Friday, February 23, 2007

Tony Crosland

At the end of the week which marked the 30th anniversary of the death of Tony Crosland at the tragically young age of 58, there is just time for me to pay a short tribute to one of my political heroes and to plug Giles Radice's wonderful book Friends and Rivals, one of my favourite political reads of recent years.

Crosland was Foreign Secretary and at the height of his powers in February 1977 when he was struck down by a brain haemorrhage. Had he lived, it is quite possible that he rather than Michael Foot would have succeeded Jim Callaghan as Labour leader in 1980, and succeeded in preventing the SDP breakaway which wrecked the party's electoral prospects for a decade.

Radice's book is a masterful exploration of the personal rivalry between Crosland and his two close allies, Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins, and how their failure to make common cause as the modernisers of their day ultimately led to Labour's wilderness years.

Happily, the review I wrote for the Newcastle Journal at the time of publication in 2002 is still available on the paper's website, and it can be found HERE.

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RedEye said...

I've already outlined my scepticism that Crosland as leader would have prevented the SDP split in an earlier thread on this theme, so I'll tackle another counterfactual. Had Healey become leader in 1980, I believe that Benn would have almost certainly challenged him under the electoral college, and that, thanks to trade union memories of Healey's pay policy when Chancellor (plus the usual devious manoeuvrings by the Mephistophelean Clive Jenkins), Benn may well have won. And then where would Labour have been?

Yes, Foot's leadership was calamitous (he's a very nice man, but no leader), but it might have been even worse...

Croslandite said...

Crosland was an influential thinker but always a bit distrusted by the party and the unions because of the 'Future of socialism' and it's unashamed revisionism. When he stood in the leadership election in 1976 he came last.

Crosland would though I think have been shaking his head in disbelief at today's Labour Party and it's disregard of efforts to reduce inequality.

Paul Linford said...

Tony Benn as leader? Can't see it, RedEye. Sure, a lot of people hated Healey, but when it came down to it, they refused to vote for Benn as deputy, knowing it would have destroyed the party. This feeling would have been even more widespread had they been contesting the leadership. Healey would have beaten Benn by a much wider margin than 50.5-49.5, with many more MPs abstaining.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't it Crossland as Secretary of State for Education in the 60's that trashed our secondary education system with the failed comprehensive system or was it Crossland?


Anonymous said...

Should have read or was it Crossman?