By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com January 07 2003 1:00 AM ET
Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, one of the "Gang of Four" British politicians who split from the Labour Party to form the Social Democrats, died Sunday at the age of 82.
As a rising political star in the 1950s and '60s, he helped liberalize British laws on abortion, divorce, and homosexuality. The [London] Daily Mail reports that Prime Minister Tony Blair cites Jenkins as one of his political mentors.
Baroness Shirley Williams, a fellow member of the "Gang of Four," had nothing but praise for her former comrade in a comment she made to the Press Association Monday. "In his fight for human rights and against bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and prejudice of all kinds, he was ahead of his time," Williams said.
Jenkins served as Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer--head of the Treasury--while a member of the Labour Party and became the party's deputy leader. But he grew disenchanted with the party, which he perceived as anti-European, and with a political system that gave only the Labour and Conservative parties much chance of governing.
"The politics of the left and center of this country are frozen in an out-of-date mold which is bad for the political and economic health of Britain and increasingly inhibiting for those who live within the mold," Jenkins said in 1980. "Can it be broken?"
The next year Jenkins and three other Labour leaders founded the Social Democratic Party. Jenkins became party leader in 1982; the group then merged with the Liberals in 1988 to form the Social and Liberal Democrats--now called the Liberal Democrats.