of the understanding that you could bring to the job. And you need to get in on those organisations where people are chosen and selected and make sure that someone makes certain that women are given a fair chance in any process to ensure that people are elected."hear more on the audio clip
Haleh Afshar, Professor of Politics and Women's Studies at York University summarises Kinnock's importance:
"What's wonderful about Glenys is that she is not young, she is a grandmother, and she waited for her time and she has matured very well. And we can see from her that we don't need to be born politicians, we don't need to suddenly be sparked off in our teens, we actually can have several lives. We can actually be good mothers and grandmothers and then come to politics - what is important is to have the commitment and to have a vision."
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