Denis Healey

From Academic Kids

Denis Winston Healey, Baron Healey, PC (born 30 August 1917), is a British Labour politician, regarded by many as "the best Prime Minister we never had".

He was born in Keighley, Yorkshire. His middle name of Winston was given to him in honour of Winston Churchill. Healey was educated at Bradford Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford where he was involved in Labour politics, joined the Communist Party and met future Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath.

In World War II with the Royal Engineers Healey served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was the Military Landing Officer for the British assault brigade at Anzio. Leaving the service with the rank of Major after the war, Healey joined the Labour Party. He gave a barnstorming and strongly left-wing speech to the Labour Party conference shortly before the general election in which he narrowly failed to win Pudsey and Otley. He was appointed as the International Secretary to the Labour Party.

When Major James Milner accepted a peerage, Healey was elected MP for Leeds South East in 1952. He supported the moderate side in the Labour Party during the series of 1950s splits, and when Labour won the 1964 election he served throughout the government as Minister of Defence. In this capacity he had to cut back on defence expenditure, including cancelling the TSR-2 aircraft and withdrawing from "East of Suez" commitments.

In opposition in the early 1970s, Healey was appointed Shadow Chancellor. He was widely (but incorrectly) reported as saying that under a Labour Government he would "tax the rich until the pips squeak". However he did say (at the Labour Party conference in 1973) "I warn you that there are going to be howls of anguish from those rich enough to pay over 80% on their last slice of earnings".

Healey became Chancellor of the Exchequer in March 1974. As Chancellor, Healey's tenure is sometimes divided into two parts which are sometimes called Healey Mark I and Healey Mark II. The divide between the two is marked by Healey's decision, taken in conjunction with Callaghan (by then Prime Minister), to seek an IMF loan and submit the British economy to the associated IMF supervision. Within some parts of the Labour Party the transition from Healey Mark I (which had seen a proposal for a wealth tax) to Healey Mark II (associated with a government specified wage control) was regarded as a betrayal.

Healey's bushy eyebrows and soft-spoken wit earned him a favourable reputation with the public. The impressionist Mike Yarwood coined for him the catchphrase "Silly Billy", which Healey adopted and used frequently. However Healey's directness of speech made enemies. He attacked left-wing opponents of his policies as being "out of their tiny Chinese minds" early in 1976, meaning to imply that they were Maoist, but offending the Chinese community. The controversy over this remark led to a poor performance when he fought for the Labour leadership on Harold Wilson's resignation.

Those who knew him well commented on his ruthless efficiency as Chancellor. His long-serving deputy at the Treasury, Joel Barnett, in response to a remark by a third party that "Denis Healey would sell his own grandmother", quipped, "No, he would get me to do it for him".

Healey was considered as the favourite to win the Labour leadership in 1980, which was decided by Labour MPs only. However he ran a complacent campaign which took his support by the party right for granted. Four Labour MPs of the time who later defected to the SDP claimed that they voted against Healey in order to land the Labour Party with an unelectably left-wing leader and so help their new party.

He was elected Deputy Leader to Michael Foot when Foot became leader, but the next year was challenged for the job by Tony Benn under the new system of election which included individual members and trade unions. The contest distracted the Labour Party over the summer of 1981 and ended with Healey winning by 50.426% to Benn's 49.574%.

Healey served as Shadow Foreign Secretary during most of the 1980s, which was a job he had coveted. His dynamic campaigning abilities were much praised. After the 1987 general election, he retired from the Shadow Cabinet, and in 1992 he stood down after 40 years as a Leeds MP. He received a life Peerage as Lord Healey.

Although he was supporting Tony Blair to be Leader of the Labour Party within hours of John Smith's death, more recently he has become critical.

Preceded by:
Peter Thorneycroft
Secretary of State for Defence
Followed by:
The Lord Carrington
Preceded by:
Anthony Barber
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Followed by:
Sir Geoffrey Howe

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