Denis Healey

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Denis Winston Healey, Baron Healey PC (30 August 19173 October 2015) was a British Labour Party politician who served as Secretary of State for Defence from 1964 to 1970 and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1974 to 1979. 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.



  • The upper classes in every country are selfish, depraved, dissolute and decadent. The struggle for socialism in Europe has been hard, cruel, merciless and bloody. The penalty for participation in the liberation movement has been death for oneself, if caught, and, if not caught oneself, the burning of one's home and the death by torture of one's family. ... Remember that one of the prices paid for our survival during the war has been the death by bombardment of countless thousands of innocent European men and women.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (May 1945), quoted in Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (Penguin, 1990), p. 67


  • I think the Services can be rightly very upset at the continuous series of defence reviews which the Government has been forced by economic circumstances—and maybe economic mistakes too—to carry out...
  • On BBC Television's Panorama programme (22 January, 1968)
  • I warn my hon. Friends...that once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (5 March 1969)


  • Do we really want to nationalise Marks and Spencers to make it as efficient as the Co-Op?
    • Question at a meeting of the National Executive Committee in the Churchill Hotel (31 May 1973), quoted in Michael Hatfield, The House the Left Built: Inside Labour Policy-Making, 1970–75 (1978), p. 197
  • We are all agreed on a massive extension of public ownership...We are all agreed on establishing comprehensive planning control over the 100 or so largest companies in Britain. We are all agreed on the need for a national enterprise board to organise and extend public ownership in the profitable manufacturing industries.
  • Speech in York (2 June 1973), quoted in The Times (4 June 1973), p. 2
  • We shall increase income tax on the better off so that we can help the hundreds of thousands of families now tangled helplessly in the poverty trap by raising the tax threshold and introducing reduced rates of tax for those at the bottom of the ladder. I warn you, there are going to be howls of anguish from the rich. But before you cheer too loudly let me warn you that a lot of you will pay extra taxes too.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference at Blackpool (1 October 1973).
  • Squeeze property speculators until the pips squeak
    • Speech in Lincoln (18 February 1974), quoted in The Times (19 February 1974), p. 4. Misreported as "tax the rich until the pips squeak". "The pips squeak" metaphor was originated by Sir Eric Campbell-Geddes and later used by David Lloyd-George.
  • It has never been my nature, I regret to admit to the House, to turn the other cheek.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (18 December 1974)
  • It is far better that more people should be in work, even if that means accepting lower wages on average, than that those lucky enough to keep their jobs should scoop the pool while millions are living on the dole. That is what the social contract is all about.
    • Speech to the East Leeds Labour Club (10 January 1975), quoted in The Times (11 January 1975), p. 1
  • No country would suffer more than Britain from an international trade war, since we depend more on world trade than any of our competitors. That is why we cannot accept the proposal made in some quarters that we should seek to solve our problems through imposing import controls for a long period over a whole range of manufactured consumer goods.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (17 December 1975)
  • He must be out of his tiny Chinese mind.
    • Attacking Ian Mikardo, a left-wing critic of spending cuts, using a phrase of the comedienne Hermione Gingold (The Daily Telegraph, 24 February, 1976), quoted in Denis Healey The Time of My Life (Penguin, 1990), p. 444
  • By the end of next year, we really shall be on our way to that so-called economic miracle we need.
    • In an Ministerial broadcast on the Budget (6 April 1976).
  • If we can keep our heads—and our nerve—the long-awaited economic miracle is in our grasp. Britain can achieve in the Seventies what Germany and France achieved in the Fifties and Sixties.
    • The Sunday Telegraph (4 July 1976).
  • The alternative to getting help from the IMF would be economic policies so savage I think they would produce riots in the streets, an immediate fall in living standards and unemployment of three million.
    • On ITN's News at Ten (29 September 1976).
  • I am going to negotiate with the IMF on the basis of our existing policies, not changes in policies, and I need your support to do it. (Applause) But when I say "existing policies", I mean things we do not like as well as things we do like. It means sticking to the very painful cuts in public expenditure (shouts from the floor) on which the Government has already decided. It means sticking to a pay policy which enables us, as the TUC resolved a week or two ago, to continue the attack on inflation. (Shout of, "Resign".)
    • Speech at the Labour Party Conference (30 September 1976), quoted in Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1976, p. 319. Healey had been forced to abandon plans to attend an international finance ministers' conference in order to speak to the conference because of a run on the pound.
  • No Government can produce an economic miracle. An economic miracle depends on people on the shop floor, in the board room, in the sales office, working a bit harder and more efficiently than they have worked in the past.
    • On BBC TV (15 December 1976).
I must say that part of his speech was rather like being savaged by a dead sheep.
  • I start with the measures which the Government announced last Thursday, and which are the immediate occasion of today's debate, and to which the right hon. Gentleman finally came round - a trifle nervously, I thought - after ploughing through that tedious and tendentious farrago of moth-eaten cuttings presented to him by the Conservative Research Department. I must say that part of his speech was rather like being savaged by a dead sheep.
  • Austria came to terms with its political and economic disadvantages after the war, jettisoned those parts of its Marxist ideological inheritance which were obviously no longer relevant, and turned a country which in the inter-war years had been suffering from an ex-imperial hangover into a model welfare state, without sacrificing any of its cultural attractions in the process. [I am offering no New Jerusalem], simply a country with stable prices, jobs for those who want them and help for those who need it.
    • Sarah Barker Memorial Lecture (8 September 1979), quoted in Peter Jenkins, Mrs Thatcher's Revolution: The Ending of the Socialist Era (1989), p. 141


  • NATO's nuclear strategy is an essential part of that balance [between East and West]. To threaten to upset it by refusing to let America base any of her nuclear weapons in Britain would make war more likely, not less likely.
  • The Guardian (14 August 1981).
  • I would fight to change the policy before the General Election. If I failed then I wouldn't accept office in a Labour Government.
  • On unilateral nuclear disarmament. (The Guardian, 15 September 1981).
  • Faced with the difficulties of unilateral reflation, some socialists are tempted to seek salvation through trade restrictions or competitive devaluation. But such beggar-my-neighbour policies, if pursued on the scale required...are more likely to lead to a trade and currency war than to insulate their sponsors from the recession in the outside world.
  • Speech to the twelfth congress of the Confederation of Socialist Parties of the EEC in Paris (12 November 1982), quoted in The Times (13 November 1982), p. 3
  • We will unilaterally get rid of Trident and cruise, and we will put Polaris into the arms talks with the Soviet Union and hope to phase it out in multilateral negotiations. If the to cut their nuclear forces accordingly it would be a new situation that we could consider at that time.
  • The Times (25 May 1983), p. 1
  • [Margaret Thatcher] wraps herself in the Union Jack and exploits the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Falkland Islands for purely party advantage – and hopes to get away with it. It wasn't a very credible approach from the word 'go' because this Prime Minister, who glories in slaughter, who has taken advantage of the superb professionalism of our armed forces, is at this very moment lending the military dictatorship in Buenos Aires millions of pounds to buy weapons – including weapons made in Britain – to kill British servicemen. That is an act of stupefying hypocrisy.
    • Speech in Birmingham (1 June 1983), quoted in The Times (2 June 1983), p. 1. Healey withdrew the remark "glories in slaughter" the next day and claimed he should have said "conflict" rather than "slaughter" (The Times (3 June 1983), p. 1)
  • What almost halved the support for the Labour Party was the feeling that it has lost its traditional common sense and its humanity to a new breed of sectarian extremism.
  • On the 1983 general election (The News of the World, 19 June 1983).
  • So long as the Soviet Union has nuclear weapons there have to be nuclear weapons somewhere in NATO to deter them from using them.
  • The Tribune (28 March 1986).
So long as the Soviet Union has nuclear weapons there have to be nuclear weapons somewhere in NATO to deter them from using them.
  • The reason we were defeated in so far as defence played a role is that people believe we were in favour of unilaterally disarming ourselves. It wasn't the confusion. It was the unilateralism that was the damaging thing.
  • We are going through a period of uncertainty, but we are in a good position to strengthen ourselves and win back a majority. We have already got rid of much deadwood and Kinnock is winning back younger voters. He is politically intelligent, has character and courage; but he has never been a minister, lacks experience, and people know it. In troubled times, the electorate looks for a strong leader and Mrs Thatcher is seen as one.
    • Interview for La Stampa (5 April 1986), quoted in The Times (7 April 1986), p. 2
  • The US, whether we like it or not, has nuclear weapons. The US is a member of NATO. Possession by the US of nuclear weapons is obviously a deterrent.
  • The London Standard (30 September 1986).
  • No. Absolutely not. I think that the Russians are praying for a Labour victory...praying is perhaps an unfortunate choice of words. I think that they would much prefer a Labour government and that the idea that they would prefer a Tory government, I think is utter bunkum, and they [the Soviets] authorized me to say so.
    • Answering a suggestion that the Soviets would prefer a Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher than a Labour government headed by Neil Kinnock at a press conference in Moscow after a meeting with Anatoly Dobrynin (11 May 1987), quoted in E. B. Geelhoed, Margaret Thatcher: In Victory and Downfall, 1987 and 1990 (Greenwood, 1992), pp. 120-1.


  • The trouble about Europe is what I call the Olive Line, the line below which people grow olives. North of the Olive Line people pay their taxes and spend public money very cautiously. South of it they fail to pay their taxes at all, but spend a lot of public money.

Quotes about Healey[edit]

  • Denis Healey was a great champion for social justice, in and out of government, a stalwart of the Labour Party, a true patriot who fought for and cared deeply about his country and an extraordinary and vibrant character. ... He steered the Labour government and the country through some of the most difficult economic times; and in winning the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 1981, he probably saved the Labour Party as an instrument of government and social change. All of us in the Labour Party owe him a huge debt. Britain has lost a dedicated and faithful public servant.
  • I always had a sneaking affection for Denis Healey, even at his most outrageous. I liked his rumbustiousness, a quality which adds richness to politics provided it is combined with intellectual insight and personal incorruptibility, as it was in Denis's case. He is an instinctive bully, but bullies always bring out the best in me and I enjoyed our clashes in Cabinet. His autobiography is a masterly piece of work and, as I read it, I chuckled over the cunning way he skates over his confessions of past mistakes, leaving the impression that they did not adversely affect events, though of course they did.
  • Denis Healey was a giant of the Labour Party whose record of service to his party and his country stands as his testament. ... His wit and personality transcended politics itself, making him one of the most recognisable politicians of his era. Speaking personally, we had many interesting conversations when I was first elected to Parliament in 1983 and I found him a decent and very knowledgeable man who I enjoyed engaging with, particularly in his work as shadow foreign secretary.
  • He had a clear idea of the objectives he wanted to secure, and mostly, from a socialist point of view, they were good ones. He would listen; he could be endlessly patient in negotiations, which is the only way to negotiate with would-be friends or allies; he had an irrepressible intellectual curiosity deriving partly from his interest in matters which touched only the fringe of politics.
    • Michael Foot, ‘Denis Healey’, The Observer (15 October 1989), quoted in The Uncollected Michael Foot: Essays Old and New, ed. Brian Brivati (2004), pp. 271–272
  • He has long carried light ideological baggage on a heavy gun carriage.
  • He didn't suffer fools gladly or, indeed, at all. That partly explains why he was never leader of the party despite having rich political talent. He was brilliant in the Commons, an ebullient campaigner in the country, and his piano-thumping performances in by-election sing-songs were – like him – loud, lively, and uplifting. ... To know Denis Healey was to enjoy him.
  • The only hope was Denis Healey. ... But my hopes were shortlived. Soon after the party conference in October [1980], it became evident that Denis Healey, whether he became leader or not, was not going to fight head-on the unilateralist and anti-European policy of the Labour Party. He was not going to make the party face up to the electoral incredibility of being both in effect anti-Nato and anti-European. ... So, Denis Healey was not going to fight the left. That became clear. Denis does not have good political judgement. In that sense he is not a good politician. He has a first-class brain, he is extremely well informed and he's got good judgement about many things, but he's not been a very good judge of feelings and moods within the Labour Party. I think he calculated that by taking the soft approach, the emollient approach, he could woo the left and win the leadership and, having secured it, would then fight for his policies. But he wasn't going to fight beforehand.
    • David Owen, Personally Speaking to Kenneth Harris (1987), pp. 169–171
  • We wanted Denis Healey to win, and Bill and I voted for him to win, but we wanted the right policies to win too. If he had fought for those policies and had lost we would have been bound to stick with him for a while and to have gone on fighting for them within the party. No question about it. Well, Denis did not heed our message. He stood as a ‘Peace’ candidate. It was just ludicrous. Everybody knew perfectly well, I think, that he didn't agree with a word of what he was supporting. His position was totally unconvincing. If he had fought on, so to speak, a ‘war ticket’, he would have probably lost, but I have no doubt that he would have been the leader of the Labour Party within two years. In retrospect that was the moment when the SDP was created.
    • David Owen, Personally Speaking to Kenneth Harris (1987), p. 171
  • He said things the way they were and you couldn't stop him from doing so. ... He was a mixture of incredible courage, lack of tact and not very good at playing in a way that would give him the advantage as distinct from party or the country. It was an impressive performance and I shan't forget it.
  • [T]he defence budget is one of the very few elements of public expenditure that can truly be described as essential. The point was well-made by a robust Labour Defence Minister, Denis (now Lord) Healey, many years ago: ‘Once we have cut expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders.’

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