Barbara Castle

Barbara Castle

honorific-prefix = The Right Honourable
name = Barbara Castle
honorific-suffix = The Baroness Castle of Blackburn, PC, GCOT

imagesize = 200px
office = Secretary of State for Social Services
term_start = 5 March, 1974
term_end = 8 April, 1976
primeminister = Harold Wilson
predecessor = Keith Joseph
successor = David Ennals
office2 = First Secretary of State
term_start2 = 6 April 1968
term_end2 = 19 June 1970
predecessor2 = Michael Stewart
successor2 = Michael Heseltine
office3 = Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity
term_start3 = 6 April 1968
term_end3 = 19 June 1970
predecessor3 = Ray Gunter
successor3 = Robert Carr
office4 = Minister of Transport
term_start4 = 23 December 1965
term_end4 = 6 April 1968
predecessor4 = Thomas Fraser
successor4 = Richard Marsh
office5 = Minister of Overseas Development
term_start5 = 18 October 1964
term_end5 = 23 December 1965
predecessor5 = Office Created
successor5 = Anthony Greenwood
birth_date = birth date|1910|10|06|df=yes
birth_place = Chesterfield, Derbyshire, UK
death_date = Death date and age|2002|05|03|1910|10|06|df=yes
death_place = Buckinghamshire, UK
party = Labour

Barbara Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn PC (6 October 1910 – 3 May 2002) was a British left-wing politician, born Barbara Anne Betts in Chesterfield, Derbyshire (and brought up in Pontefract and Bradford, Yorkshire), who adopted her family's politics, joining the Labour Party. Elected to Parliament in 1945, she rose to become one of the most important Labour party politicians of the twentieth century.

Early life

Castle, the third of three children, was born in Chesterfield to Frank Betts and Annie Rebecca.

Castle was introduced to socialist politics and beliefs from a young age, William Morris playing a profound role in her intellectual development. She grew up in a politically active family home where there was "always someone sleeping on the sofa". Her older sister Marjorie later became a pioneer of the Inner London Education Authority, while her brother Jimmie engaged in field work with Oxfam in Nigeria.

Frank Betts was a tax inspector, avoiding military service in World War One due to his high rank in a valued occupation. It was because of the nature of the tax collecting profession, and the different promotions he received that the family moved around the country on different occasions. Having moved to Bradford in 1922, the Castle family swiftly became involved in the city's activity with the Independent Labour Party, though her father was prohibited from formal political activity because of his role as a civil servant, he became editor of the "Bradford Pioneer", the city's socialist newspaper, after William Leech was elected to Parliament in the 1933 general election. [cite news | author = Anne Perkins | url =,,709885,00.html | title = Baroness Castle of Blackburn | date = 2002-05-04 | publisher = The Guardian | accessdate = 2007-09-17 ] [cite web | url= | title=Tribute to Barbara Castle]

Castle's mother, Annie Betts ran the family home, also partaking in the operation of a soup-kitchen for the town's miners. After Barbara had left home Annie stood for elections, and served as a Labour councillor, a role which she kept quite secret from even her close family.



Displaying an interest in education from an early age, Castle started school a year early, attending Love Lane Elementary School, later going to Pontefract and District Girls High School. Disliking the atmosphere there, Barbara was unimpressed by the archaic ethos under which girls were not expected to perform well academically, the school only accepting that women might attend university in the last years of Barbara's time there.

After moving to Bradford at the age of twelve she then attended the local Girls Grammar School. Engaging in dramatics at the school, it was there that she first developed oratory skills. Excelling academically at the school, she became an A grade student, winning numerous awards for performance from the school. Organising mock elections at the school, in which she stood as the Labour candidate, there were some elements of the school which she did not like, notably her perception that many of the girls were from rich families, despite this, in her last years at the school she was appointed Head Girl.


Educated at St. Hugh's College, Oxford from which she graduated as BA with a third in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Castle began serious political activity at Oxford, serving as the Treasurer of the Oxford University Labour Club, the highest position a woman could hold in the club at the time. Finding her time at university difficult in many respects, she struggled to accept the atmosphere of an institution which had only recently begun to challenge sexist attitudes. Scornful of the elitist nature of some elements of the institution, she branded the Oxford Union as being "that cadet class of the establishment".

She was elected to St. Pancras Borough Council in 1937, and in 1943 she spoke at the annual Labour Party Conference for the first time. She was a senior administrative officer at the Ministry of Food and an ARP warden during the Blitz.

Member of Parliament

Following her marriage to Ted Castle (1907-1976) in 1944, Barbara became a journalist on the "Daily Mirror", which by this time had become strongly pro-Labour. In the 1945 general election, which Labour won in a landslide, she became MP for Blackburn, Lancashire.

The fiery redhead soon achieved a reputation as a left-winger and a rousing speaker. During the 1950s she was a high-profile Bevanite and made a name for herself as a vocal advocate of decolonisation and the Anti-Apartheid Movement.


In the Wilson government of 1964–1970, she held a succession of ministerial posts. She entered the Cabinet as the first Minister for Overseas Development, in so doing becoming only the fourth woman in British history ever to hold position in a Cabinet.

As Minister of Transport (23 December 1965–6 April 1968), she introduced the breathalyser to combat the recently acknowledged crisis of drink-driving, and presided over the closure of approximately 2050 miles of railways as she enacted her part of the Beeching cuts. She refused closure of several lines, one example being the Looe Valley Line in Cornwall, and introduced the first Government subsidies for socially necessary but unprofitable railways in the Transport Act 1968. One of her most memorable achievements as Transport minister was to pass legislation decreeing that all cars had to be fitted with seat-belts. Despite being appointed to the Ministry of Transport, a role which she was originally unenthusiastic about, Castle could not actually drive herself, and was chauffeured to functions, the Labour politician Hazel Blears driving her at one time as a young Labour party activist in the 1980s. [ [ Hazel Blears’ memories of Barbara Castle] , The Labour History Group, 20 June 2007.]

As Secretary of State for Employment, she was also appointed First Secretary of State by Wilson, bringing her firmly into the heart of government. She was never far from controversy which reached a fever pitch when the trade unions rebelled against her proposals to reduce their powers in her 1969 white paper, 'In Place of Strife' This also involved a major cabinet split, with threatened resignations, hot tempers and her future nemesis James Callaghan breaking ranks to publicly try to undermine the bill. The whole episode alienated her from many of her friends on the left, with Tribune railing very hard against the bill, which they held to be attacking the workers without attacking the bosses. The split is often said to be partly responsible for Labour's defeat at the 1970 general election. The eventual deal with the unions dropped most of the contentious clauses, leaving not much to show.

In 1974, after Harold Wilson's defeat of Edward Heath, Castle became Secretary of State for Health and Social Services. In the 1975 referendum debate she took a Eurosceptic stance. During a debate with Liberal-leader Jeremy Thorpe he asked her whether, if the vote would be yes, she would stay on as a minister. To this she replied "If the vote is yes my country will need me more than ever." Despite her views she later became a Member of the European Parliament (1979–1989).

Castle lost her place as a minister, along with most other women in the cabinet, after clashing with the new prime minister, James Callaghan, who took over from Wilson in 1976. In an interview many years later, discussing her removal from office by James Callaghan, she claimed that the Prime Minister had told her he wanted "somebody younger" in the Cabinet, to which she famously remarked that perhaps the most restrained thing she had ever achieved in her life was to not reply with "then why not start with yourself, Jim?"

Until her record was broken in 2007 by Gwyneth Dunwoody, Barabara Castle held the record as the woman MP with the longest continuous service.

European Parliament

Despite her Euro sceptic stance, after leaving Westminster at the 1979 general election, she later stood, and was elected to, the European Parliament, writing in the "Tribune" that "politics is not just about policies: it is about fighting for them in every available forum and at every opportunity".

Representing Greater Manchester North from 1979 - 1984, she was then elected for another five years following this, representing Greater Manchester West from 1984 - 1989, she became, at that time, the only British MEP to have held a cabinet position.

In the European Parliament Castle led Labour's delegation, serving as vice-chair of the Socialist Group and as a member of the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development and also the Delegation for relations with Malta.

Honours and awards

Barbara Castle was the recipient of "The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Silver" - a South African award to foreign nationals for friendship with that country. In an statement the South African government recognised Castle's "outstanding contribution to the struggle against apartheid and the establishment of a non-sexist, non-racial and democratic South Africa." [] . This can be seen throughout Castle's career with her active support for the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) in Britain from the very start of its existence and her continued interest and devotion to colonial issues within Parliament. []

Castle also received a Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, for services to European democracy. [ ]

In 2008, Barbara Castle was named by "The Guardian" as one of four of 'Labour's greatest heroes'. [,]


"The Castle Diaries" were published after the 1979 General Election, and chronicled her time in office from 1964-1976 and provide an insight into the workings of Cabinet Government. A review in the "London Review of Books" at the time of their publication claimed, "Barbara Castle's diary shows more about the nature of Cabinet Government than any previous is, I think, better than Crossman", a reference to the published diaries of former Cabinet Minister Richard Crossman. However, when Enoch Powell reviewed her diaries he remarked that the "overpowering impression left on the reader's mind by her diary is that of triviality: the largest decisions and the profoundest issues are effortlessly trivialised". ["The shallow diaries of a cabinet lady", "Now!", September 26, 1980.]

Life peer and death

In 1974, Ted Castle was made a life peer [ [ Ted Castle] ] . This meant that Barbara was now formally Lady Castle, but she refused to use this courtesy title. Ted Castle died in 1976. In 1990, she was made a life peer in her own right, as Baroness Castle of Blackburn, of Ibstone in the County of Buckinghamshire. She remained active in politics right up until her death, attacking the former Chancellor, Gordon Brown for his refusal to link pensions to earnings at the Labour party conference in 2001.

Barbara Castle's autobiography, "Fighting All The Way" (ISBN 0-330-32886-7), was published in 1993.

A biography by Lisa Martineau, "Barbara Castle: Politics and Power [] " (EAN 0233994807), was published in 2000 and "Red Queen: The Authorised Biography of Barbara Castle" by Anne Perkins (ISBN-10 0333905113) in 2003.


Greater Manchester West (European Parliament constituency)

See also

* List of Members of the European Parliament for the United Kingdom 1979–1984
* List of Members of the European Parliament for the United Kingdom 1984–1989

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