Baroness Kinnock, former minister and wife of ex-Labour leader Neil Kinnock, dies aged 79, as tributes pour in

3 December 2023, 13:30 | Updated: 3 December 2023, 15:18

Glenys Kinnock in 2013 with her husband Neil
Glenys Kinnock in 2013 with her husband Neil. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Baroness Kinnock, a former government minister and the wife of Neil Kinnock, the ex-leader of the Labour Party, has died aged 79.

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Glenys Kinnock, who had also been an MEP, died peacefully in her sleep on Sunday, her family said in a statement. She had lived with Alzheimer's for several years.

Tributes poured in for Baroness Kinnock after her death from Labour Party members, including Sir Keir Starmer and Tony Blair.

Her family said: "It is with the deepest sorrow that we announce the death of Glenys Kinnock.

"Glenys died peacefully in her sleep in the early hours of Sunday morning, at home in London.

"She was the beloved wife and life partner of Neil, the cherished mother of Steve and Rachel and an adored grandmother.

"Neil was with her in her final moments. They had been married for 56 years.

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Baroness Glenys Kinnock has died aged 79
Baroness Glenys Kinnock has died aged 79. Picture: Alamy

"A proud democratic socialist, she campaigned, in Britain and internationally, for justice and against poverty all her life."

Baroness Kinnock had been diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2017.

Her husband spoke out this year about the importance of supporting her in her illness, especially given how much she had helped him during his leadership of the Labour Party.

Lord Kinnock told the BBC: "I don't think of it as payback, but if I did, I still have a hell of a lot more to do". The former Labour leader was in opposition between 1983 and 1992.

Glenys Kinnock and Neil Kinnock in 2014
Glenys Kinnock and Neil Kinnock in 2014. Picture: Alamy

Baroness Kinnock was born in Northamptonshire in 1944. She worked as a school teacher before becoming an MEP. She represented Wales in Europe from 1994-2009.

She was given a life peerage in 2009 to enable her to join the Labour government, becoming Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead.

She served as Minister for Europe and Minister of State with responsibility for Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and the UN.

In opposition, Baroness Kinnock was the House of Lords spokesperson for the Department of International Development. She retired from the House of Lords in 2021.

She and Lord Kinnock met at university and were married in 1967.

Glenys Kinnock
Glenys Kinnock. Picture: Alamy

Her family added that she was "a valued and respected school teacher before she began her own political career, as a Member of the European Parliament, then being made a peer in the House of Lords from where she served as minister for three of the great passions of her life, Europe, Africa and the UN.

"She was a great friend to many people and causes and was truly loved. "Glenys endured Alzheimer's after being diagnosed in 2017 and, as long as she could, sustained her merriment and endless capacity for love, never complaining and with the innate courage with which she had confronted every challenge throughout her life.

"The family is of course devastated and and would ask that their privacy be respected. Funeral details will be communicated in due course."

File photo dated 02/11/83 of Glenys Kinnock with Neil, acknowledging the applause which greeted the announcement of his victory in the Labour Party leadership election
File photo dated 02/11/83 of Glenys Kinnock with Neil, acknowledging the applause which greeted the announcement of his victory in the Labour Party leadership election. Picture: Alamy

Her son, the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, left a personal message remembering his mother.

He wrote: "Heartbroken that my Mum passed away peacefully in her sleep last night, after many years of Alzheimer's.

"She was a beloved Mum & Nain who was adored by her family & friends.

"A truly formidable person in every single way, and with such a cheeky sense of humour! Rest in peace."

Glenys Kinnock with Neil and their son Stephen
Glenys Kinnock with Neil and their son Stephen. Picture: Alamy

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ""On behalf of the whole Labour Party, I want to pay tribute to Glenys Kinnock on the sad news of her passing.

"Glenys was a passionate lifelong campaigner for social justice at home and abroad. She supported Neil through his leadership and went on to have an impressive political career of her own as a member of the European Parliament, in the House of Lords and as a minister in the last Labour government, focused on Europe and Africa.

"Neil and Glenys had the most wonderful partnership, there for each other through thick and thin, with a love and commitment that was instantly obvious when you saw them together. As the family have detailed, in recent years that meant looking after Glenys as Alzheimer's did its worst.

"But what we will all remember is Glenys as a true fighter for the Labour Party and the values of the labour movement, a pioneering woman, to whom we owe an enormous debt. My sincere condolences to Neil, Stephen, Rachel and all the family at this sad time."

Tony Blair and Glenys Kinnock
Tony Blair and Glenys Kinnock. Picture: Alamy

Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "Cherie and I are so sad the hear the news about Glenys. She was a huge figure in progressive politics for decades: incredibly smart, brave, determined and resolute in standing up for what she believed was right.

"Whether in fighting the cause of development, and the eradication of global poverty, social justice in Britain, equality for women or making the case for a European Union of weight and influence in the world, Glenys was passionate and persuasive. She was of course an enormous support to Neil but she was a leader in her own right.

"And as a couple, they were a joy to be near, full of fun, the life and soul of any gathering.

"In her last years, as Stephen and Rachel have written, she took her illness with the same steadfastness which had governed her life.

"Our deepest condolences to Neil, to Rachel and to Stephen and to all the wider Kinnock family. Glenys will be mourned in many countries and corners of the earth."

Gordon Brown kisses Glenys Kinnock at a Labour Party leadership Welsh hustings in Cardiff.
Gordon Brown kisses Glenys Kinnock at a Labour Party leadership Welsh hustings in Cardiff. Picture: Alamy

Gordon Brown, who appointed Baroness Kinnock Minister for Europe, said he was "delighted" when he "persuaded her" to become a member of his government.

The former Prime Minister said: "Sarah and I are saddened today at the death of of Glenys Kinnock after a long illness which she bore with great fortitude.

"All who met Glenys admired her for her generosity, her warmth and her passionate support for the best of national and international causes. She was a highly effective and popular minister for Europe in the last Labour government and I was delighted to have persuaded her to become a member of the government.

"Glenys will be mourned across the world and remembered as a great ambassador for the whole of Britain whilst, so ably representing South Wales in the European Union for 15 years.

"She made friends in every part of the continent. She and Neil formed a great partnership and our thoughts and condolences are now with Neil, Stephen, Rachel and their families."

Glenys Kinnock and Neil Kinnock
Glenys Kinnock and Neil Kinnock. Picture: Alamy

Sadiq Khan said he was heartbroken to hear of Baroness Kinnock's death.

He said: "Glenys was a towering figure in the Labour movement for decades and a thoroughly wonderful and decent human being.

"Neil, Rachel, Stephen and the entire family are in my thoughts and prayers."