JENKIN, Patrick (b.1926).



Wanstead and Woodford
15 October 1964 - 11 June 1987


Charles Patrick Fleeming Jenkin was born on 7 September 1926 in Scotland. He was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford, Clifton College and Jesus College, Cambridge. He married Alison Graham in 1952.

At University, Jenkin was active in the Conservative student politics. He was called to the Bar in 1952, then worked in the chemical industry. A member of the Bow Group, he was a councillor on Hornsey Borough Council from 1960 to 1963, and became MP for Wanstead and Woodford in 1964 (succeeding Winston Churchill, who had sat for Woodford before boundary changes altered the seat). After just one year in Parliament he joined the front bench as the opposition spokesman on Economic and Trade Affairs. In 1974 he briefly served as the Minister for Energy until Labour returned to government. During Margaret Thatcher’s years as Prime Minister, Jenkin was Secretary of State for Social Services (1979-1981); Secretary of State for Industry (1981-1983) and Secretary of State for the Environment (1983-1985).  

He stood down from the House of Commons in 1987 and was made a life peer as Baron Jenkin of Roding, of Wanstead and Woodford in Greater London.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Patrick Jenkin in the British Library.

Transcript of clip

[After Heath’s government] Of course, your car is immediately taken away […] and the first morning that I had to walk to the tube I believed that all the way along the road that people were drawing their curtains back and pointing and laughing. And of course that was complete nonsense but that was what I thought. I felt in a sense humiliated because we’ve lost the election and I was here having to give up what I become used to over the previous four years. I very quickly said the right way to deal with this is to become totally involved in the job. And I become the Minister for Energy right at the end of the government and Ted Heath appointed me straight away, we can’t have a secretary of state for Energy shadow in the House of Commons, it’s got to go to the House of Lords, it had been Lord Carrington for a short time. So I became the junior member of the shadow cabinet with responsibility for the department of Energy, and there was a tremendous amount to learn and I just threw myself deeply into that. Very quickly I not only became more confident of what I was doing and more satisfied that I was playing an important part, but began to earn the respect not only of one’s colleagues in the House, but perhaps more importantly the industrial people outside with whom I was dealing and I made my business always to try to understand what it was the industries were being asked to do it. […] that was both my purpose and I think the impact of what I was doing then, so I gained the reputation for knowing what I was talking about. I think that is very important in Parliament. Sometimes Ministers who have shadowed the department in opposition then come in and have the reputation very quickly of being a Minister knows what he is talking about.

Summary of interview

Track 1 [01.49.07] [Session one: 18 April 2012] Lord Jenkin [PJ] born in Edinburgh, first child. Parents were living in Maida Vale. Father a chemist working for Shell. Father went to California, mother and chid followed. First 10 years of life lived near refineries in California, with regular visits back to UK. Mother trained as elocution teacher and worked in the theatre. Talks about family background – grandfather first professor of Engineering at Oxford, and Great Grandfather first professor of Engineering at Edinburgh [03.20]. He was a Classicist at school – the prevailing fashion – and didn’t do Science. Science and Technology featured subsequently in his career [04.50]. Explains how it was in some way important to be a layman: when he chaired the influential House of Lords Select Committee Enquiry into Science and Society, he was told that it couldn’t have been written with a scientist as Chairman, because it’s no good talking to the public in language they don’t understand. [00.06.10] Talks about his childhood in California [07.00] where his father was Superintendent of Refineries. Lived initially in Martinez, San Francisco, later on at Wilmington, near Los Angeles, in a compound, superb for children. Most senior people English or Dutch. Mother thought Americans couldn’t run things. Was screentested for MGM’s David Copperfield, though didn’t get the part. Shirley Williams also was screentested, for National Velvet, whilst she was an evacuee during the war. [11.00] Enjoyed American life although education wasn’t great. Describes return to UK in 1936, to Dragon’s School. Fears of polio in America. Has always liked Americans. When involved later with mobile cell telephony he was able to visit for research. [14.45] Talks about America in the Depression, and prosperous oil refineries surrounded by detritus of Depression. Describes values and beliefs at home. [16.55] His family were churchgoers, who sang in the choir. Politically his parents were on opposite sides –Mother a Conservative, father from a Liberal background [18.20]. Uncle was in local government, dismissive of his ambitions to go into politics. Mother worked for Conservatives in 1945 election. Father died in 1938 leaving widow and four boys under 13, now back in UK. Unaware of gathering clouds of coming war. Father fought in WW1. [rattling noises off]. Describes life at Dragon’s School, Oxford. [00.25.00] Tells story of grandmother’s charity and the awful conditions some children were living under, although he was otherwise unaware of it. Mentions outbreak of war. [00.28.00] Describes trenches being dug in playing fields, although Oxford never bombed because too many of Hitler’s friends lived there. [28.15] Describes move to Clifton School, Bristol, where he witnessed bombing, which he found exciting. Says he was good at school, and was thinking about winning a scholarship to Oxbridge. Read the usual children’s books –Ransome etc. Holidays were spent in hut in West of Scotland. Scotland important to family [33.10]. Never had any sympathy with nationalism –“a nonsense”. School transferred to Cornwall for rest of war and did well in response to being “shaken up” –a lesson for political life [37.15]. Admired teachers. Active musical life at school –music always important to him. Aware that one of his teachers at Dragon’s School was not a Conservative –otherwise completely unaware of contemporary issues and politics –didn’t read a newspaper -politics suspended during war “except for the Labour party who made hay whilst their opponents were busy fighting the Germans”. [41.35]. 1944 Volunteered for the army, commissioned into Cameron Highlanders. Great Uncle was a general. Well-connected upper middle class upbringing. Had a scholarship at Cambridge –the “next stage” [44.25]. Experience of life in the army –for the first time faced with “all sorts and conditions of men”. Great experience. Officer had been a dustman at Aldershot before the war; v proletarian surroundings [47.00]. Lot of swearing, lots of boasting about girls (not for him at that stage). Selection for leadership. Was put on a charge for using obscene language to an NCO (“bollocks”) [49.45]. Context of the times –Churchill, the post war election and the Labour Government. [52.00] Sense that pre-war period had been a disaster for Britain-time for something new, led by armed forces; effective Labour propaganda. He was never tempted. Talks about commanding men in Trieste –porridge story. Enjoyed opera in the castle at Trieste. Not aware of wartime destruction. Things he learned in the army that helped his political career? [59.45] Commanding a platoon. Never saw shot fired in anger. Political experience came through Cambridge –Tories by then (1948) were fighting back. Cambridge –Jesus College [1.01.20] Became college rep for Conservative Association. Joined the union –bowled over by speeches and spoke himself. Didn’t hold office in Union. Interested in singing –talks of singing St Matthew Passion in Kings Chapel. [telephone interrupts 1.04.00] Some Cambridge associates are colleagues today -Geoffrey Howe, Norman St John Stevas. Federation of Cambridge University Associations. Describes work for Conservative Association –campaigning for Tory candidate (Hamilton Kerr) in 1951 election [1.05.30], canvassing, speaking. Not so much of that done nowadays (beyond immediate staff of candidate), very useful for later in life.
Track 1 [cont. from 1.07.50] Career was “next stage” switched from Classics to Law as stepping stone to Parliament –an established route. Tells story of Billy Rees Mogg (later corrected to Rees Davies) who sabotaged a trial in order to be released for a three line whip –“disreputable” [1.09.00]. Got First Class degree in Law, called to the Bar with Scholarship. Started in Divorce Chambers. At Inns of Court Conservative Dinner met a “Silk” who invited him to join Tax Chambers –but got little work from them. [1.12.15] Had to leave to find a better job (wife and family to support) –got a job in Chemical industries -Distillers Company. Read schoolbook on Organic Chemistry. [1.14.40] Value of industry experience, basis of running a business. Good preparation for Parliament. Family life [1.15.40]; tells story of meeting wife in Scotland; four children. Income was £90 per month. Started living in three rooms -had originally shared the digs with Geoffrey Howe, who moved out. Building a parallel career in politics –didn’t cost anything. Active in Bow Group. Signed up at Central Office as a speaker and went round 100s of branches of Young Conservatives –that’s what one did [1.19.40]. Won Public Speaking competition –got noticed. Never been an orator. [1.21.35] First got into Parliament in 1964 –had been selected for Woodford in 1963. Before that he had already been adopted for Enfield East –went to Central Office to ask if it was possible to change to go for Woodford instead; told it wasn’t possible. Chance meeting led to opportunity to go for selection in Woodford after all [1.24.35]. Interviewed and finally selected over two others (one was drunk and the other wouldn’t support Profumo). Had spent time in Library reading local Woodford papers-unusual to be so diligent then. Selection got a lot of publicity. Heseltine was disparaging (he hadn’t got onto the list at all) [1.27.15]. Churchill had been MP for Woodford.
Track 1 [cont.] Before selection he had been on local council. Living in Highgate. On Executive of local Conservative Association. 1960 [later corrected to 1957] fought seat in Finsbury Park. Didn’t win. Eventually elected [for Stroud Green 1960]; he tells story of a later election [1963] where the Liberals fielded a candidate with same name to confuse the ballot paper –he lost his seat – “a dirty trick” [1.32.55]. Six weeks later he became candidate for Woodford. Felt you can’t do Parliament properly unless you’ve served in local government (he had been Chairman of Housing). 1964 campaign for Parliament. Mentor was Iain Macleod (another local MP) –“my star” –worst day in politics was day he died. [1.36.00]. Discovered it made no difference who your predecessor (ie Churchill) was. Constituency characteristics– people asked him if he was a Zionist – lots of voluntary bodies. Held fortnightly surgeries; “you’ve got to give your constituents your best” [1.38.35]. First impressions of Parliament –he got lost and was accosted by Serjeant at Arms. People from across the parties had fierce arguments but remained on friendly terms. Harold Wilson a formidable character at the time [1964], ran rings around Alec Douglas-Home. [1.41.40] Under Heath he became Junior Shadow spokesman on Treasury –had taken part in two bills, about Nuclear Industry and Gas Bill, drawing on his experience of Chemical Industry. Refers to how, recently, MPs have been drawn from too narrow a base [1.43.30]. Describes the value of experience of Industry and Law. Kept both careers going until he became a Minister. Had worked for Distillers and they had originally been disapproving of their staff also working in politics -couldn’t do both. They changed their mind when they realized the importance of having a voice in Parliament to represent the industry [1.47.35]. Distillers kept his salary going. By then MPs were being paid.
Track 2 [Session 2: 30 April 2012] [02:01:58]: Harder now for politicians to forge and maintain a career in industry –Parliament more a full time job now [1.30] e.g. growth in email (cites his son, a serving MP). When he came in he had a secretary and kept her until he gained ministerial office. Balancing demands of work–within a year he was on Front Bench. Work for Distillers e.g on boards, kept him in touch. Tells story of take-over. [Request for retake of story about potential conflicts of interest]. Example of story of Gas Bill [mentioned in Interview 1]. [06.45] Takeover of Distillers by BP after Thalidomide disaster. Couldn’t take him on because BP were half-Government owned. Boundaries and potential conflicts; important tot declare. [08.20]. Gave him more time to work on constituency. Now declarations have become more formal –after a number of scandals. Have colleagues generally acted with probity? [09.40] Some have acted disreputably –refers to people taking money to move a amendments to a bill (recent example in Lords). Talks about people (in parliament) making representations to him –and admitting they worked for (undeclared) outside interests [10.50]. [interview interrupted by technical issue 11.08] Political life diminished by members’ lack of experience outside politics. In his day large number of MPs had experience of industry.
Impressions of parliament –overawed by big figures. 1922 committee v formidable figures –a great deal to learn. Big players –Alec Douglas-Home was party leader (though he was out of his depth); Heath (helped him fight against the Finance Bill). Leadership contest –firm Heath supporter and worked closely with Macleod [covered in interview 1]. People still forge relationships of loyalty, respect and admiration [18.06]. Period in Opposition 1964-70. Felt Wilson was unpleasant character who destroyed people’s reputations. Learnt a lot in Opposition. House of Commons can be an emotional place [19.55] character of leader is important. [20.25] Stepped out of party line over Rhodesia –a group led by Shirley Williams opposed Iain Smith. Talks about Rhodesia issue and UDI. Carpeted by Chief Whip, Willie Whitelaw for having voted with Labour government –infuriated many constituents. [23.00]. Realised the need to explain and prepare in the constituency e.g. when he took over constituency there were over 1000 Young Conservatives in Woodford ( now they’re all away at University)–he was harangued for two hours in a meeting. Managed to bring them round. Political calculations about going against party line [25.15]. Aware of “winds of change” blowing through Africa but still got him into trouble. Whitelaw “foamed at the mouth” but no threat of withdrawing the whip. It can enhance reputation to take a stand -sees more of it in House of Lords [27.00].
Track 2 [cont.] Hanging issue [27.48] admits to being ashamed of having supported hanging in one vote; otherwise he was consistently against it –despite views of constituents. Experience of dealing with media –never any good at it. Originally there were six local papers in his constituency [29.35] –got to know journalists. In 23 years there was only one paper left. Using media was not one of his strengths. As a minister you have a press department –got cross with civil servants about not promoting the policies of the government. Growth of broadcast media. [31.15] Heath’s defeat in 1974; chosen as Tory spokesman on BBC election programme. [33.55] Media training was given –put through his paces and had performance criticised. “One learnt and became more adept”. Experience of Question Time. [35.45] experience of losing ministerial office –car is taken away, had to walk to the tube; thought everyone was laughing at him. Best way to deal with it was to become totally involved in new job –became junior member of shadow cabinet with responsibility for Energy –lots to learn. Took pains to become informed about his brief –travelled widely, knew what he was talking about. Went on to be Shadow spokesman for Health and Social Services, then Secretary of State in 1979. [interview pauses briefly 39.15]. Learning about Opposition politics and tactics. Got on well with Eric Varley but not with Benn –too dogmatic. Would support government if you approved of what they did –industry is looking for a common view that won’t change when government changes (gives example of report on nuclear research recently) [41.35]. Felt that a lot of what Wilson did was misconceived and wrong. [42.00] Rise of Margaret Thatcher –had known her as young barrister. Recognised her as having strong views. She got into the House in 1959 ahead of him. A person to be reckoned with. Both of them were junior shadow spokesemen under Macleod. Remembers her phrase “This chap Callaghan must be stopped”. [44.30] Difficult when time came for there to be a new leader (to replace Heath) –he voted for Willie Whitelaw first time round. Has never revealed who he voted for on second round -Thatcher got in and was assured of his loyalty. Tended to support the leader of the time – mentions Guardian leader quote on his own sacking later (“Jenkin was always too loyal”) [46.20]. Difficult period at end of Heath’s leadership –held his counsel. New political culture emerged only very slowly [48.15]. Little indication from 1979 party manifesto of what was to come. Thatcher always knew where she was going though. Story of canvassing in 1983 election in Monmouth –Conservative party attacked by labour-supporting Welshman –who nevertheless would vote for Thatcher. Conviction politics [51.20] Dealing with Trade Unions –attempt to cut off benefits to strikers’ families; Thatcher tried to drive it forward precipitately–he rowed with her about it [54.00]. He doesn’t know how far he might have been prepared to oppose her- an example of “the downside” of Thatcher, but she “liked a minister who stands up to me” [55.50]. Thatcher a firm believer in Cabinet solidarity, not “ridiculous sofa stuff we had subsequently” e.g. decision about Falkland Task Force. Describes War Cabinet with Naval Staff complaining that “she treats us like a bunch of children!”.
Track 2 [cont.] Working for Thatcher [58.30] Switched to opposition front bench on Trade and Industry –a “heavy weight” to replace Norman Fowler. Had three years in opposition to prepare for being Secretary of State. Talks about the disjointed nature of Department for Health and Social Security [59.30]. Relationship with Civil Service [1.00.30] –example of quibble over expenses and row with Sir Patrick Nairne. Generally relations were good. Example of sacking someone as Environment Secretary, and of not appointing a preferred candidate because of doubts about his security record. [1.04.45] Civil Servants carrying out Governmetn policy: example of changing his mind about Water Privatisation, and the department having to achieve a180 degree turn in implementation –in a week. Had difficulty with PR people who didn’t see it as their duty to promote party political programme –got cross about that. 1.06.20 Privatisation policy. Thatcher needed some persuading from him over BT privatisation –the first big one. Era of many potentially unpopular policies [1.09.00] No focus groups then to test them out –has doubts about the value of them. Got one thing v wrong –paying benefits electronically rather than over the counter at Post Offices. Had to withdraw policy. Government hampered by “silos” [1.11.30]. Aware of being part of a political programme under Thatcher –privatisation was key-gives examples of industries to be privatised. Got a kick out of it –getting industrial power out of hands of government “who are not good at running them”. Regards himself as a Thatcherite [1.16.25]. Speaks about Miners’ strike of 1984. A bruising encounter which she had to win. Story of a meeting in Yorkshire with threat of violence. [1.18.45] Story about speaking in Basildon after Brighton bomb, people (even opponents) keen to say how horrified they were about what had happened. Refers to politicians being killed by terrorists –e.g. Iain Gow. IRA terrorism was a feature of political life –was given security advice. Police vans parked outside house. Held a series of high-profile, contentious briefs –went to Environment and tried to introduce Poll Tax [1.22.00]. A disaster –carries his share of the blame. Liverpool and Militant Tendency were more difficult to deal with. Describes confrontation with left wing councils led by David Blunkett [1.23.30]. Key was when Kinnock spoke against Militant Tendency –admired him for taking them on. Relations with Liverpool v difficult, couldn’t see Chief Exec in his office “because it was all bugged”. [1.26.04] Chosen for a succession of cabinet jobs because he was reliable, did his homework, could carry House of Commons. [1.27.05] Had hoped to be made Chancellor of Exchequer or DTI–disappointed with appointment to Environment. Last job he ever had! [1.29.45] Relationship with other members as a Minister –had serious rows. End of Cabinet role [1.31.20] had come to end of his usefulness. Lobby journalist told him how a politician’s imminent demise is put about –reading the signs from Bernard Ingham. [1.33.45] Personal impact of losing office –v upset; had left under a cloud because of Poll Tax. Took a while to get decent jobs outside again. Returning to back benches was difficult –did little. Was looked at in a different light as senior figure. Waiting for his appointment to the Lords –a natural progression. Find it v satisfying albeit different [1.36.45]. Issue of Lords Reform –[1.37.20] member of a group opposed to elected element of Lords. A long fight ahead –as a foot soldier this time. Refers to some of the issues resulting from proposals for an elected House. [pause in interview 1.41.20] Memorable events and issues in his career: decision to privatise BT. Troublesome issues: prospect of riots in Liverpool and having to put in Commissioners by helicopter, to replace a suspended council 1.43.00. How political working life has changed: [1.45.00] couldn’t exist now without emails. In House of Lords we’re part time. Will listen to debates, has meetings to discuss bills. Keeps up interest in Energy Industry. Comments on previous government’s attitude to nuclear industry [1.48.10]. Concerns about how politics is regarded outside the Westminster “bubble” –how the public is becoming more detached from politics. House of Lords is more responsive to opinion/issues. Gives example of people excavating flats out of their basements and disrupting neighbours. House of Commons needs to stop being under control of the Executive [1.51.00] –rather than “messing about” with Lords. Many legislative changes would not have happened if Lords had been brought under control of the political parties. It’s got worse e.g frequency of the use of the Guillotine-now all bills are subject to a timetable in the Commons. They frequently send bills back only to have them dealt with summarily due to a timetable. Too easy for Government to get legislation through –backed up by Parliament Act if Lords decides to oppose. [1.53.25]. With an elected House, government will control it. Francis Pym story –he was there when Thatcher went for him –doesn’t think Pym had a point (about not wanting to win too much power). Problem is Executive taking control of Parliament [1.54.44]. Cameron had promised not to –not happened. Voted against Government several times over Localism Bill –never did so in the Commons. Considers John Major a greatly underestimated PM [1.56.00] Europe and work of Parliament –impinges massively. Started as warm supporter of EEC application. Period in Government converted him to a Eurosceptic. [1.58.00] So many directives “ride rough-shod over Parliament”. Can’t go on. Speculating on the future for members: influx of new kind of MP in 2010- v able, with good prior experience. Many of them oppose Lords reform. Relationship with public expenses row an absolute disaster [2.00.10]. We bear part of blame for opposing increases in MPs pay rather than using allowances. Has been dealt with but won’t be forgotten. Is optimistic –“what else have we got?”