Gerald Kaufman

Sir Gerald Bernard Kaufman (21 June 1930 – 26 February 2017) was a British Labour politician who served as a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1970 until his death in 2017, first for Manchester Ardwick and then for Manchester Gorton. He was a government minister in the 1970s and a member of the Shadow Cabinet in the 1980s. Knighted in 2004, he became Father of the House in 2015 and was the oldest sitting MP of the UK Parliament at the time of his death.

Sir Gerald Kaufman
Kaufman in December 2003
Father of the House of Commons
In office
7 May 2015  26 February 2017
SpeakerJohn Bercow
Preceded byPeter Tapsell
Succeeded byKenneth Clarke
Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee[1]
In office
17 April 1992  12 July 2005
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byJohn Whittingdale
Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
In office
13 July 1987  24 July 1992
LeaderNeil Kinnock
Preceded byDenis Healey
Succeeded byJack Cunningham
Shadow Home Secretary
In office
31 October 1983  13 July 1987
LeaderNeil Kinnock
Preceded byRoy Hattersley
Succeeded byRoy Hattersley
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment
In office
8 December 1980  31 October 1983
LeaderMichael Foot
Preceded byRoy Hattersley
Succeeded byJack Cunningham
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
In office
8 March 1974  12 June 1975
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Succeeded byErnest Armstrong
Member of Parliament
for Manchester Gorton
In office
9 June 1983  26 February 2017
Preceded byKenneth Marks
Succeeded byAfzal Khan
Member of Parliament
for Manchester Ardwick
In office
18 June 1970  13 May 1983
Preceded byLeslie Lever
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Gerald Bernard Kaufman

(1930-06-21)21 June 1930
Leeds, Yorkshire, England, UK
Died26 February 2017(2017-02-26) (aged 86)
Political partyLabour
Alma materQueen's College, Oxford

He was known for his forthright views, but very rarely voted against the Labour Party whip, thus his two rebellions carried greater weight. Kaufman was a critic of the state of Israel and came under criticism himself during the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal.

Early life

Kaufman was born in Leeds, the youngest of seven children of Louis and Jane Kaufman. His parents were both Polish Jews who moved to England before the First World War. He was educated at Leeds Grammar School,[2] and graduated with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Oxford (Queen's College). During his time there, he was Secretary of the University Labour Club, where he prevented Rupert Murdoch from standing for office because he broke the Society's rule against canvassing.[3]

Early career

Kaufman was assistant general secretary of the Fabian Society (1954–55), a leader writer on the Daily Mirror (1955–64) and a journalist on the New Statesman (1964–65). He was Parliamentary Press Liaison Officer for the Labour Party (1965–70) and eventually became a member of Prime Minister Harold Wilson's informal "kitchen cabinet".[4]

In the 1955 general election Kaufman had unsuccessfully contested the then Conservative-held seat of Bromley (the seat of then-Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan), and in the 1959 general election, Gillingham.[4]

He became a writer, contributing to BBC Television's satirical television comedy programme That Was The Week That Was in 1962 and 1963,[2][5] where he was most remembered for the "silent men of Westminster" sketch. He appeared as a guest on its successor, Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life.[4]

Member of Parliament

Kaufman was elected MP for Manchester Ardwick at the 1970 general election; he switched constituency to Manchester Gorton at the 1983 election, following the major changes in parliamentary boundaries in that year. He remained MP for Gorton until his death,[6] notwithstanding considerable demographic changes that resulted in Muslim voters becoming an influential segment of the electorate.[7][8]

He was a junior minister throughout Labour's time in power from 1974 to 1979, first in the Department for the Environment (1974–75) under Anthony Crosland, then in the Department of Industry under Eric Varley (Minister of State, 1975–79). He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1978. After his re-election to the Commons in 2015, just before his 85th birthday, he became the Father of the House following the retirement of Sir Peter Tapsell.[9]

Shadow Cabinet

Kaufman as Shadow Foreign Secretary with Taha Yassin Ramadan in Iraq in 1988

In opposition, Kaufman was the Shadow Environment Secretary (1980–83), Shadow Home Secretary (1983–87) and Shadow Foreign Secretary (1987–92).[2] He dubbed the Labour Party's left-wing 1983 election manifesto "the longest suicide note in history".[10] In 1992 he went to the back benches and became Chair of what was then the National Heritage Select Committee.[11]

Influential back-bencher

Kaufman chaired the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport, formerly the Select Committee on National Heritage (1992–2005), and was a member of the Parliamentary Committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party (1980–92), of the Labour Party National Executive Committee (1991–92), and of the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform (1999).[2] In 1997, Kaufman criticised the then Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House Mary Allen over alleged financial misconduct, which ultimately contributed to her tendering her resignation.[12]

Kaufman only voted against the Labour whip twice: the first time on the provision in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to introduce an extra requirement[13] in the process for private prosecutors seeking to obtain an arrest warrant for "universal jurisdiction" offences such as war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity; the second time against the Welfare Reform Bill 2015.[14] He voted with the government on the 2003 invasion of Iraq saying in Parliament "Even though all our hearts are heavy, I have no doubt that it is right to vote with the Government tonight".[15]

Kaufman was appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 2004 Birthday Honours for services to Parliament.[16]

On 25 May 2010, during the Queen's Speech debate, Kaufman accused the Liberal Democrat candidate for his constituency during the 2010 general election, Qassim Afzal, of running "an anti-Semitic, and personally anti-Semitic, election campaign" in Manchester Gorton.[17]

Parliamentary expenses scandal

Kaufman was implicated in the 2009 expenses scandal, where a number of British MPs made excessive expense claims, misusing their permitted allowances and expense accounts.[18]

Kaufman was found to have submitted expense claims that included £8,865 for a 40-inch LCD television, £1,851 for an antique rug imported from New York, and £225 for a rollerball pen. He blamed his self-diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder for his claims, and also said that his condition led him to purchase a pair of Waterford Crystal grapefruit bowls on his parliamentary expenses.[19] Between 2005 and 2007, Kaufman claimed £28,834 for home improvements. He was subsequently summoned to the Parliamentary Fees Office to explain these claims, and in the end was reimbursed £15,329. He was also challenged over regular claims for "odd jobs", which he submitted without receipts at a rate of £245 per month, then £5 below the limit for unreceipted expenses, to which he replied by asking why these expenses were being queried.[20]


Gerald Kaufman by Trog

Kaufman wrote many books and articles. Some are political: How to be a Minister (1980) is an irreverent look at the difficulties faced by ministers trying to control the civil service.[21] Some are cultural: Meet Me in St Louis is a study of the 1944 Judy Garland film.[22] He contributed a chapter about John Hodge, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton elected in 1906, to Men Who Made Labour, edited by Alan Haworth and Diane Hayter.[23]

Kaufman was an outspoken opponent of hunting with hounds. In 2004, he was assaulted by a group of pro-fox hunting campaigners and said that he was subjected to antisemitic taunts. These he said he found ironic as he had recently been accused of being a self-hating Jew by a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.[24]

He opposed Barack Obama, saying that U.S. voters did not "know a phoney when they see one" and adding: "If they did, Barack Obama would not be president".[25]

Kaufman was one of 48 Labour MPs to vote against the second reading of the government's Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which included £12bn in welfare cuts, on 20 July 2015. In doing so they defied the party's leadership, which had ordered MPs to abstain.[26]

Criticism of Israel

Kaufman was a member of the Jewish Labour Movement (formerly Poale Zion),[27][28] a Zionist group affiliated with the UK Labour Party, and was fiercely critical of Israel.

In 1988, on the 40th anniversary of the State of Israel, while Shadow Foreign Secretary, Kaufman appeared on the television discussion programme After Dark. A representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in London was also on the panel, and The Daily Telegraph considered that Kaufman risked a backlash from British Jews by appearing alongside a supporter of Yasser Arafat.[29]

In 2002, he called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "a war criminal".[30][31] who had reduced Israel to an "international pariah".[32] Kaufman once publicly vowed to never again visit Israel, but in 2002 retracted that promise in order to film a BBC television documentary,[33] The End of the Affair, in which he recounted his youthful infatuation with Israel and his eventual disillusionment.[34]

During Israel's military operation codenamed Defensive Shield in April 2002, Kaufman gave a speech to the House of Commons, saying in part:

It is time to remind Sharon that the Star of David belongs to all Jews, not to his repulsive Government. His actions are staining the star of David with blood. The Jewish people, whose gifts to civilised discourse include Einstein and Epstein, Mendelssohn and Mahler, Sergei Eisenstein and Billy Wilder, are now symbolised throughout the world by the blustering bully Ariel Sharon, a war criminal implicated in the murder of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila camps and now involved in killing Palestinians once again.[35]

Economic sanctions against Israel

In July 2004, Kaufman wrote an article in The Guardian entitled "The case for sanctions against Israel: What worked with apartheid can bring peace to the Middle East" in which he proposed economic sanctions against Israel.[36]

Kaufman criticised Israel for the deaths of British citizens Tom Hurndall and James Miller. In 2006, he called for the Israeli soldiers responsible to be handed over and tried in Britain, or before an international war crimes tribunal and stated that economic sanctions would have to be considered if Israel refused to cooperate.[37]

In June 2009, he compared Israel's "oppression" of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to South Africa under apartheid and Iran. He described Iran as a "loathsome regime", but said that, unlike Israel, "at least it keeps its totalitarian theocracy to within its own borders" and that the close proximity of affluent Israeli settlers to impoverished Palestinians was more "heart-rending" than conditions in South Africa during apartheid as the bantustans were "some distance away from the affluent areas". He also said that Israel should follow the lead of the British Armed Forces in their conduct in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.[38]


During the Gaza War in January 2009, he gave a speech to the House of Commons where he stated: "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".[39][40][41] About his own family experience, he said: "My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed. My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza".[39]

Kaufman also made a comparison between Hamas members in Gaza and the Jewish resistance during World War II, saying: "The spokeswoman for the Israeli army, Major Leibovich, was asked about the Israeli killing of, at that time, 800 Palestinians. The total is now 1,000. She replied instantly that '500 of them were militants'. That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants".[39] He added that "Hamas is a deeply nasty organisation, but it was democratically elected, and it is the only game in town. The boycotting of Hamas, including by our Government, has been a culpable error, from which dreadful consequences have followed".[41] He reminded that the Irgun were considered terrorists and that "Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism". Kaufman urged the British government "to make clear to the Israeli government that its conduct and policies are unacceptable and to impose a total arms ban on Israel".[42]

Accusing Israel of war crimes

Kaufman was the leader of a large European parliamentary delegation to Gaza in January 2009 during which he said that Israeli officials who authorised the use of white phosphorus munitions in densely populated Gaza should be tried for war crimes.[43] Kaufman also called the Israeli blockade of Gaza "evil".[44]

Following the Gaza flotilla raid, Kaufman called Israel's actions "a war crime of piracy in international waters, kidnapping and murder, all in pursuit of upholding an illegal blockade on Gaza that amounts to collective punishment".[45]

Following the 2011 Nakba Day riots when a number of Palestinian refugees were killed during clashes with Israeli security forces as they attempted to breach Israel's borders as part of protests demanding the implementation of the Palestinian right of return, Kaufman gave a speech criticising Israeli actions, claiming that Palestinians were "slaughtered" and said "the way in which Israeli soldiers maltreat Palestinians is appalling".[46]

Universal jurisdiction law

In December 2010, Kaufman criticised a proposed amendment to Britain's universal jurisdiction law seeking to prevent visiting Israeli officials from being arrested and indicted, claiming that such changes made a mockery of the British legal system. He highlighted the arrest warrant against former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for her part in the "slaughter" that took place during the Gaza War. He also claimed that British Jews were waking up to Israel's human rights violations and distancing themselves from Israel. Kaufman was berated for his statements by pro-Israel MPs.[47]

As Kaufman stressed Israel's alleged war crimes and breaches of international law, he faced even more vociferous criticism and the Deputy Speaker of the House had to restore order. Conservative MP Robert Halfon accused Kaufman of using the bill reading for his own political agenda, and stated that his "hatred for Israel knows no bounds".[48]

Palestinian statehood

Following the 2011 Palestinian bid for United Nations recognition and membership of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital, Kaufman wrote:

President Abbas is to be congratulated on persisting in applying for Palestinian statehood at the UN, despite all the pressure and blackmail trying to force him not to. The quartet has never done anything meaningful to give the Palestinians their independence. If the US uses its veto at the security council, this will prove the smug windbag Obama to be the puppet of Aipac. The hypocrisy of those countries which vote against or abstain at the general assembly will be exposed. This brave Palestinian move will change the entire environment of the Middle East and tell the Israelis they must negotiate meaningfully if they wish to be one of the states in a two-state solution.[49]

Controversial remarks

Along with another Labour MP Martin Linton, he accused the Conservative Party of being "too close" to Israel.[50] In 2010, Kaufman said that those parts of the British Conservative party not controlled by Lord Ashcroft are controlled by "right-wing Jewish millionaires". On 30 March 2011, he was caught by a microphone in the Chamber of the House of Commons saying "here we are, the Jews again", when fellow Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman rose to speak, for which he apologised.[51]

At a Palestine Return Centre event in Parliament on 27 October 2015, Kaufman alleged that "Jewish money, Jewish donations to the Conservative Party – as in the general election in May – support from The Jewish Chronicle, all of those things, bias the Conservatives". He accused Israel of staging recent Palestinian knife attacks as an excuse to kill Palestinians. John Mann, the Labour chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, denounced Kaufman's comments as "the incoherent ramblings of an ill-informed demagogue".[52]

The Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, released a statement saying Kaufman's remarks were "completely unacceptable and deeply regrettable", further saying: "Such remarks are damaging to community relations, and also do nothing to benefit the Palestinian cause. I have always implacably opposed all forms of racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia."[53]

Other activities

Kaufman acted as chairman of the Booker Prize judges in 1999.[54]


On 26 February 2017, Kaufman died after a long illness,[55] becoming the first Father of the House to die in office since T. P. O'Connor in 1929.[56] Former Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Kaufman's work and said they had been close friends since Blair was first elected to the House of Commons in 1983.[57]


  • The Daily Mirror Spotlight on Trade Unions, by Sydney Jacobson & William Connor, Research by Gerald Kaufman, Daily Mirror Newspapers, 1950
  • Fabian Journal No 16 July 1955 (with Margaret Cole), Fabian Society, 1955
  • The Left: A symposium (Editor) Blond, 1966
  • To Build the Promised Land, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973 ISBN 0297765094
  • How to be a Minister, Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd, 1980 ISBN 0571190804
  • Renewal: Labour's Britain in the 1980s, Penguin, 1983 ISBN 0140523510
  • My Life in the Silver Screen, Faber & Faber, 1985 ISBN 0571134939
  • Inside the Promised Land: Personal View of Today's Israel, Ashgate 1986 ISBN 0704530740
  • Meet Me in St. Louis, British Film Institute, 1994 ISBN 0851705014
  • Gulliver & Beyond (contributor), Channel 4 Television, 1996 ISBN 1851441603


  1. National Heritage Committee (1992–97).
  2. The Papers of Sir Gerald Kaufman Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge; the National Register of Archives, London and Janus Project, December 2006.
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  25. Gerald Kaufman (17 January 2012). "Re: World briefing, 16 January 2012". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 January 2012. I controvert the assertion by Simon Tisdall (World briefing, 16 January): "US voters . . . know a phoney when they see one." If they did, Barack Obama would not be president.
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