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EDITIONS
Labour centenary Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 10:29 GMT
Denis Healey: Two decades of civil war
Denis Healey became an MP in 1952 and served as a Cabinet minister in the Wilson and Callaghan governments. He was chancellor between 1974 and 1979, and deputy Labour leader from 1980 to 1983. In 1992 he became a life peer.


Denis Healey
Denis Healey: "We wasted time and energy fighting"
For Denis Healey, two of the key moments in the history of the Labour Party occurred in the last 10 years.

The party had been founded out of a desire by working people to own the means of production, but Labour in power had found that nationalisation was not a success because of the scale of managing such huge industries, he says.

And so, until the leadership of John Smith, the party was split between a hard left which favoured nationalisation and those who opted for a liberal social democratic tradition and believed "that Labour should run the interests of all the people - not to win the class war, but to end it".

We have the great advantage now that Blair has a party in which the unions are not a problem any longer and there is no challenge in terms of policy of leadership to him

But, according to Lord Healey, Mr Smith's leadership - which began in 1992 - saw two big changes.

One centred on the unions, "which were the paymasters of the Labour Party and were very undemocratically run in the period up to when Thatcher took over".

Lord Healey says: "Very much the key to it was John Prescott's speech to the Labour conference in which he said we really had to come to terms with the new world we ourselves had created.

"The second thing was John Smith introducing 'one member, one vote'.

"The party changed very substantially because during the period until I retired from the frontbench constituency parties were quite unrepresentative."

That changed, he believes, with increased democracy in the structure of the party and the unions.

'No challenge'

Meanwhile, the hard left's influence in the party has reduced; wherein the past it had a set of policies and a charismatic figure to lead it, Lord Healey says that is no longer the case.

"In the 50s it was Nye Bevan and in the 70s it was Tony Benn," he said. "We had two decades of civil war and we wasted time and energy fighting.

"That has gone. There is no challenge like there was in the 50s and the 70s to the leadership.

"We have the great advantage now that Blair has a party in which the unions are not a problem any longer and there is no challenge in terms of policy of leadership to him."

As for the personalities of the last 100 years, Lord Healey is impressed with Mr Blair's cabinet - "Brown is first rate" - but adds: "The outstanding figure in my lifetime was Ernie Bevin, often said to be the best foreign secretary Britain had this century, but he was never keen on the leadership.

"Attlee was exceptional because he had a cabinet which contained people who had individually both more charisma and more brains than him, but he was extremely good running the team - Blair is good at that too."

See also:

22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
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