The Father of the House of Commons Sir Gerald Kaufman, heralded as a “great socialist and parliamentarian” has died aged 86.First elected to serve as a Member of Parliament in 1970 for Manchester Ardwick, Kaufman worked within various posts during his parliamentary career, ranging from the Minister of Industry to the Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and earning considerable respect in the ensuing expertise and experience acquired, alongside his willingness to remain steadfast in his positions.
Sir Gerald Kaufman, an initial secretary of the Fabian Society and writer for papers such as The New Statesman, worked as a Parliamentary Press Liaison Officer for Labour before becoming a member of Harold Wilson’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ and finally gaining a seat in the Commons from 1970, a role maintained until his death. Kaufman was significant force within the shadow cabinet from 1980, however in 1992, Kaufman migrated to the backbenches, chairing the select committee for Culture, Media and Sports and contributing to the 1999 Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform as well as being a member of the Labour Party National Executive Committee.
Kaufman was unafraid to vocalise criticism, famously referring to Michael Foot’s markedly left-wing 1983 manifesto as ‘the longest suicide note in history,’ and voting against the party whip on two occasions; first with regards to provisions within the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 which would allow for an immunity of sorts for visiting Israeli officials, criticising the implications this could hold for British law and again in 2015 on the Welfare Reform Bill when, alongside 47 other MPs, Kaufman voted against government proposals of £12 billion in welfare cuts despite Labour party leadership directing members to abstain.
Certainly the most prominent area of concern for Kaufman was Britain’s interactions with Israel and Palestine, an area remaining relevant to this day; a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, Kaufman was unforgiving with regards to Israel, describing it as a ‘pariah state’ and labelling senior Israeli politicians as ‘war criminals’, calling for economic sanctions and arms bans to be enacted against the country in a vein similar to those implemented against apartheid. Kaufman protested at the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1972 and consistently detailed his disillusionment with
Israel, spurring criticism from segments within the Jewish community as well as continuing to provoke confrontation in the Commons with pro-Israel MPs. Kaufman held that ‘The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploits the continuing guilt from Gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians,’ not shying away from challenging existing memorandum of the holocaust and continuing to highlight the problematic nature of the state and its dealings with Palestine. Such an approach was maintained throughout his parliamentary career, with Kaufman leading the European parliamentary delegation to Gaza in 2009 and continuing to give speeches attacking the actions of Israel and seek greater accountability.
Kaufman’s passionate remarks have at times been condemned, indeed whilst Corbyn has praised the late MP as ‘an iconic and irascible figure’ of the Labour Party, comments made in the past such as those suggesting Israeli orchestration of Palestinian knife attacks were described by John Mann as ‘incoherent ramblings’, and condemned by Corbyn as ‘damaging to community relations.’ Thus Kaufman’s career is by no means faultless, however a dogged commitment to causes and the political aegis provided by the late Father of the House of Commons has been considerable, as well as a commitment to representing his constituents that should not be understated; a strong figure in parliament and Labour Party veteran, the Labour Party will mourn his loss.
To learn more about the life and legacy of Sir Gerald Kaufman you may like to consider:
Kaufman, G. (1997), How to be a Minister?, Faber & Faber