Malcolm Rifkind: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 Sir Malcolm Rifkind
Painting of seated man with oval face, high forehead and grey hair. He is wearing suit, tie and thin-framed glasses.
Portrait of Sir Malcolm Rifkind by Anne Mackintosh

In office
6 May 2005 – 6 December 2005
Leader Michael Howard
Preceded by James Arbuthnot
Succeeded by Philip Hammond

In office
5 July 1995 – 2 May 1997
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Douglas Hurd
Succeeded by Robin Cook

In office
10 April 1992 – 5 July 1995
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Tom King
Succeeded by Michael Portillo

In office
28 November 1990 – 10 April 1992
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Cecil Parkinson
Succeeded by John MacGregor

In office
11 January 1986 – 28 November 1990
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by George Younger
Succeeded by Ian Lang

Member of Parliament
for Kensington and Chelsea
Assumed office 
5 May 2005
Preceded by Michael Portillo
Majority 12,418 (39.6%)

Member of Parliament
for Edinburgh Pentlands
In office
28 February 1974 – 1 May 1997
Preceded by Norman Wylie
Succeeded by Lynda Clark

Born 21 June 1946 (1946-06-21) (age 63)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Alma mater University of Edinburgh
Profession Advocate
Religion Jewish

Sir Malcolm Leslie Rifkind KCMG QC MP (born 21 June 1946) is a British Conservative politician and Member of Parliament for the constituency of Kensington and Chelsea. He served in various roles as a Cabinet Minister under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, before becoming Foreign Secretary in 1995 in Major's Cabinet. Rifkind remained in that post until the 1997 general election, when his party lost power, and he lost his Edinburgh Pentlands seat. He attempted - unsuccessfully - to be re-elected in Pentlands in 2001; the constituency was abolished before the 2005 general election and he was adopted, and subsequently elected, as the Conservative candidate for Kensington and Chelsea. He announced his intention to seek the leadership of the party before the 2005 Conservative Party leadership election, but withdrew before balloting commenced. He is, currently, Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee of the House of Commons.


Early life

Malcolm Rifkind was born in Edinburgh of [Jewish]] descent,[1] and was educated at George Watson's College and the University of Edinburgh where he studied law before taking a postgraduate degree in political science (his thesis was on land apportionment in Southern Rhodesia). While at University he took part in an overland expedition to the Middle East and India. He also appeared on University Challenge. He worked as an Assistant Lecturer at the University College of Rhodesia in Salisbury (now Harare) from 1967-68. He was called to the Scottish Bar in 1970 and practised full time as an Advocate until 1974. He was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1985 and a member of the Privy Council in 1986. From 1970 to 1974 he was a member of Edinburgh Town Council.

Member of Parliament

Rifkind first stood for Parliament, unsuccessfully, in 1970 in the Edinburgh Central constituency. He entered Parliament in the February 1974 general election representing Edinburgh Pentlands for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. During the leadership election in 1975 he supported Edward Heath in the first round but when Heath withdrew Rifkind voted for Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher, on becoming Leader, appointed Rifkind an Opposition front-bench spokesman on Scottish Affairs. He subsequently resigned from that position (along with the Shadow Scottish Secretary, Alick Buchanan-Smith) in protest at the decision of the Shadow Cabinet to vote against the Government's Bill for a Scottish Assembly. Rifkind argued that as, at that time, the Conservative Party supported the principle of a Scottish Assembly it would have been preferable either to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill or to abstain, and try to improve the Bill. In the subsequent referendum on a Scottish Assembly Rifkind voted in favour but withdrew his support when the result of the referendum showed Scotland almost equally divided on a measure opposed by the rest of the United Kingdom.


Junior Minister

Rifkind was one of only four Ministers (Kenneth Clarke, Patrick Mayhew and Lynda Chalker are the others) to serve throughout the whole 18 years of the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. This represents the longest, uninterrupted Ministerial service in the United Kingdom since Lord Palmerston in the early 19th century.

He was appointed Minister of Home Affairs and the Environment at the Scottish Office in the 1979 Thatcher Government. In that role he was responsible for the passage of the Tenants Rights (Scotland) Act which resulted in a massive increase of home ownership in Scotland as council tenants bought their homes. He was also responsible, under the Secretary of State (George Younger) for relations with local government and for the police and prisons. In 1982, at the time of the Falklands War, he was transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, being promoted to Minister of State at the Foreign Office in 1983. At the Foreign Office he served first under Francis Pym and then Sir Geoffrey Howe. Rifkind was responsible for Britain's relations with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the European Community, and sub-Saharan Africa. He assisted Sir Geoffrey Howe in persuading Mrs Thatcher to change the Government's policy on the Soviet Union, attended the Chequers meeting which decided to invite Soviet leaders to the United Kingdom, and was present at Chequers when Mrs Thatcher had her first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev and decided that he was a Soviet leader with whom "she could do business". Rifkind also had strong links with the Solidarity movement in Poland. In 1984 he made a Ministerial visit to Poland. Against the wishes of General Jaruzelski, the Polish Communist President, he insisted on laying a wreath at the grave of the murdered Polish priest Father Popieluzsko, and had a meeting with three of the leaders of the banned Solidarity movement. Jaruzelski attacked Rifkind and cancelled a meeting he was due to have with him but Rifkind's meeting with Solidarity created a precedent that was followed by the West German Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and other Western ministers. This helped force the Polish Government to remove the ban on Solidarity and acknowledge the need for political reform and pluralism. Rifkind was, subsequently, decorated by the non-communist democratic Polish Government for his support. Rifkind, as Minister responsible for the European Community, was appointed by the Prime Minister as her personal representative on the Dooge Committee of the European Community. The Report of the Committee helped prepare the way for the development of the Single European Market.

Secretary of State for Scotland

In 1986 he was promoted into the cabinet as Secretary of State for Scotland. He gained a reputation as being a moderate voice on social and economic issues, and sometimes had disputes with Margaret Thatcher. As Secretary of State he initiated major reforms in Scotland. These included the privatisation of the Scottish electricity industry and the Scottish Transport Group. He created Scottish Homes as the Government's housing agency; and Scottish Natural Heritage which combined both the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the Nature Conservancy Council. He also transformed the Scottish Development Agency into Scottish Enterprise with much greater private sector involvement. When Rifkind became Secretary of State his first task was to defuse a teachers dispute which was crippling Scottish education. He also sought to help the Ravenscraig steel mill which was threatened with closure. Rifkind opposed closure by the Government arguing that the whole steel industry should be privatised and that the future of individual plants would be determined by the companies that owned them in the private sector. One of his most difficult challenges was the demand from the public for the abolition of the domestic rates system. Rifkind supported the introduction of the community charge, or poll tax, which the Cabinet had approved shortly before his appointment. He also agreed with the decision proposed by his predecessor, George Younger, that the new tax should be introduced a year earlier in Scotland than in England because of the political necessity to end the domestic rates. Rifkind subsequently accepted that the poll tax had been a major mistake by the Government. Throughout his term as Scottish Secretary, Rifkind, like Younger before him, and Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth in later years, was constrained by the political weakness of the Conservative Party in Scotland unlike in England. This problem was the underlying reason for his differences with Mrs Thatcher which increased, significantly, towards the end of her Prime Ministership. When Mrs Thatcher was challenged by Michael Heseltine for the Leadership of the Conservative Party Rifkind voted for her. During the tense period that followed the first round of voting Rifkind was one of those who advised Mrs Thatcher that it would be best for her to stand down. In the forthcoming Leadership election he supported Douglas Hurd.

Secretary of State for Transport

In 1990 he was moved by John Major to be Secretary of State for Transport. One of his first responsibilities was to go into the Channel Tunnel, which was being constructed, and witness the first physical contact between those tunnelling from the French and British ends of the Tunnel. One of his main priorities as Transport Secretary was to take forward the policy proposals for the privatisation of the railways. Rifkind supported privatisation but concluded that it would be a mistake to separate ownership of the infrastructure from the operating companies as track costs were a large percentage of their unavoidable costs. This view brought him into conflict with the Treasury and meant that Conservative proposals for privatisation were not ready by the time of the 1992 General Election. The Prime Minister favoured the Treasury argument that competition between railways companies would be discouraged if one company owned the track. Rifkind maintained that the competition to rail would come from air and road and not from other rail companies. After Rifkind left the Ministry of Transport in 1992 the Treasury view prevailed and this led to the creation of Railtrack.

Secretary of State for Defence

Rifkind was appointed Secretary of State for Defence after the 1992 General Election. Although he had no military background he was a firm believer in strong defence and armed forces with a global capability. One of his early decisions was to reverse the proposed disbandment of the Cheshire and Staffordshire Regiment and the Royal Scots. In 1994 he was faced with Treasury demands for major cuts in the Defence budget. In order to protect the fighting capability of the armed forces he negotiated a settlement with the Treasury whereby he would deliver savings greater than they were demanding but that he would be allowed to keep the additional savings and use them for the purchase of new military equipment for each of the three Services. He had already won the support of the Chiefs of Staff for this approach which provided an incentive for their cooperation in making the necessary economies. The outcome was the Front Line First Report which was well-received both in Parliament and in the Armed Forces. However, some of its proposals, particularly in regard to defence medical services were, in later years, subjected to heavy criticism. With some of the additional savings that had been found Rifkind was able to secure the agreement of the United States to British purchase of Cruise missiles. The United Kingdom was, at that time, the only country to which the Americans were willing to sell Cruise missiles. Rifkind also reformed the Reserve Forces and initiated the policy review which led to the TA and other Reservists being able to be used in operations abroad without the need for full mobilisation of the whole Territorial Army as had been needed in the past.

One of the most difficult problems that Rifkind dealt with as Defence Secretary was British involvement in the Bosnian war in former Yugoslavia. Like John Major and the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, Rifkind was opposed to military intervention by Britain and the international community as combatants in that conflict. However, he supported the use of British troops and those from other countries to protect humanitarian food convoys that were protecting hundreds of thousands of civilians. Rifkind was a strong and vocal opponent of the American proposal for "lift and strike" which would have ended the UN Arms Embargo and subjected the Bosnian Serbs to Nato bombing from the air. Rifkind agreed with the UN and European view that such bombing would be incompatible with a UN mission on the ground and would necessitate the ending of that mission. Rifkind expressed these views publicly in Washington as well as in London. Although the United States was increasingly frustrated and concerned at this impasse it did not do lasting damage to US-British relations as evidenced by the American willingness to sell Cruise Missiles to the United Kingdom.

Foreign Secretary

In the final years of the Major administration Rifkind was the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. One of his first duties was to chair the London Summit on Bosnia which put much greater pressure on the Bosnian Serbs in the aftermath of the Srebrenica massacre and led, in due course, to the Dayton Accord which ended the fighting. As Foreign Secretary, on 24 September 1996 Rifkind addressed the United Nations General Assembly and called for a UN Declaration barring political asylum for terrorists, arguing that they should not be able to benefit from the provisions of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees to secure political asylum. In the same speech he emphasised Britain's commitment to the goal of global free trade by 2020 and said all governments should liberalise their economies and lift trading restrictions. In the Middle East Rifkind committed the British Government, for the first time, to a Palestinian State on the West Bank and in Gaza. He, also, in a speech in the Gulf, called for a Middle Eastern equivalent of the OSCE to enable dialogue to take place, at the regional level between Israel and its Arab neighbours as well as between Iran and the Arab world. One of his main duties were the final negotiations with China over the transfer of Hong Kong. Rifkind had several meetings with the Chinese Foreign Minister both in Beijing and in London, as well as with the Hong Kong Governor, Chris Patten, and elected Hong Kong politicians.

Election defeat and return to parliament

In the 1997 general election he lost his Pentlands seat in common with all Conservatives in Scotland (and Wales), and was succeeded by Labour candidate Lynda Clark. Rifkind was one of the few MPs to try again in his old seat, rather than seeking a safer one, standing again for Edinburgh Pentlands against Clark in the 2001 general election; although he improved his showing somewhat, he was unable to overturn the sizeable 10.6% majority in an election where the Conservatives made little progress. During this time he remained politically active, as president of the Scottish Conservatives, and used his position outside Westminster to criticise the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the Blair Government's support of it. At the time, the Conservative Party was staunchly in support of the invasion.

After the 1997 General Election Rifkind received a knighthood in John Major’s resignation honours, becoming a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG), in recognition of his work for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

In the 2005 general election he returned to the House of Commons as Member of Parliament for the London constituency of Kensington and Chelsea with a majority of 12,418.

Leadership contender and thereafter

On 8 June 2005, a month after the Conservative defeat in the 2005 general election, Rifkind stated that it was "quite likely" that he would stand for the leadership after Michael Howard's resignation.[2] Rifkind subsequently confirmed this on 14 August, despite admitting that he had a "mountain to climb",[3] and receiving sparse support amongst Conservative MPs, with several exceptions such as Crispin Blunt.

Despite this, Rifkind went through to the 'conference stage' of the leadership process, in which each candidate was given speaking time to address Conservative party conference directly. In his speech, Rifkind declared that Conservatives had to be "pragmatic, sensitive and moderate", and stress their "unique combination of principle and patriotism."[3] The speech won eight rounds of aplause from the conference, with nearly a minute-long finale.[3]

The speech did not galvanise Rifkind's candidacy, however, which had always been regarded as a long shot - bookmakers had him at 50-1 and a poll found that only 4% of Conservative voters supported his candidacy.[3] Consequently, on 11 October 2005, he announced that he was withdrawing from the leadership contest and that he would be supporting Kenneth Clarke's candidacy, acknowledging that "There is no realistic prospect of me coming through".[4] In endorsing Clarke, Rifkind stated that he was "head and shoulders" above the other candidates, and had both the experience and popular appeal to take on Labour.[4]

On 7 December 2005, he left the Conservative front bench as incoming leader David Cameron formed his team. Rifkind admitted that he had not wished to remain a Shadow Cabinet minister unless in the post of Shadow Foreign Secretary, but this post had gone to William Hague. Rifkind declared his loyalty to the new party leader and remains one of the Conservative Party's most experienced senior figures. In December 2004, he became a leading spokesman of the Global Zero campaign which seeks the reduction and, if possible, the elimination of all nuclear weapons by multilateral negotiation.

Rifkind is a Member of the Queen's Bodyguard for Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers. He is the Honorary Colonel of the City of Edinburgh Universities Officer Training Corps and served for eight years as Honorary Colonel of a Territorial Army regiment, 162 Movement Control Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps. He is President of the Edinburgh University Development Trust and is a Trustee of the Dulverton Trust. He serves on the Board of several companies as a non-executive director.

During the controversy over expenses in 2009, Rifkind was reported as having claimed £3,066 in travel reimbursement for flights to his home in Scotland despite representing Kensington and Chelsea in London.[5] Rifkind stated it was a taxable benefit on which he paid full tax.

Personal life

He is married to Edith and is the father of Caroline Rifkind and The Times columnist Hugo Rifkind. He is also related to his former Conservative Government colleague Leon Brittan.

See also


  • Torrance, David, The Scottish Secretaries (Birlinn 2006)



  • Rights and wrongs: The European Convention on Human Rights and its application in the United Kingdom (SSC biennial lecture) by Malcolm Rifkind (2000, Society of Solicitors in the Supreme Courts of Scotland) ISBN B0000CP0RH
  • Head to Head on the Euro: Kenneth Clarke and Malcolm Rifkind edited by Janet Bush (2000, New Europe) ISBN 0-9536360-3-8
  • Conservative Britain in the 21st century by Malcolm Rifkind (1996, Centre for Policy Studies) ISBN 1-897969-53-8
  • Hume Occasional Paper No.46: UN Peacekeeping – Past Lessons and Future Prospects (Hume Occasional Papers) by Malcolm Rifkind (1995, The David Hume Institute) ISBN 1-870482-43-3
  • Towards 2000 by Malcolm Rifkind (1988, Conservative Political Centre) ISBN 0-85070-788-9

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Norman Wylie
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh Pentlands
Feb 19741997
Succeeded by
Lynda Clark
Preceded by
Michael Portillo
Member of Parliament for Kensington and Chelsea
Political offices
Preceded by
Douglas Hurd
Minister of State for Europe
1983 – 1986
Succeeded by
Lynda Chalker
Preceded by
George Younger
Secretary of State for Scotland
1986 – 1990
Succeeded by
Ian Lang
Preceded by
Cecil Parkinson
Secretary of State for Transport
1990 – 1992
Succeeded by
John MacGregor
Preceded by
Tom King
Secretary of State for Defence
1992 – 1995
Succeeded by
Michael Portillo
Preceded by
Douglas Hurd
Foreign Secretary
1995 – 1997
Succeeded by
Robin Cook

Simple English

Sir Malcolm Leslie Rifkind (born June 21, 1946 in Edinburgh, Scotland) is a British Conservative Party politician. He has held cabinet positions in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Currently, he is the Chairman for the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of Kensington.

Malcolm Rifkind first became a Conservative MP at the February 1974 General Election for the constituency of Edinburgh Pentlands. He was first made a cabinet minister in 1979 and served constantly through 18 years of Conservative government.

His cabinet posts included:

  • Minister of Home Affairs and the Environment at the Scottish Office (1979 - 1983)
  • Minister of State at the Foreign Office (1983 - 1986)
  • Secretary of State for Scotland (1986 - 1990)
  • Secretary of State for Transport (1990 - 1992)
  • Secretary of State for Defence (1992 - 1995)
  • Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1995 - 1997)

At the 1997 General Election, Malcolm Rifkind lost his seat to the Labour Party. He tried but failed to regain the seat at the 2001 General Election and re-entered parliament in 2005 as the MP for Kensington.


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