Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My Day: Golf, Boris, 5 Live, Peter Rabbitt & Denis Healey

Had a really nice day today. Eighteen holes of golf (we lost 3 & 1), made more progress on the LITTLE BOOK OF BORIS, did half an hour on 5 Live on personalities in politics - I must have been in a good mood as I said something nice about John Prescott - then watched the superb film MISS POTTER, about Beatrix Potter, which brought back some very happy memories of my childhood (Squirrel Nutkin was always my favourite!), and have just read the most fantastic interview with that old bruiser Denis Healey in the Telegraph (available online HERE). Here are a few tasters...
Of course, the former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for Defence is getting on a bit. He will be 90 on Thursday, but it would be a great mistake to think he is impressed by this fact. "I don't give a bugger, dear," he booms. "Nowadays, if they are healthy, people expect to live to 100."... Healey is energised by the arrival of Gordon Brown. Blair's famed skills as a communicator cut no ice with him. "He has enormous personal charm but I wouldn't call him a communicator. He's a bullshitter, and very good at it. Almost everything he did after 2002 has been a disaster. He has left Brown all the problems to sort out."... It used to be said of Denis Healey that he was "the best prime minister we never had". In fact, he was much happier being Chancellor and Defence Secretary than he would have been at the top. "I always felt that if you were prime minister it was being something, rather than doing something." His wife Edna once told me that she simply didn't believe that in his heart of hearts he wanted it. But now he thinks that lack of ambition was a weakness. "I never fought hard enough. I think I could have made it if I'd tried." All his efforts were channelled into becoming deputy leader in 1981, in
order to save the Labour Party from Tony Benn - a campaign that began Labour's fight back to power. "I think my main political achievement, which was unforeseen," he says, "was to keep the Labour Party together when the split took place. Tony Blair has always felt that if it hadn't been for me, the Labour Party would not have been there for him to inherit."

I was a teenager in the 1970s when Denis Healey was Chancellor and I regarded him as the devil incarnate. He presided over a terrible period in Britain's economic history and his about turn at Heathrow Airport in 1976 when Britain stood on the verge of bankruptcy is something I shall never forget, even though I was only 14 at the time. Britain begging to the IMF is something which seems a very long time ago, but it's actually only 31 years.

When Healey left active politics he managed to transform himself from being one of the most despised men in Britain to an avuncular uncle figure. He came to a few book launches at Politico's and delighted in acting the fool. I found him once behind the counter with the till open. I remember saying that he'd had enough money off my Dad and he certainly wasn't having any off me! He then spent the next ten minutes serving customers.

We need a few more Denis Healeys in politics today. People with bottom, with a hinterland. But hopefully better at running the economy. I think Healey would have been a far better Prime Minister than he was a Chancellor, but as his wife Edna says, he probably didn't want it enough - something that could never be said of the current holder of the office.


Yak40 said...

A clever man and his autobiography was hard to read as he obviously thought himself the smartest of his colleagues, it got irritating after a while.

Don't forget it was him that spoke in the Commons praising the spread of "socialism" in eastern europe after WW2 - whaen Stalin was busy installing puppet governments and murdering any opposition e.g. Jan Masaryk's "suicide".

Anonymous said...

You seem to have a short memory about Dennis Healy!
Remember the TSR2? or the way he smashed up the jet aircraft industry? Do you remember the way he trashed the economy and then had to beg the IMF for money?
He was one of the worst commisars ever to hold high office and he could not have ruined Great Britain more if he had been taking orders from the USSR/KGB!
So how about removing those rose tinted glasses and find out just what the comrade got upto?

Paul Evans said...

Isn't "avuncular uncle figure" a bit of a tautology?

Anonymous said...


Denis Healey was a total disaster. He lied (as all politicians do!) and was an incompetent Chancellor. He was viciously insulting to any tory and played on his war record, which was good, to hide his hopeless record as a politician.

As a Politician he ranks, in my mind, as badly as Mountbatten. Every ship that man commanded sunk!so with Denis Healy the politician. Everything he did- failed.

Except for a horny hand son of toil he didn't do bad for himself, wealth wise!

One last thing. Find me a quote - during the Bliar years - from Healey along the lines of what he is saying now!

The king is dead kick him!

Anonymous said...

Having lived through the Healey years, trying to bring up a young family on a tiny income, I agree with all the posters - he was a bully and a self-promoter, but sadly incompetent as a senior Government minister. Don't fall into the trap of romanticising these big names.

idle said...

You have fallen into the Westminster Village trap, Iain, of being nice to this old politician because, er..... he's old, and used to be a politician, just like you.

He was wrong about almost everything, and being a lefty, this wrong-headedness ruined countless lives and denied opportuinty to millions.

David Boothroyd said...

The IMF loan in 1976 was the product of faulty Treasury predictions of the state of the economy, and turned out to be unnecessary. Healey and Callaghan went for it partly because it helped bring dissident Labour MPs into line in agreeing to expenditure cuts.

Denis Healey brought inflation down from the Heath-caused peak of 26.9% to 8% in three years, despite enjoying no majority, and without causing a recession. No other Chancellor has been so successful at rescuing Britain from economic difficulties.

About the TSR-2, it cost more than four times what it cost to buy the US version.

Madasafish said...

"No other Chancellor has been so successful at rescuing Britain from economic difficulties."

yes and pigs fly as well. Part of the reason for Labour's defeat by Mrs Thatcher was the economic "success" of Healey meaning public sector workers struck for more pay.

If that's success, give me failure.

I lived through all of it. Rewriting history is the province of those with history to hide. (see Stalin et al)

strapworld said...

david boothroyd: your place is assured in the Denis Healey Brownnose Awards:

Healey was a total disaster. Pompous, self opinionated and incompetent! Read 'JUDITH'
she articulates much that I recall.

I am sure he will soon announce that, at heart, he was a Tory!!

Iain, get back reading the history of his time in office and I am sure you will soon take off those rose tinted spectacles!

Wrinkled Weasel said...

He said on Desert Island Discs that he thought of himself as a "Bastard but not a Shit" - a very interesting distinction, I thought at the time.

I wonder which category the following come under, Bastard? or Shit?

Alan Clark
Alistair Campbell
Nigel Farage
Tony Blair
Gordon Brown
Cecil Parkinson
John Prescott


Michael Howard
Peter Lilly
Michael Portillo

John Major

Iain Dale said...

Jeez, rose tinted spectacles? I castigated his time as chancellor. He was a terrible chancellor. Awful. What more do I need to say?! The fact is that I reckon he would have been a better PM than chancellor. That does not mean to say I would have wanted him to be PM!But he was a character in politics and by God we need more of those, even if you disagree with them.

Anonymous said...

He was disliked by the tax paying middle classes like our parents, Iain, for the high taxes etc (sweeze them until the pips sweak), but I don't think was ever quite the middle class hate figure of, say, Wilson during his first spell in office. Perhaps because I am a few years older than you, I can recall that well before his battle with Benn for the Deputy Leadership, there was respect for him from many Tories for standing up to the left - so I think some of your early posters above are a bit harsh.

More important is the point made by David Boothroyd. He was actually the trail blazer for 1980s monetarism (assisted in getting Callaghan's support by Peter Jay's influence) and the low point of the British economy was about a year after he became Chancellor - by 3 years later things were much better, although the gains could not be banked until Mrs Thatcher saw off the unions. Peter Jay and Denis Healey have a very fair claim, between them, for paving the way for Mrs T's early economic successes.

That said, he remained socialist in terms of redistribution of wealth, but that was the 1970s Labour Party. To complain about that is a bit like blaming a 16th century Pope for not being nice to Protestants.

Paul Linford said...

David Boothroyd is right. Between 1976 and 1979, Healey was an incredibly successful Chancellor who brought inflation down to manageable proportions without causing a rececession - on contrast to the two recessions caused by the Tories in 1980-81 and again in 1989-92.

He was also in a sense the first monetarist Chancellor, having successfully implemented the public spending cuts demanded by the IMF. I would have thought that might have commended him to Iain and some of the posters here.

Croydonian said...

Surely any credit for '76-79 should go to the IMF rather than Healey.

As a sideline, a friend who worked in retail once served Healey and found him charming and polite, far more so than most of his 'celebrity' clients.

Newmania said...

DYNAMITE- More than a bit I think.

in 1976 when Britain stood on the verge of bankruptcy is something I shall never forget, even though I was only 14 at the time. Britain begging to the IMF is something which seems a very long time ago, but it's actually only 31 years.

And exactly 31 years before that Hitler was run to ground in his Berlin bunker. Funny thing time ...

I `m not a great fan of letting people off because they are old . Now his neck is a long scrawny and Turkey -like it is all the more tempting to shake like a rag doll until the life has gone .

Reduced inflation to 8% .... pah!

anthonynorth said...

Healey was vital to my formulating of political opinions in the 70s, even though I've never voted Labour.
Yes, a terrible politician, but nonetheless a 'personality', and it is these who keep most people's interest in politics.
Maybe that's why no party will have them today. If we were not apathetic, they'd all be out of a job.
And I still have this image of big, bushy eyebrows staring down longingly on Tory savaging dead sheep.

Anonymous said...

Paul Linford - glad I am not alone. However, the reason he avoided the unemployment was because of union power and statutory prices and incomes policy (which broke down in the Winter of Discontent). Both these provided huge distortion to the economy, which were only resolved later. So whilst you are factually correct about unemployment (although it was still rising as the famous "Labour isn't working" poster should remind us), I do not agree with your implication that he was an even better Chancellor than Geoffrey Howe. The early 90s were different: the unemployment then was more caused by shadowing the DMark and the ERM than anything else - a trap, with his pro EEC pedigree, than Healey may well have also fallen into.

Roger Thornhill said...

As a character, fine, but as a politician with power over people? No way.

Awful Socialist, if that is not repeating oneself.

Reviewing the Situation

Maybe the IMF mess was not the worst thing, but preserving the Labour Party, which may have been better splitting into a Militant rump and the rest swelling the ranks of the SDP...hold on, NO! Keeping the Labour Party together might well have been a good thing

"...I think I'd better think it out again!"

Hughes Views said...

What makes you think that Alistair Darling MP wants to be PM?

strapworld said...


On your point @ 10.20am.
You must be sad to see the end of John Prescott?

Now if you had mentioned
that politics needed politicians with the character of Robin Cook,Enoch Powell,Ian McCleod,Attlee and so many more I could agree. But to suggest that men such as Healey who in his own words was a Bastard but I would say a 'S...'
are characters we should have more of..Gawd elp us!

Ted said...

Paul Linford
The 1970's were one long recession and it was the stagflation of that era that made the early 80's recession occur.

More seriously, odd that Tory policies would cause recessions in the US and other countries in early and late 80's isn't it? Agree that UK government policies may have worsened effects (especially the ERM on top of collapse of Junk bonds and US stocks) but they were worldwide events.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen any convincing explanations of how Healey and James Callaghan managed to acquire the wealth necessary to purchase and run their Sussex estates.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte Corday said...
I've never seen any convincing explanations of how Healey and James Callaghan managed to acquire the wealth necessary to purchase and run their Sussex estates.

August 28, 2007 12:42 PM

Like most senior politicians, once out of office they would have collected lucrative consultancies and directorships.

Anonymous said...

Do I remember correctly, that he started his political life as 'Major Healey'? (As did Major Atlee.)

It was said of Healey that he was one of the few people in politics who pretended to be less clever than they actually were. I seem to recall he was also quite a good photographer.

On the debit side, his great flaw, like all pre-Thatcher Labour politicians, was his weakness in the face of the Trade Unions.

James Higham said...

Iain, aren't you a bit young for that? Do you recall Healey in 78, responding to Geoffrey Howe: Like being savaged by a dead sheep?

Anonymous said...

David Boothroyd,

You seem to be reading from the big book of Labour lies and propaganda! The TSR2 fiasco was a betrayal of our aircraft industry and nothing less! you seem to forget that the US F111 was being flogged by the US government and the TSR2 was a threat to its sales drive! The Soviets didnt want the TSR2 around because it was light years ahead of anything they could put in the air! Between these two interests was Dennis Healy who was tricked and blackmailed into firstly sabotaging the TSR2 development and then getting rid of it!
You say that Healy brought down inflation? The truth is that when Healy & unions had destroyed the economy and had to go begging for an IMF bail out the IMF bankers effectivly took over the running of the British economy! Your hero did NOTHING other than carry out the will and orders of the IMF! That IMF loan cost this country dearly and was the main reason that our industrial base was destroyed!
David Boothroyd falls into the trap of spinning and lies that characterise the NULAB commisars of today! You see they hope that people will not remember the pain and utter humiliation of Great Britain going begging for money!

Anonymous said...

It was Healey who destroyed the Royal Navy. He cancelled the replacement CVA-01 carriers and decided that the Navy would not operate beyond the Med. If the carriers had been built, the Falklands invasion would never have happened or been over much sooner. As Chancellor, I remember high inflation, spending out of control, begging to the IMF to bail us out.

Anonymous said...

The most disgusting aspect of the cancellation of the TSR2 by Wilson and Healy was the decision to destroy the machine tools so that a future Tory Government could not resurrect the project.So much for backing British industry.

Yak40 said...

I do remember that and I wondered at the time what could be the real motive behind such a requirement.
Almost as tho' they were against a British success or even something more sinister.
My employer at the time was a subcontractor to BAC (I think) for the TSR2 and there were some wild theories flying there !

The Remittance Man said...

Interesting. Healy states Blair is a bullshitter (true enough) but then uses him to validate his own supposed wonderfulness for standing against Wedgie Benn.

Healy was a major player in the generation of politicians (Con and Lab) that nearly brought Britain to its knees. He deserves no praise whatsoever - only scorn.

BTW Mr Boothroyd, TSR-2 may have cost 4 times more than the quoted price of the American equivalent (F-111) but by time the Septics managed to get that into service it cost many times more than the original price. The RAF ended up buying used Buccaneers from the Navy. Now the Bucc was a good bit of kit (for a sub-sonic design from the early 1950's), but it wasn't in the same league as the TSR-2.

Anonymous said...

Thank God for Denis Healy, he was a good vote winner for Mrs Thatcher.

Anonymous said...

When asked what the legend in his own mind had learned over the last 90 years, he said something along the lines of the importance of planning and collectivity.

You hope that the failures of socialism might make even an arrogant fool like Healy pause for thought, but it seems not - although the spectacle of egalitarians telling us how superior they are is always worth a laugh.

Scipio said...

He might be a nice old buffer with a great sense of humour, but he nearly destroyed this country. We should never forget that!

ozymandias said...

Unbelievable!! I watched Miss Potter that evening as well - at my girlfriend's suggestion, I might add. But what a coincidence?! I thought it was a bit of a Bridget Potter performance by the 32yo, single, Ms Zellweger trying to break into publishing her work, but altogether enjoyable (if tragic at times)...

Anonymous said...

Mountbatten has been mentioned, he and Healey were brought together via the TSR2 which they both seemed to loathe. Mounbatten was supposed to be flogging them but instead would extol the virtues of the Buccaneer. Result - South Africa bought a few Buccaneers, Australia bought the F111. The TSR2 was dead but the F111 was hardly a mighty sales success either.

In fact in the end both the Buccaneer and F111 retired around the same time in the 1990s, as someone said, not bad for the Buccaneer as it was a 1950s plane.