Thursday, 30 August 2012

95 Today

Today Denis Healey - Baron Healey as he is now - is 95. There are very few politicians for whom I have anything that could be called a soft spot, but he is one of them. Yes, he was, in his prime, a notorious political bruiser (and, in the Thirties, a Communist - there isn't much in his politics that I like), but he had a very good war - North Africa, Sicily, Italian Campaign, could have stayed in as a Lieutenant Colonel - and, unlike so many of today's politicians, he seems a fully rounded human being, with a wide 'hinterland' beyond politics, including, among much else, a love of the works of Samuel Beckett, which can only be a good sign.
  Healey also has a nice turn of phrase, famously likening being attacked by Geoffrey Howe to being 'savaged by a dead sheep'. He originated the First Law of Holes - 'When you're in one, stop digging.' Unsurprisingly he was not keen on Mrs Thatcher, calling her 'Petain in petticoats' and 'La Pasionaria of middle-class privilege' (harsh, harsh). On one occasion, he accused Ian Mikardo of being 'out of his tiny Chinese mind' - a phrase he borrowed from Hermione Gingold, but which the Chinese Embassy took for an insult and accordingly kicked up a fuss. Some things never change...
  Despite his socialism, Healey also enjoys the distinction of being the only Chancellor of the Exchequer in recent decades who actually managed to wrestle public expenditure down - albeit at the behest of the IMF. Happy birthday to him!


  1. His generation of politicians seemed so much more heavyweight than those we’ve endured in the past twenty years; not surprising when we consider what they experienced: the thirties, World War ll, the post-war rebuilding of Britain. I wonder to what extent Healey, Minister of Defence, influenced Wilson in the decision to keep British troops out of the Vietnam War? Such a pity Blair didn’t seek out the old boy’s views prior to following Bush into Iraq, but then again perhaps he did and chose to ignore suggestions from that powerful intellect and vast experience of political and military matters.

    Those eyebrows were a thing of wonder. It’s amusing now to imagine a BBC tv discussion chaired by Robin Day with Denis Healey on one side and George Woodcock, General Secretary of the TUC, on the other. Not so much a meeting of minds; more a battle of highbrows. I reckon it would have been a draw.

  2. How to confuse an eyebrow with a highbrow - and all in the same short para, especially in the case of Denis and George. The eyebrows win every time.

  3. Talking of George Woodcock, my father-in-law once found himself standing next to him at a urinal. 'It's not wood' he reported.

  4. Healey would have made an excellent headmaster, he seemed to have authority, perhaps it was his misfortune to be part of the Wilson wrecking squad who, aided and abetted by the TUC, set British manufacturing on it's downward spiral, the trade union leaders had their own keys to No 10. Many years later Healey appeared on a radio programme with Tony Benn, talking about coping with the deaths of their wives. The discussion was both heartwarming and deeply moving, seldom have I heard people talking so openly and honesty about such an emotive subject.