Nisha Rathode (Editor)

Denis Healey

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Leader  Michael Foot
Succeeded by  Gerald Kaufman
Preceded by  Peter Shore

Succeeded by  Roy Hattersley
Preceded by  Michael Foot
Name  Denis Healey
Denis Healey Tributes paid to Denis Healey 39a giant of the Labour

Leader  Michael FootNeil Kinnock
Role  Former Chancellor of the Exchequer
Died  October 3, 2015, Alfriston, United Kingdom
Spouse  Edna Healey (m. 1945–2010)
Children  Tim Healey, Cressida Healey, Jenny Healey
Parents  Winifred Mary Healey, William Healey
Books  The time of my life, When Shrimps Learn to, Healey's world, My Secret Planet, Denis Healey's Yorkshire
Similar People  Edna Healey, Michael Foot, Harold Wilson, George Osborne, Dennis Skinner

At home in east sussex with denis healey

Denis Winston Healey, Baron Healey, (30 August 1917 – 3 October 2015) was a British Labour Party politician who served as Secretary of State for Defence from 1964 to 1970, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1974 to 1979 and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983.


Denis Healey Denis Healey Obituary of former Labour minister BBC News

He was a Member of Parliament for 40 years (from 1952 until his retirement in 1992) and was the last surviving member of the cabinet formed by Harold Wilson after the Labour Party's victory in the 1964 general election. A major figure in the party, he was twice defeated in bids for the party leadership.

Denis Healey Denis Healey Adam Boulton and Peter Hennesy remember

To the public at large, Healey became well known for his bushy eyebrows and his creative turns of phrase.

Denis Healey Lord Healey obituary Politics The Guardian

Denis healey interview july 8th 2006 part one

Early life

Denis Healey Denis Healey Remembering the 39best leader the Labour

Denis Winston Healey was born in Mottingham, Kent, but moved with his family to Keighley in the West Riding of Yorkshire when he was aged five. His parents were Winifred Mary (née Powell; 1889–1988) and William Healey (1886–1977). His middle name was in honour of Winston Churchill.

Denis Healey Veteran Labour politician Denis Healey dies NEWTEKWORLDNEWS

Healey had one brother, Terence Blair Healey (1920–1998), known as Terry. His father was an engineer who worked his way up from humble origins, studying at night school and eventually becoming head of a trade school. His paternal grandfather was a tailor from Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.

Healey's family often summered in Scotland throughout his youth.


Early Healey was educated at Bradford Grammar School. In 1936, he won an exhibition scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford to read Greats. He there became involved in Labour politics, although he was not active in the Oxford Union Society. Also while at Oxford, Healey joined the Communist Party in 1937 during the Great Purge, but left in 1940 after the Fall of France.

At Oxford, Healey met future Prime Minister Edward Heath (then known as "Teddy"), whom he succeeded as president of Balliol College Junior Common Room, and who became a lifelong friend and political rival.

Healey achieved a double first degree, awarded in 1940.

Second World War

After graduation, Healey served in the Second World War as a gunner in the Royal Artillery before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in April 1941. Serving with the Royal Engineers, he saw action in the North African campaign, the Allied invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign, and was the military landing officer ("beach master") for the British assault brigade at Anzio.

He was made an MBE in 1945. He left the service with the rank of Major. He declined an offer to remain in the army, with the rank of Lieutenant colonel, as part of the team researching the history of the Italian campaign under Colonel David Hunt. He also decided against taking up a senior scholarship at Balliol, which would have led to an academic career.

Early career

Healey joined the Labour Party. Still in uniform, he gave a strongly left-wing speech to the Labour Party conference in 1945, declaring, "the upper classes in every country are selfish, depraved, dissolute and decadent" shortly before the general election in which he narrowly failed to win the Conservative-held seat of Pudsey and Otley, doubling the Labour vote but losing by 1,651 votes.

He became secretary of the international department of the Labour Party, becoming a foreign policy adviser to Labour leaders and establishing contacts with socialists across Europe. He was a strong opponent of the Communist Party at home and the Soviet Union internationally. From 1948 to 1960 he was a councillor for the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the International Institute for Strategic Studies from 1958 until 1961. He was a member of the Fabian Society executive from 1954 until 1961.

Healey was one of the leading players in the Konigswinter conference that was organised by Lilo Milchsack that was credited with helping to heal the bad memories after the end of the Second World War. Healey met Hans von Herwarth, the ex soldier Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin and future German President Richard von Weizsäcker and other leading German decision makers. The conference also included other leading British decisionmakers like Richard Crossman and the journalist Robin Day.


Healey was elected to the House of Commons as MP for Leeds South East at a by-election in February 1952, with a majority of 7,000 votes. Following constituency boundary changes, he was elected for Leeds East at the 1955 general election, holding that seat until he retired as an MP in 1992.

He was a moderate on the right during the series of splits in the Labour Party in the 1950s. He was a supporter and friend of Hugh Gaitskell. He persuaded Gaitskell to temper his initial support for British military action in 1956 when the Suez Canal was seized by the Nasser regime in Egypt, resulting in the Suez Crisis. When Gaitskell died in 1963, he was horrified at the idea of Gaitskell's volatile deputy, George Brown, leading Labour, saying "He was like immortal Jemima; when he was good he was very good but when he was bad he was horrid". He voted for James Callaghan in the first ballot and Harold Wilson in the second. Healey thought Wilson would unite the Labour Party and lead it to victory in the next general election. He didn't think Brown was capable of doing either. He was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Defence after the creation of the position in 1964.

Defence Secretary

Following Labour's victory in the 1964 general election, Healey served as Secretary of State for Defence under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He was responsible for 450,000 uniformed servicemen and women, and for 406,000 civil servants stationed around the globe. He was best known for his economising, liquidating most of Britain's military role outside of Europe, and canceling expensive projects. The cause was not a fiscal crisis but rather a decision to shift money and priorities to the domestic budget and maintain a commitment to NATO. He cut defence expenditure, scrapping the carrier HMS Centaur and the reconstructed HMS Victorious in 1967 cancelling the proposed CVA-01 fleet-carrier replacement and, just before Labour's defeat in 1970, downgrading HMS Hermes to a commando carrier. He canceled the fifth planned Polaris submarine. He also cancelled the production of the Hawker Siddeley P.1154 and HS 681 aircraft and, more controversially, both the production of the BAC TSR-2 and subsequent purchase of the F-111 in lieu. Of the scrapped Royal Navy carriers, Healey commented that to most ordinary seamen they were just "floating slums" and "too vulnerable".

He continued postwar Conservative governments' reliance on strategic and tactical nuclear deterrence for the Navy, RAF and West Germany and supported the sale of advanced arms abroad, including to regimes such as those in Iran, Libya, Chile, and apartheid South Africa, to which he supplied nuclear-capable Buccaneer S.2 strike bombers and approved a repeat order. This brought him into serious conflict with Wilson, who had, initially, also supported the policy. Healey later said he had made the wrong decision on selling arms to South Africa.

In January 1968, a few weeks after the devaluation of the pound, Wilson and Healey announced that the two large British fleet carriers HMS Ark Royal and HMS Eagle would be scrapped in 1972. They also announced that British troops would be withdrawn in 1971 from major military bases in South East Asia, "East of Aden", primarily in Malaysia and Singapore as well as the Persian Gulf and the Maldives. However the next Prime Minister Edward Heath sought to reverse this policy, and the forces were not fully withdrawn until 1976.

Healey also authorised the expulsion of Chagossians from the Chagos Archipelago and authorised the building of the United States military base at Diego Garcia. Following Labour's defeat in the 1970 general election, he became Shadow Defence Secretary.

Shadow Chancellor and Chancellor

Healey was appointed Shadow Chancellor in April 1972 after Roy Jenkins resigned in a row over the European Economic Community (Common Market). At the Labour Party conference on 1 October 1973, he said, "I warn you that there are going to be howls of anguish from those rich enough to pay over 75% on their last slice of earnings". In a speech in Lincoln on 18 February 1974, Healey went further, promising he would "squeeze property speculators until the pips squeak." He alleged that Lord Carrington, the Conservative Secretary of State for Energy, had made £10m profit from selling agricultural land at prices 30 to 60 times as high as it would command as farming land. When accused by colleagues including Eric Heffer of putting Labour's chances of winning the next election in jeopardy through his tax proposals, Healey said the party and the country must face the consequences of Labour's policy of the redistribution of income and wealth; "That is what our policy is, the party must face the realities of it".

Healey became Chancellor of the Exchequer in March 1974 after Labour returned to power as a minority government. His tenure is sometimes divided into Healey Mark I and Healey Mark II. The divide is marked by his decision, taken with Prime Minister James Callaghan, to seek an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan and submit the British economy to IMF supervision. The loan was negotiated and agreed in November and December 1976, and announced in Parliament on 15 December 1976. 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 government-specified wage control) was regarded as a betrayal. Healey's policy of increasing benefits for the poor meant those earning over £4,000 per year would be taxed more heavily. His first budget was strongly progressive, with increases in food subsidies, pensions and other benefits.

When Harold Wilson stood down as Leader of the Labour Party in 1976 Healey stood in the contest to elect the new leader. On the first ballot he came only fifth out of six candidates. However, he also contested the second round, coming third of the three candidates but increasing his vote somewhat.

Shadow Cabinet and Deputy Leader

Labour lost the general election to the Conservatives (led by Margaret Thatcher) in May 1979, following the Winter of Discontent during which Britain had faced a large number of strikes. On 12 June 1979 Healey was appointed a Companion of Honour.

When Callaghan stood down as Labour leader in November 1980, Healey was the favourite to win the Labour Party leadership election, decided by Labour MPs, but lost to Michael Foot. He seems to have taken the support of the right of the party for granted; in one notable incident, Healey was reputed to have told the right-wing Manifesto Group they must vote for him as they had "nowhere else to go". When Mike Thomas, the MP for Newcastle East defected to the Social Democratic Party (SDP), he said he had been tempted to send Healey a telegram saying he had found "somewhere else to go". Four Labour MPs who defected to the SDP in early 1981 later said they voted for Foot in order to give the Labour Party an unelectable left-wing leader, thus helping their newly established party.

Healey was returned unopposed as deputy leader to Foot, but the next year was challenged by Tony Benn under the new election system, one in which individual members and trades unions voted alongside sitting member of parliament. The contest was seen as a battle for the soul of the Labour Party, and long debate over the summer of 1981 ended on 27 September with Healey winning by 50.4% to Benn's 49.6%. The narrowness of Healey's majority can be attributed to the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) delegation to the Labour Party conference. Ignoring its members, who had shown two-to-one majority support for Healey, it cast the union's block vote (the largest in the union section) for Benn. A significant factor in Benn's narrow loss, however, was the abstention of 20 MPs from the left-wing Tribune Group, which split as a result. Healey attracted just enough support from other unions, constituency parties and Labour MPs to win.

Healey was Shadow Foreign Secretary during most of the 1980s, a job he coveted. He believed Foot was initially too willing to support military action after the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina in April 1982. He accused Thatcher of "glorying in slaughter", and had to withdraw the remark (he later claimed he had meant to say "conflict").  Healey was retained in the shadow cabinet by Neil Kinnock, who succeeded Foot after the disastrous 1983 general election, when the Conservatives bolstered their majority and Labour suffered their worst general election result in decades. Healey had declined to run as leader to succeed Foot as well as standing down as deputy leader.


His views on nuclear weapons conflicted with the unilateral nuclear disarmament policy of the Labour Party. After the 1987 general election, he retired from the Shadow Cabinet, and in 1992 stood down after 40 years as a Leeds MP. In that year he received a life peerage as Baron Healey, of Riddlesden in the County of West Yorkshire. Healey was regarded by some – especially in the Labour Party – as "the best Prime Minister we never had". He was a founding member of the Bilderberg Group.

During an interview with Nick Clarke on BBC Radio 4, Healey was the first Labour politician to publicly declare his wish for the Labour leadership to pass to Tony Blair in 1994, following the death of John Smith. Healey later became critical of Blair. He publicly opposed Blair's decision to use military force in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. In the spring of 2004, and again in 2005, he publicly called on Blair to stand down in favour of Gordon Brown. In July 2006 he argued, "Nuclear weapons are infinitely less important in our foreign policy than they were in the days of the Cold War", and, "I don't think we need nuclear weapons any longer".

In March 2013 during an interview with the New Statesman, Healey said that if there was a referendum on British membership of the EU, he would vote to leave. In May, he further said: "I wouldn't object strongly to leaving the EU. The advantages of being members of the union are not obvious. The disadvantages are very obvious. I can see the case for leaving – the case for leaving is stronger than for staying in".

Following the death of Alan Campbell, Baron Campbell of Alloway in June 2013, Healey became the oldest sitting member of the House of Lords. Following the death of John Freeman on 20 December 2014, Healey became the surviving former MP with the earliest date of first election, and the second-oldest surviving former MP, after Ronald Atkins.

Public image

Healey's notably bushy eyebrows and piercing wit earned him a favourable reputation with the public. When the media were not present, his humour was equally caustic but more risqué: "These fallacies [pronounced 'phalluses'] are rising up everywhere," he retorted at a meeting of Leeds University Labour Society. The popular impressionist Mike Yarwood coined the catchphrase "Silly Billy", and incorporated it into his shows as a supposed "Healey-ism". Healey had never said it until that point, but he adopted it and used it frequently. Healey's direct speech made enemies. "At a meeting of the PLP I accused Ian Mikardo of being 'out of his tiny Chinese mind' – a phrase of the comedienne Hermione Gingold, with which I thought everyone was familiar. On the contrary, when it leaked to the press, the Chinese Embassy took it as an insult to the People's Republic." The controversy may have contributed to a poor performance when he fought for the Labour leadership following Harold Wilson's resignation. He obtained 30 votes in the first ballot on 25 March, and 38 in the second on 30 March. He was eliminated from the election and supported James Callaghan in the final ballot on 5 April. Callaghan was elected as the new Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, and retained Healey 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". On 14 June 1978, Healey likened being attacked by the mild-mannered Sir Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons to being "savaged by a dead sheep". Nevertheless, Howe appeared and paid warm tribute when Healey was featured on This Is Your Life in 1989. The two remained friends for many years, and Howe died only six days after Healey.

Personal life and death

Healey married Edna May Edmunds on 21 December 1945, the two having met at Oxford University before the war. The couple had three children, one of whom is the broadcaster, writer and record producer Tim Healey. Edna Healey died on 21 July 2010, aged 92. They were married for over 60 years and lived in Alfriston, East Sussex. In 1987, Edna underwent an operation at a private hospital – this event drawing media attention as being seemingly at odds with Healey's pro-NHS beliefs. Challenged on the apparent inconsistency by the presenter Anne Diamond on TV-am, Healey became critical and ended the interview. He then jabbed journalist Adam Boulton.

Healey was an amateur photographer for many years, also enjoying music and painting and reading crime fiction. He sometimes played popular piano pieces at public events. In a May 2012 interview for The Daily Telegraph, Healey reported that he was swimming 20 lengths a day in his outdoor pool. Healey was interviewed in 2012 as part of The History of Parliament's oral history project.

After a short illness Healey died in his sleep at his home in Alfriston, Sussex, on 3 October 2015 at the age of 98. In 2017 his personal archives were deposited at the Bodleian Library.

Titles and styles

  • 1917–1945: Mr Denis Healey
  • 1945–1952: Mr Denis Healey
  • 1952–1964: Mr Denis Healey
  • 1964–1979: The Rt. Hon. Denis Healey
  • 1979–1992: The Rt. Hon. Denis Healey
  • 1992: The Rt. Hon. Denis Healey
  • 1992–2015: The Rt. Hon. The Lord Healey
  • Legacy

    Healey is credited with popularising in the UK a proverb which became known as Healey's First law of holes. This is a minor adaptation of a saying apparently originated by Will Rogers.

    Film, television and theatre

    Healey is the only Chancellor to have appeared on BBC One's Morecambe and Wise Show. In 1986 he appeared in series one of Saturday Live. He was portrayed by David Fleeshman in the 2002 BBC production of Ian Curteis's The Falklands Play. He appeared on The Dame Edna show in the song and dance number "You either have or you haven't got style" alongside Roger Moore.

    Healey was satirised in the ITV series Spitting Image, his caricature mainly focused on his famous eyebrows, and the real Healey appeared in the thirteenth and final episode of the programme's first series in 1984. The iconic eyebrows were similarly parodied in the 1977 serial The Sun Makers from the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, in which the antagonist known as the Collector is distinguished by having similarly bushy eyebrows to Healey.

    The British nickname "Silly Billy" was also popularised in the 1970s by impressionist Mike Yarwood, putting it in the mouth of the Chancellor, Denis Healey, who took the catchphrase up and used it as his own.

    In 1994, Healey appeared in a TV advertisement for Visa Debit cards. This was banned by the Independent Television Commission as it contained a reference to a scandal, subsequently revealed to be a fabrication, involving Norman Lamont's personal life. Healey had appeared in an advert for Sainsbury's in the previous year.


    During Led Zeppelin's 1975 and 1977 concert tours, Robert Plant facetiously dedicated the song "In My Time of Dying" to Healey for the tax exile issues the band was facing. During Yes's recording of what was to become the album Tormato (1978), there was an outtake called "Money", on which the Yes keyboardist at the time, Rick Wakeman, provides a satirical voice-over parodying Healey.


    Denis Healey Wikipedia