After a long-lasting battle with illness, Sir Gerald Kaufman, father of the House of Commons and the UK’s oldest sitting MP, passed away 26 February 2017. Kaufman, the son of Polish, Jewish immigrants, was born in Leeds in 1930. After attending Leeds Grammar School, he studied philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford- where he became general secretary of the Labour Club.
Kaufman filled an extensive array of positions within politics and the media. Between 1954 and 1955, he was Assistant General Secretary of the Fabian Society. Kaufman wrote for the ‘Daily Mirror’ for nine years, and ‘New Statesman’ between 1964 and 1965. This experience secured him the position of Parliamentary Press Liaison Officer for Labour between 1965 and 1970. After two unsuccessful electoral campaigns in Bromley and Gillingham, he became a writer and contributor to BBC’s satirical comedy programme That Was The Week That Was.
Kaufman’s first electoral success came in 1970 when he triumphantly contested the constituency of Manchester Ardwick, which, due to changes in parliamentary boundaries, became Manchester Gorton in 1983. While loyally serving his constituents, normally in accordance with his eccentric style of dress, Kaufman held a wide range of roles within the Labour Party. Under the 1974 – 1979 Labour government, he took on the role of Junior Minister in the Department for the Environment and then in the Department of Industry.
His involvement in Labour continued throughout the 1980s, as he took on roles such as Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Foreign Secretary. More recently, Kaufman was chair of the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport between 1992 and 2005, and was a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Labour from 1980 to 1992. Kaufman’s services to Parliament were eventually rewarded with his knighthood in 2004.
Kaufman was no stranger to controversy. In 2009, he was embroiled in the parliamentary expenses scandal in which it was uncovered that he made numerous claims including a claim of £225 for a rollerball pen. Known for his sharp tongue and strong views, Kaufman, a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, was a vocal critic of the state of Israel. He called for sanctions against the nation and advocated the idea of Palestinian statehood, while also speaking out strongly against domestic issues such as fox hunting.
Since his death, messages of condolences and admiration have been voiced from across the political spectrum. Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, described him as an ‘iconic and irascible figure’, with Conservative MP George Osbourne referring to him as a ‘champion of his Manchester constituents’. In his 86 years, Kaufman has left an impactful legacy on the political landscape of Britain and will be sorely missed by family, friends, colleagues, and the general public.