- Hugh Gaitskell
The Right Honourable
name = Hugh Gaitskell
birth_date = birth date|1906|4|9|df=y
London, United Kingdom
London, United Kingdom
death_date = death date and age|1963|1|18|1906|4|9|df=y
office = Leader of the Opposition
14 December 1955
18 January 1963
Chancellor of the Exchequer
19 October 1950
26 October 1951
office3 = Minister of Fuel and Power
term_start3 = October
term_end3 = February
party = Labour Party
Hugh Todd Naylor Gaitskell (
9 April 1906– 18 January 1963) was a British politician, leader of the Labour Party from 1955 until his death in 1963.
He was born in
London, England, and educated at the Dragon School, Winchester Collegeand New College, Oxford, where he gained a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economicsin 1927. His serious interest in politics came about as a result of the General Strike of 1926, and he lectured in economicsfor the Workers' Educational Associationto miners in Nottinghamshire. In the 1930s he was an academic at University College London, where he headed the Department of Political Economy. He also worked as a tutor at Birkbeck College. [cite book
title= Birkbeck, University of London Continuing Education Courses 2002 Entry
publisher=Birkbeck External Relations Department
year = 2002]
Gaitskell witnessed firsthand in
Viennathe political suppression of the Marxist-oriented social democraticworkers movement by the conservative Engelbert Dollfuss's government. The event made a lasting impression, making him profoundly hostile to conservatism but also making him reject as futile the Marxian outlook of many European social democrats. This placed him in the socialist revisionist camp.
Early political career
During the war, Gaitskell worked as a civil servant for the Ministry of Economic Warfare which gave him experience of government. He was elected Labour
Member of Parliament(MP) for Leeds South in the Labour landslide victory of 1945.
He quickly rose through the ministerial ranks, becoming Minister of Fuel and Power in 1947. He was then appointed briefly as
Minister of Economic Affairsin February 1950. His rapid rise was largely due to the influence of Hugh Daltonwho adopted him as a protégé.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1950-51
In October 1950,
Stafford Crippswas forced to resign as Chancellor of the Exchequerdue to failing health, and Gaitskell was appointed to succeed him. His time as Chancellor was dominated by the struggle to finance Britain's part in the Korean Warwhich put enormous strain on public finances. The cost of the war meant that savings had to be found from other budgets. Gaitskell's budget of 1951 introduced charges for prescriptions on the National Health Service.
The budget caused a split in the government and caused him to fall out with
Aneurin Bevanwho resigned over this issue. Bevan was later joined by Harold Wilsonand John Freeman who also resigned. Later that year, Labour lost power to the Conservatives in the 1951 election.
Leader of the Opposition, 1955-1963
He later defeated Bevan in the contest to be the party treasurer. After the retirement of
Clement Attleeas leader in December 1955, Gaitskell beat Bevan and the ageing Herbert Morrisonin the party leadership contest.
Gaitskell's election as leader coincided with one of the Labour Party's weakest periods, which can be partly attributed to the post-war prosperity that Britain was experiencing under the Conservatives. His time as leader was also characterised by factional infighting between the 'Bevanite' left of the Labour party led by
Aneurin Bevan, and the 'Gaitskellite' right.
Suez Crisisof 1956, in one of the highlights of his career as leader, Gaitskell passionately condemned the intervention initiated by the prime minister, Anthony Eden.
The Labour Party had been widely expected to win the 1959 general election, but did not. Gaitskell was undermined during it by public doubts concerning the credibility of proposals to raise pensions and by a highly effective Conservative campaign run by
Harold Macmillanunder the slogan "Life is better with the Conservatives, don't let Labour ruin it".
Following the election defeat, bitter internecine disputes resumed. Gaitskell blamed the Left for the defeat and attempted unsuccessfully to amend Labour's
Clause IV-- which committed the party to massive nationalisationof industry. He also, successfully, resisted attempts to commit Labour to a unilateralistposition on nuclear weapons– losing the vote in 1960 and then rousing his supporters to "fight, fight and fight again to save the party we love". The decision was reversed the following year, but it remained a divisive issue, and many in the left continued to call for a change of leadership. He was challenged unsuccessfully for the leadership in 1960 and again in 1961.
Battles inside the party produced the
Campaign for Democratic Socialismto defend the Gaitskellite position in the early 1960s. Many of the younger CDS members were founding members of the SDP in 1981. Gaitskell alienated some of his supporters by his opposition to British membership in the European Economic Community. In a speech to the party conference in October 1962 Gaitskell claimed that Britain's participation in a Federal Europewould mean "the end of Britain as an independent European state. I make no apology for repeating it. It means the end of a thousand years of history".
Death in 1963
He died in January 1963 aged 56, after a sudden attack of
Lupus erythematosus; a rare autoimmune disease. His death left an opening for Harold Wilsonin the party leadership. The abrupt and unexpected nature of his death led to speculation that foul play was involved, the most popular conspiracy theoryinvolving a KGBplot to ensure that Wilson (supposedly a KGB agent himself) became prime minister. This claim was given new life by Peter Wright's controversial 1987 book " Spycatcher", but the only evidence that has ever come to light is the testimony of Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn.Hugh Gaitskell is buried in the churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead Church, north London.
Because of his misfortune in never becoming prime minister, and the great capacity many considered that he had for the post, Hugh Gaitskell is remembered largely with respect from people both within, and outside of the Labour Party. Gaitskell is regarded by some as "the best Prime Minister we never had" [ [http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/public-affairs/press-releases/index.phtml?menu=pressreleasesarchive&code=CAB-175/04&create_date=06-dec-2004 Nottingham.ac.uk] ] . He is still regarded with affection even among Labour's left-wing, including
Tony Benn, who in particular contrasts his stand on the Suez Crisisto that of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, on the war in Iraq. Margaret Thatchercompared Blair with Gaitskell in a different manner, warning her party when Blair came to power that he was the most formidable Labour leader since Hugh Gaitskell.
Marriage and personal life
He was married to
Anna Dora Gaitskellfrom 1937, who became a Labour life peerone year after his death, but it is widely known that he had a number of affairs, even during his time in public life with the socialite Ann Fleming, the wife of James Bondcreator Ian Fleming[ [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_19960912/ai_n14067300 Hugh Gaitskell without the dancing?] The Independent] . His reputation would never have survived the media scrutiny of today.
In private, Hugh Gaitskell was said to be humorous and fun loving, with a love of
ballroom dancing. This contrasted with his stern public image.
'Hugh Gaitskell House' is the building
Nicholas Lyndhurst's character Garry Sparrow is looking for in Goodnight Sweetheartwhen he first stumbles into World War IILondon.
'Hugh Gaitskell Primary School' is situated in Beeston, part of his Leeds South constituency [ [http://www.hughgaitskell.leeds.sch.uk Hugh Gaitskell Primary School, Beeston, South Leeds] ] . [http://www.multimap.com/map/browse.cgi?client=public&X=428500&Y=430500&width=700&height=400&gride=428671&gridn=430688&srec=0&coordsys=gb&db=pc&addr1=&addr2=&addr3=&pc=LS118AB&advanced=&local=&localinfosel=&kw=&in
*Davies, A.J. "To Build a New Jerusalem" (1996) Abacus ISBN 0349 108099
* [http://www.labourhistory.org.uk/?p=20 labourhistory.org.uk] - Biography of Gaitskell.
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