Lord Denis Healey

Obituary: Since writing this some 15 months ago, I have just learned of the death of Denis Winston Healey, Baron Healey, CH MBE PC (30 August 1917 – 3 October 2015) (check here for details). Already tributes are coming in from leaders of all parties and others regarding this political heavyweight, a giant among pygmies (quoting from some who have paid tributes). I can only declare my sorrow and add my own meager thoughts concerning one of the more significant figures of my lifetime. One of his contributions is the important part he paid steadying the ship and as a calming influence in a time of financial crisis. He is the last of a generation of Labour political heroes I had looked up to (Wilson, Callaghan, Benn and Castle are all now dead). My commiserations to those left behind who esteemed Denis. Thank you Denis for the contribution you have made and for your influence on my own thinking.

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A little while ago, a friend, Roy Stannard, who does radio interviews, got to interview Lord Denis Healey. On coming across his Facebook posting on the interview last week, I got to listen intently to what took place, which was a scoop and an opportunity not to be missed.

I wrote on Roy’s Facebook page: “Just began listening to the show – sounds good. Fifty years ago, I became interested in politics and was for a time an avid Labour supporter. Besides Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Tony Benn and Barbara Castle, there was dear Denis – still sounding good, who were the stand out politicians! Thanks for sharing this.” Sadly, of the five, only Denis is with us, a sprightly 96 year old, who while showing inevitable signs of frailty, is still blessed (as are we) with having his mental faculties intact.

I was not disappointed and liked the format of the show that touched on many aspects of Denis’s life, which I found to be most  interesting, interspersed with music all of us (Roy, Denis and me) liked. While maybe not quite in the class of the late David Frost, he wasn’t so far off, and who knows – what if? Roy did well and did a lot of what this famous broadcaster was famous for: understand his subject as a result of being well read and having intelligent insight, putting his guest at ease so they would open up, and asking lots of pertinent questions. As one who grew up, as it were, with Denis, and knew about a lot of what he was referring to while being interviewed, I found myself completely captivated.

While a lot of useful ground was covered, there was some that was missed. For example, I would have been interested in listening to Denis’s reflections on the incident when he stormed out of the studio when he was being interviewed by the young, ambitious, up and coming journalist, Anne Diamond. Denis, who expected to be questioned on party policy and such like, was bombarded with questions about why his wife was being treated privately for a health condition when he had been earlier critical of privatization in the health service, something these days we might expect to have to be ready for. Other questions might relate to modern day politics and some of the issues of the day e.g. Gaza and gay marriage, to name but two. But in fairness to Roy, he did ask a lot of important questions and elicited a lot of insightful answers.

Today’s politics, compared with those of Denis’s day, has changed radically, and often it is difficult to work out the differences between what the main parties now stand for. Being brought up in a working class home, when the two main parties: Labour and Conservative aligned more with working class and middle/upper class aspirations respectively, it was expected for people to vote along class lines, which is no longer the case. Despite the changes and maybe even because them, today’s politicians, and all of us come to that, would do well to listen to what Denis had to say, and learn.

While I may not have regarded Denis quite as highly as his contemporary, Tony Benn, he was not that far off. Interestingly, the two, often seen to be at opposite ends of Labour party philosophy (Denis was a much to the right and Tony was to the left), did have a mutual respect, yet without being especially close. Both had strong family ties and given in both cases they could grieve because their wives died earlier, this among other things shows the all too human common ground where they could be united. Just as with Tony Benn, there are aspects of Denis’s life that I hadn’t quite appreciated before, and this itself should be a lesson to us all before we come to judging. Denis was a war hero and a lover of the arts, to name two.

There were things Denis said and did that I could wholeheartedly agree with and others less so. Denis was for example, at one time, one of the leading lights of what is often looked upon as sinister, the Bilderberg group. The last question Denis was asked was about his religious beliefs. I was disappointed with his response. But overall, I left listening to the interview with my opinion of Denis enhanced, admiring his determination, and take the view he made an overall positive contribution to the life of this nation. Kudos to Roy for doing the interview. I hope that many more suchlike will follow.

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One thought on “Lord Denis Healey

  1. Thanks for your kind words John. It was a fascinating experience and whilst I would have liked to have asked Denis about the Anne Diamond walk-out it had to do with his late wife Edna and private hospital treatment for her when she needed it urgently – and Denis is still grieving her loss, so thought pursuing it unbecoming.

    I was aware that at 96 going on 97 Lord Denis would not respond well to rapier-like investigative questioning so tried to keep it relaxed and conversational.

    He has interesting views on the EC and the UK membership and what he calls the Olive line – the divide between southern and norther European countries within the EC and their vastly different approaches to economic husbandry.

    On Gay marriage, his agnostic views would indicate a relaxed attitude towards it, on Gaza, not sure, as a Defence Secretary he wasn’t afraid to take troops in (as in Borneo) but he is also war veteran enough to hate needless loss of life. He supported Blair initially, and then turned against him after the invasion of Iraq that he saw subsequently as a significant error.

    All in all, a very real human being with flaws, but a giant of a politician compared to some of today’s political pygmies.

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