After Hillhead

David Marquand

Whatever else it may or may not have been, Hillhead was unquestionably a personal triumph for Roy Jenkins. The crowds which packed the silent, thoughtful meetings were drawn by him. The old ladies who switched tremulously and belatedly from the Tories switched to him. The clever-silly London journalists who explained why the SDP bubble was going to burst made their jokes at his expense. Defeat would have kept him out of the leadership of the SDP and perhaps out of the leadership of the Alliance as well. Victory has consolidated his claims to both. After the long, grey years of the Seventies – the agonies of conscience over the European Communities Bill, the frustrations of office in the dismal governments of 1974, defeat in the Labour leadership election, the poisoned chalice of the Brussels Commission presidency – he can now enter his inheritance as the rallying-point for the forces of conscience and reform which have been leaderless since Gaitskell’s death. It is a sweet moment for those of us who followed him.

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