Lord Kinnock on beards, bullying and a mid-life crisis

Sean Curran interviews Lord Kinnock
Image caption 'Some of the biggest dolts that I've ever met.....are people who've thought of a career in politics'

MPs have disappeared for their summer recess. Parliament is almost deserted and there is just the distraction of the Brexit fall-out, a new government and a Labour leadership election to keep Lobby correspondents in business.

With no-one having resigned for days, you may want to fill that politics-shaped hole in your life by catching up on a fascinating Neil Kinnock interview with my BBC Westminster colleague Sean Curran.

In the interview, Lord Kinnock looks back on his upbringing as the son of a miner and district nurse ("a sort of sheriff of north Tredegar" as her son puts it). He joined Labour (against the rules) just before his 15th birthday.

He tells of his unhappiness at Lewis School, Pengam, despite its reputation for educational excellence.

"It was a highly thought of grammar school," says Lord Kinnock, now 74. "Lloyd George called it 'the Eton of Wales' as if that was the greatest flattery.

"I had a miserable time in school, maybe because I was ginger, I was bullied and that's where I learned to fight and where I took some of my politics from actually because I've always loathed and sought to fight back against bullies of every description and I guess in the school that wasn't a bad training ground."


Things did get better: "I eventually got to like it in the sixth form when I was treated as an adult by good teachers and went to university."

But his entry into the sixth form was delayed by performing "appallingly badly" in his O-levels.

"I didn't realise until I was actually sitting the O-levels that revision was required. I eventually collected quite a lot of them but only after I'd had this real punch between the eyes of getting very good marks in three subjects - which of course was utterly useless - so I had to stay on for an extra year and do more O-levels before I was permitted to go into the sixth form."

He tried to leave school early but his parents "went beserk" over his plans to join the NCB (National Coal Board) as a management trainee. He also applied to join the army and the police force but was persuaded to sit his A-levels first.


He recalls a question asked by his father Gordon once he became a student politician. "You won't be growing a beard, will you?" asked Kinnock senior.

Kinnock junior: "Why the hell not?"

His father told him: "Because politicians should always have to shave in the morning to look at themselves in the mirror."

Neil Kinnock recalls: "Like a clever dick, I said, 'what about women?' And he looked at me and he said: 'lipstick'."

Kinnock the younger took his dad's advice: "There was no chance, even if I had been a revolutionary, of being a bearded one."

'Power and glory'

At university in Cardiff, he met his wife Glenys - together, they were known as "the power and the glory".

Which was which? "I was the power, she was the glory and all you had to do was to look at a photograph of us and you'd know which was which. The title was given to use by a dear, dear friend called John Collins, who's a very active councillor up in his native Preston still.

"He wrote a column about us and called us 'the power and the glory' and it stuck and of course mischievous or malevolent people wanted to turn it the other way, that she was the power, I was the glory but that's certainly not how John wrote it in the first place."

Lord Kinnock sheds tears when discussing his family life and his wife's sacrifices to bring up their children. "I don't know how I would have made it through the death of my parents within eight days of each other in 1971 if Glenys hadn't been my mainstay and partner."

'Mid-life crisis'

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the interview is his claim not to enjoy speaking - he said he preferred teaching adults (a role he did before becoming an MP).

He describes his leadership of the Labour Party as his mid-life crisis: "Not many people date their mid-life crisis with precision. Mine started on October 2, 1983 and it ended on July 18, 1992."

Asked what advice he would give to his 15-year-old self, he settles for advice his father gave him - "Be true to yourself" - and is scathing of career politicians.

"I might say, don't ever think of a career in politics because all the people I've ever met who say to me, 'Mr Kinnock, I'd like a career in politics', I say 'don't' because some of the biggest dolts that I've ever met, some of the most useless articles that I've ever met are people who've thought of a career in politics.

"It's not a career, it's the fact that if you want to change the world and you've got the sense to organise for that, if you're very, very, very lucky other people will put their trust in you and give you their vote but never think of it as a career."

The programme - Conversations - is available to view on BBC iPlayer.