Gerald Kaufman

This article is about the British politician. For the American politician, see Gerald Kaufman (Pennsylvania politician).
The Right Honourable
Sir Gerald Kaufman
Father of the House
Assumed office
7 May 2015
Preceded by Peter Tapsell
Shadow Foreign Secretary
In office
13 July 1987  24 July 1992
Leader Neil Kinnock
Preceded by Denis Healey
Succeeded by Jack Cunningham
Shadow Home Secretary
In office
31 October 1983  13 July 1987
Leader Neil Kinnock
Preceded by Roy Hattersley
Succeeded by Roy Hattersley
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment
In office
8 December 1980  31 October 1983
Leader Michael Foot
Preceded by Roy Hattersley
Succeeded by Jack Cunningham
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
In office
8 March 1974  12 June 1975
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Succeeded by Ernest Armstrong
Member of Parliament
for Manchester Gorton
Assumed office
9 June 1983
Preceded by Kenneth Marks
Majority 24,079 (57.3%)
Member of Parliament
for Manchester Ardwick
In office
18 June 1970  9 June 1983
Preceded by Leslie Lever
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born Gerald Bernard Kaufman
(1930-06-21) 21 June 1930
Leeds, England, UK
Political party Labour
Alma mater Queen's College, Oxford
Religion Judaism
Kaufman as Shadow Foreign Secretary with Taha Yassin Ramadan in Iraq in 1988

Sir Gerald Bernard Kaufman (born 21 June 1930) is a British Labour politician who has been a Member of Parliament (MP) since 1970, 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. He became the current Father of the House after the retirement of Peter Tapsell in 2015. He is also the oldest sitting MP of the UK Parliament.


The youngest of seven children, Kaufman was born in Leeds to Louis and Jane Kaufman. His parents were both Jewish and came from Poland before the First World War. He was educated at Leeds Grammar School,[1] 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 as he broke the Society's rule against canvassing.[2] He was assistant general secretary of the Fabian Society from (1954–55), a lead 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".

In the 1955 general election Kaufman had unsuccessfully contested the Conservative seat of Bromley, and in the 1959 general election, Gillingham.

He became a writer, contributing to the satirical television comedy programme on BBC Television, That Was The Week That Was in 1962 and 1963, along with many other names,[1][3] where he was most remembered for the "Silent men of Westminster" sketch. He regularly appeared as a guest on its successor, Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life.

In 1999, he acted as chairman of the Booker Prize judges.[1]

Member of Parliament

Kaufman was elected MP for Manchester Ardwick at the 1970 general election and has represented the Manchester Gorton constituency since the 1983 election.[4] 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 re-election in 2015, just before his 85th birthday, he became the Father of the House, paving the way for him to potentially continue in parliament into his 90th year.

Shadow Cabinet

In opposition, Kaufman was the Shadow Environment Secretary, (1980–83), Shadow Home Secretary (1983–87) and Shadow Foreign Secretary (1987–92).[1] He dubbed the Labour Party's left-wing 1983 election manifesto "the longest suicide note in history".[5] In 1992 he went to the back benches and became Chair of what was then the National Heritage Select Committee.

Influential back-bencher

He chaired the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport formerly the Select Committee on National Heritage, between 1992–2005, and was a member of the Parliamentary Committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), between 1980–92, of the Labour Party National Executive Committee, from 1991–92, and of the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform, in 1999.[1]

As Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Kaufman's style of cross-examination and withering remarks to witnesses gained some note. They are evident in particular when he alleges cultural elitism. In 1997 in committee Kaufman criticised the then Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House Mary Allen over her inability to account for cost over-runs of a costly lottery funded refurbishment of the venue that would result in both fewer seats and the costly cancellation of scheduled performances, and condemned her low public standards – an event that contributed to her tendering her resignation.

Kaufman has twice voted against the Labour Whip - the first time on the provision in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to introduce an extra requirement[6] 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.[7] 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".[8]

He was knighted for services to Parliament in the 2004 Queen's Birthday Honours.[9]

On 25 May 2010, during the Queen's Speech debate, Kaufman accused the Liberal Democrat candidate for his constituency during the 2010 election, Qassim Afzal, of running "an anti-Semitic, and personally anti-Semitic, election campaign" in Manchester Gorton.[10]

Parliamentary expenses scandal

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

Kaufman was found to have claimed £115,109 in additional costs allowances on his London flat between 2001 and 2008, and submitted a claim for three months' expenses totalling £14,301.60 in June 2006, which included £8,865 for a 40-inch LCD television and £1,461.83 for a luxury rug imported from New York City (plus £389.91 in customs expenses), which violated regulations forbidding claims for luxury furnishings. 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.[11] 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 paid £15,329. He also claimed £1,262 for a gas bill that was £1,055 in credit. His claims for food between 2004 and June 2008 were £19,200, close to the maximum allowed. 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.[12]


Kaufman has written 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, in much the same vein as the television series Yes Minister. Some are cultural – Meet Me in St Louis is a study of the 1944 Judy Garland film. He contributed a chapter about John Hodge, Labour Member of Parliament for Manchester Gorton elected in 1906, to Men Who Made Labour, edited by Alan Haworth and Diane Hayter.

Kaufman is an outspoken opponent of hunting with hounds. In 2004 he was assaulted by a group of pro-fox hunting campaigners and claimed 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 member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.[13]

He advised against London's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games in January 2003.

He has opposed Barack Obama, saying that the U.S. voters don't know a phoney when they see one, and if they did, "Barack Obama would not be president".[14]

Kaufman was one of 48 Labour MPs to vote against 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.[15]

Criticism of Israel

Kaufman, who is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, formerly Poale Zion,[16][17] a socialist group with the Labour party in Britain, is critical of Israel. Kaufman has called for economic sanctions and an arms ban against Israel, citing the success of such measures against apartheid South Africa.[18] In 2002, he referred to Israel as a "pariah state",[19] and called Israel's senior politicians "war criminals".[20][21]

Kaufman once publicly vowed to never again visit Israel, but in 2002 he retracted that promise to create a BBC television documentary,[22] The End of the Affair, in which he recounted his youthful infatuation with Israel and his eventual disillusionment.[23] Kaufman made a number of controversial statements in the film, including that Orthodox Jews were "infesting" Jerusalem. The film aired on Rosh Hashana. Some days later, on Yom Kippur, Kaufman was abused by fellow congregants in St. John's Wood Synagogue.

In April 2002, during Israel's military operation codenamed Defensive Shield, 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.[24]

In July 2004, Kaufman wrote an article in The Guardian newspaper, 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.[18]

Kaufman has 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.[25]

In January 2009, during the Gaza War, Kaufman 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."[26][27][28][29]

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."[26]

Kaufman also made a comparison between Hamas members in Gaza to 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."[26] He said, "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."[28] He also claimed that the Irgun were 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".[30] Kaufman also claimed that it was "too late" for Israel to negotiate with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, claiming that "they could have negotiated with Fatah's previous President Yasser Arafat, who was a friend of mine. Instead, they besieged him in a bunker in Ramallah, where I visited him". Kaufman also criticised Israeli settlements as illegal, referring to Israeli settlers as "ghastly denizens".

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 from their conduct in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.[31]

He 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 in densely populated Gaza should be tried for war crimes.[32] Kaufman also called the Israeli blockade of Gaza "evil".[33]

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".[34]

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. 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".[35]

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 that "the way in which Israeli soldiers maltreat Palestinians is appalling".[36]

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 in the following in the letters page of an op-ed in The Guardian:

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.[37]

Along with another Labour MP Martin Linton, he accused the Conservative Party of being "too close" to Israel.[38] 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.[39]

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 also accused Israel of staging recent Palestinian knife attacks as an excuse to kill Palestinians. These comments were originally reported on by David Collier from his blog at Beyond the Great Divide. Collier had been present at the event and recorded Kaufman's speech.[40] John Mann, the Labour MP who is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, denounced Kaufman's comments as "the incoherent ramblings of an ill-informed demagogue."[41] The Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, released a statement saying Kaufman's remarks were "completely unacceptable and deeply regrettable", further saying that "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."[42]


His publications include:


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 The Papers of Sir Gerald Kaufman Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge; the National Register of Archives, London and Janus Project, December 2006
  2. Kynaston, David (2009). Family Britain 1951-7. London: Bloomsbury. p. 102. ISBN 9780747583851.
  3. The International Who's Who 2004 Google Books
  4. "Manchester Gorton". London: The Guardian. May 2010.
  5. Mann, Nyta (14 July 2003). "Foot's message of hope to left". BBC News Online. Retrieved 18 January 2009.
  6. Middle East Monitor 22 Sep 2011.
  7. Rickhuss, Roy. "48 MPs break whip to vote against welfare bill – full list | LabourList". LabourList | Labour's biggest independent grassroots e-network. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  8. Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster (26 February 2003). House of Commons Hansard for 26 Feb 2003 (pt 16). The Stationery Office Ltd. ISBN 0-215-65029-8. Retrieved 18 January 2009.
  9. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57315. p. 1. 12 June 2004. Retrieved 8 March 2009.
  10. UK Parliament Archived 5 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. Verkaik, Robert (6 June 2009). "Kaufman blames 'obsessive disorder'". The Independent. London.
  12. Rayner, Gordon (16 May 2009). "Sir Gerald Kaufman's £1,800 rug and an £8,865 claim for a television: MPs' expenses". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  13. Kaufman, Gerald (30 September 2004). "Larcenous, racist scum". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2009.
  14. 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.
  15. "Welfare cuts backed amid Labour revolt". 21 July 2015. Archived from the original on 30 August 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  16. "Jewish Labour Movement History". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  17. Notable Jewish Individuals Supporting a Free Palestine Jewish Friends of Palestine, 27 May 2007.
  18. 1 2 Kaufman, Gerald (12 July 2004). "The case for sanctions against Israel: What worked with apartheid can bring peace to the Middle East". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
  19. "UK MP calls Israel 'pariah'". BBC News. 15 March 2002. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  20. "Sharon 'a war criminal' says MP". BBC News. 17 April 2002. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  21. Littlewood, Stuart. "Could the Rising Anger of British MPs Shake America's Complacency?". Middle East Online. Retrieved 18 January 2009.
  22. "Kaufman pessimistic over Israel's future". BBC News. 6 September 2002. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  23. "The End of the Affair". Video (Real Audio required). BBC News.
  24. Littlewood, Stuart (14 January 2009). "Could the Rising Anger of British MPs Shake America's Complacency?". Middle East Online. Retrieved 18 January 2009.
  25. British MP urges Israel sanctioned for killing of Britons, 12 April 2006
  26. 1 2 3 MP Kaufman likens Israelis to Nazis, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 16 January 2009
  27. Robert Pigott, Fault-line between Jews over Gaza, BBC News, 17 January 2009
  28. 1 2 "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 15 Jan 2009 (pt 0013)".
  29. "UK Jewish MP: Israel acting like Nazis in Gaza". YouTube. 16 January 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2009.
  30. "UK's Jewish MP calls it Nazi-like operation". Agence France-Presse. 16 January 2008. Retrieved 16 January 2008.
  31. "News".
  32. "British MP: Israel and Egypt's blockade of Gaza is 'evil'". 16 January 2010. Retrieved 27 January 2010.
  33. British lawmaker says Gaza blockade 'evil' Ynet News, 15 January 2010
  34. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 02 Jun 2010 (pt 0005)".
  35. "Middle East Monitor - Creating New Perspectives".
  37. "Letters: Israel's choices". The Guardian. London. 11 September 2011.
  38. "Labour MPs accuse Tories of being too close to Israel", Telegraph, 31 March 2010
  39. Outcry at Gerald Kaufman's "It's the Jews again" remark in House of Commons Manchester Evening News, 31 March 2011
  40. "Jewish money. An evening with the PRC, Kaufman and classic antisemitic libels". Beyond the great divide. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  41. Josh Jackman and Sandy Rashty, "Labour veteran Sir Gerald Kaufman claims 'Jewish money' has influenced Conservatives", The Jewish Chronicle website 28 October 2015. Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  42. Mason, Rowena (3 November 2015). "Gerald Kaufman's 'Jewish money' remarks condemned by Corbyn". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 1 October 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016. On Tuesday, Corbyn released a statement saying Kaufman's remarks were "completely unacceptable and deeply regrettable". "Such remarks are damaging to community relations, and also do nothing to benefit the Palestinian cause," he said. "I have always implacably opposed all forms of racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia and will continue to do so. At my request, the chief whip has met Sir Gerald and expressed my deep concern."
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Leslie Lever
Member of Parliament
for Manchester Ardwick

Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Kenneth Marks
Member of Parliament
for Manchester Gorton

Preceded by
Peter Tapsell
Father of the House
Political offices
Preceded by
Roy Hattersley
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment
Succeeded by
Jack Cunningham
Shadow Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Roy Hattersley
Preceded by
Denis Healey
Shadow Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by
Jack Cunningham
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Peter Tapsell
Oldest sitting Member of Parliament
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