57. Neil Kinnock
Leaders (135 votes)
Only Welsh leader of the Labour Party, who narrowly missed becoming Prime Minister.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Neil Kinnock will always be indebted to U.S. senator Joe Biden. It was Biden who famously “borrowed” the Labour leader’s words about being “the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to get to University.”
Neil Kinnock’s gift for the memorable phrase goes well beyond glib ‘sound bites’. His big speeches were always intensely emotional - a quality that as a politician was simultaneously his greatest strength and weakness. His eve-of-election speech at Cardiff in 1987 moved many party stalwarts to tears.
As Labour leader his central achievement was to halt the leftward drift of the party, driving out the Trotskyites of the Militant Tendency. His humiliation of them at the 1985 party conference was one of the great moments of political theatre It also signalled the return of Labour as an electoral force following its disastrous performance two years previously.
In 1992 however his premature triumphalism at a rally in Sheffield was seen as costing Labour another election- one it had been widely expected to win. It spelt the end of his career in front line British politics as he joined the elder statesmen of Brussels as a European Commissioner.
While south Wales has always been fertile ground for Labour, Neil Kinnock is the only Welsh leader in the party’s history. And although his working- class Valleys credentials helped him to Westminster, in the eyes of the London media they were a liability.
The tag of “Welsh windbag” stuck and Neil Kinnock was never taken to the hearts of Middle England, where the marginal seats that Labour needed in order to take power were concentrated.
It was a failing not repeated by Tony Blair as he cannily won over floating voters
from the Tories in 1997. Yet his success and that of “New” Labour rested heavily on the foundations laid by Neil Kinnock