Gerald Bernard Kaufman

A foreign policy spokesman of the British Labour Party, Gerald Bernard Kaufman (born 1930) became a member of Parliament in 1970.

Gerald Kaufman was born on June 21, 1930, and was the son of Louis and Jane Kaufman. As a Yorkshireman, he was educated in Leeds, an important textile and commercial center in the north of England, at city "council" schools in the primary grades and at Leeds Grammar School (high school). He went on to undergraduate education at Queen's College, Oxford.

His first real political job was assistant general secretary of the Fabian Society, which was the nucleus of British socialist intelligentsia. Kaufman only held this job for a year (1954-1955) and was pleased at obtaining the job as a journalist on the political staff of a popular newspaper, the Daily Mirror, for the next nine years (1955-1964). He moved to the New Statesmenin 1964-1965, in preparation for his five-year stint as the press adviser of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson (parliamentary press liaison officer, 1965-1970).

Kaufman's political career was given a boost by his successful election to a seat in the House of Commons in 1970. He failed in the elections of 1955 (Bromley) and 1959 (Gillingham), but he gained a victory in the election for Manchester Ardwick on June 18, 1970. Kaufman was a member of Parliament at last. Ardwick, a working-class district, was merged into Manchester Gorton in June 1983; he successfully contested Gorton in 1983, and he retained the seat in the Commons into the 1990s.

Gorton, after redrawing, was one of the five new Manchester city seats, including the old working-class Ardwick division. Longsight, the southeastern part of Gorton, is a belt of inner-city desolation and votes strongly pro-Labour. Over 30 percent of its people are non-white. Rusholme and Fallowfield contain many owner-occupied houses (once part of Manchester's southern middle-class area), but the middle-class has fled out to the south towards Cheshire, the neighboring country. Although half its housing is owner-occupied, it is increasingly occupied by Asians. Gorton was a Labour stronghold in the early 1990s, so Kaufman had a safe seat for the foreseeable future.

In Gorton in 1983 the vote was Labour (Kaufman), 51.2 percent; Conservative, 28.5 percent; Liberal Alliance, 19 percent; Communist, 0.8 percent; and other, 0.5 percent. The Gorton 1987 parliamentary election, in which Kaufman was again successful, was much the same as 1983: Labour, 54.4 percent; Conservative, 23.3 percent; and Liberal Alliance, 21.7 percent. Kaufman had won for Labour 3.2 percent over the 1983 vote.

After 1987 Kaufman was what the British call "Shadow" foreign secretary (if, by any chance, the Labour government should be in power, he would be foreign secretary). With a safe seat behind him his star was rising. His position in the Labour Party began ascending in 1974: parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Department of the Environment, March 1974-June 1975; under-secretary for the Department of Industry, June-December 1975; minister of state for the same department, December 1975-May 1979; privy councillor in 1978; opposition spokesman for the environment, 1979-1983; elected to the "Shadow" Cabinet, December 1980 (to the parliamentary committee of the Labour Party: the "PCP"); Shadow home secretary, 1983-1987; and finally, Shadow foreign secretary (in American parlance, secretary of state).

In 1987 Kaufman had a foreign policy trip to Central America in preparation for his new job. He had the disadvantage of being in Nicaragua while the Sandinistas were still in power and was full of pro-Sandinista arguments. The Nicaraguan people were "united by everyday wartime sacrifices"; they accepted hardships because "their government is doing its best" and sees to it that their shortages are "fairly shared"; and most Nicaraguans are "united in opposition to Reagan's attempt to destroy their Revolution." President Reagan should end his aid to the contra rebels. In the end, the Sandinista regime was voted out by the electors of Nicaragua (1990) and a new government was formed, partly by recognizing the contras. Gerald Kaufman was wrong about some aspects of the situation.

In a speech on South Africa to the House of Commons in 1988, Kaufman satirized Margaret Thatcher, the British Conservative prime minister, as being partly responsible for South Africa's social policy towards Blacks. He called her "the handmaiden of apartheid" and "the world's most effective ally of apartheid." It was an antagonistic political speech against Thatcher, heavy with "calculated excess and verbal gem-setting" (as a critic said). Thatcher was opposed to apartheid; she was anti-radical and anti-socialist, but she was no racist. Kaufman's speech was party-political, witty, and humorous, but left an impression that he was not taking the problems of South Africa seriously.

In 1990 he drew fire from Labour Party rank-and-file with a speech about the new democracies of Eastern Europe (the former East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania), the ex-Communist regimes. Kaufman said a "Marshall Plan" should be devised by the rich nations to assist the new democracies; the role of the West was not to instigate change but to support the efforts for change. This speech did not go far enough for some of the rank-and-file. After all, he was the Shadow foreign secretary of the Labour Party; it was hardly a momentous speech.

At its party conference the British Labour Party in 1980 opted for unilateral nuclear disarmament. This standard of Labour foreign policy was reiterated in the British general election of 1983, which caused the breaking-away of some Labour supporters to join the Social Democratic Party in 1984. The disarmament policy was a product of the internal politics of the Labour Party and contributed to the loss of the 1987 general election, again. Kaufman, as the newest foreign policy spokesman, had a lot to worry about, despite his popularity within the PLP.

Kaufman was of the Jewish faith and traveled many times to Israel. He wrote a book about his trips, Inside the Promised Land, in 1986. He knew people in Israel and conversed with them on society and politics; his book basically was short, breezy, and personally informative, a short travelogue with political discussions. The "love of country" will continue to be the salvation of Israel as a nation, according to Kaufman. The book, however, was devoid of policy analysis.

In another book, My Life in the Silver Screen written in 1985, Kaufman reveals himself as a film buff with a nostalgic story of 50 years or so "going to the pictures" and what he saw there. In fact he saw the products of Hollywood, to a large extent, at the expense of European films. His book was smart, clever, and humorous, but not serious at all.

Kaufman was a promising British Labour Party politician, up against the ascendent Conservative Party in the 1990s, with John Major as the British prime minister. Major was in charge of the nation in the Gulf War of early 1991 and pursued the war to its successful conclusion. Kaufman had a long background of Labour foreign policy excesses and contradictions to account for as Labour's Shadow foreign secretary. Many critics believed that Kaufman's resignation in June 1992 clearly reflected the state of the Labour party (Sunday Times June 7, 1992). In the mid 1990s Kaufman served as the chairman of the House of Commons National Heritage Select Committee, which published reports on the United Kingdom film industry (The Times, March 25, 1995) and public ownership of the lottery (The Guardian, June 5, 1996). In politics, anything can happen, and usually does.

Further Reading on Gerald Bernard Kaufman

Additional information on Kaufman can be found in the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences: Political Science (London: 1953-to date) and in the New Statesman (December 13, 1985; September 11, 1987; March 4, 1988; and January 12, 1990); The Economist (November 2, 1985); and in the (London) Times (February 1 and 12, October 30, and November 25, 1989, and August 9, 1990).

In addition to the two books cited in the text, works by Gerald Kaufman include How To Live Under Labour, (with co-author; 1964); The Left, which he edited (1966); To Build a Promised Land (1973); How To Be a Minister (1980); and Renewal: Labour's Britain in the 1980s, which he edited (London: 1983).