First elected in 1970, he became a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party in 1978. He was known as a left-winger, and gained renown for his outspoken attacks on Margaret Thatcher's handling of the Falklands War.
Nicknamed "the Welsh Windbag" by Private Eye magazine and "Kinocchio" by the Tories, he had the thankless task of leading the Labour Party during its so-called "unelectable" period. Although he was seen as very much the coming man when he succeeded his spectacularly unsuccessful predecessor, Michael Foot, he had a long and difficult path to bring the party back to its pre-Thatcher position. Kinnock was responsible for a lot of the early reforms to the party which were built upon by John Smith and Tony Blair until Labour was eventually re-elected in 1997.
Having inevitably lost the 1987 election, Kinnock remained party leader and was hot favourite to take over the role of prime minister in the months leading up to the 1992 election. It came as a shock to many when the Conservatives remained in power, but Kinnock himself later claimed to have half-expected it, and proceeded to turn himself into a media personality, even hosting a chat show on BBC Wales. In the 1980s he helped set up the Institute for Public Policy Research and remains on its Advisory Council.
He was appointed one of Britain's two members of the European Commission, which he served as Transport Commissioner under Commission president Jacques Santer. Following the forced resignation of the entire Santer commission by the European Parliament in 1999 for failure to adequately supervise the European Union's budget, controlling the activities of its staff, and some nepotism, he was reappointed to the Commission under new president Romano Prodi. (Kinnock himself was blameless of the Commission's failings, but the Parliament can only dismiss the Commission in toto, not individually). He is now vice-president of the European Commission.