- Tony Crosland by Susan Crosland
Cape, 448 pp, £10.95, June 1982, ISBN 0 224 01787 X
I first met Tony Crosland 25 years ago, at a seminar at Nuffield College. I took an instant dislike to him. I was then a rather priggish Bevanite, and I was shocked by his politics. I was even more shocked by his manner. He seemed to typify what I most disliked about the Southern English mandarinate. He had a cut-glass accent. He was insufferably sure of himself. He was appallingly and gratuitously rude. Then I read The Future of Socialism. Slowly, reluctantly, and with many backward glances, I was converted. Capitalism, it seemed, had changed, after all. Public ownership was not essential to socialism. It was merely a means to an end, and not a very important means. What mattered was equality, and equality could be achieved in other ways. Bevan dropped out of my pantheon, and Gaitskell took his place. Crosland did not join the pantheon, exactly, but he became a sort of candidate member. The next time I met him, the qualities which had previously shocked me seemed forgivable, perhaps even endearing. Very well, he had a cut-glass accent. Who can help his upbringing? Very well, he was sure of himself. If the author of The Future of Socialism did not have a right to self-assurance, who did? Very well, he was rude. That was a sign of a fundamental seriousness and egalitarianism.
Vol. 4 No. 16 · 2 September 1982
SIR: David Marquand (LRB, 1 July) agonises about Tony Crosland’s insistence that becoming Labour’s housing minister was immensely more important than joining Roy Jenkins’s ideological crusade for the EEC. He calls it a ‘personal and political tragedy’ and a ‘biographical puzzle’. Such an analysis is wholly misguided. The incident marked as much of a milestone in Tony Crosland’s political maturity as the hysterical reaction to it by Marquand and his friends was a measure of their own political immaturity.
I would not have written, however, had I not been riled by Marquand’s patronising attitude towards Susan Crosland. ‘I have the uneasy feeling that she would not understand the question’ – of the importance of supporting EEC membership v. being housing minister – ‘if it were put to her.’ Chapter after chapter of the book is eloquent testimony, not only of how well she understood the question, but of her conviction that Tony was right in shifting to the left and rejecting incipient Social Democracy. As an American, she understood that the guts of democracy is about listening to people rather than fawning after powerful patrons; her genuine love of Grimsby, her conversations with Dennis Skinner, her sheer amazed horror at the antics of the Jenkinsites – all bear witness to her intuitive understanding of the two options available to her husband and her certainty that he took the right one.
The final verdict on Tony Crosland’s political odyssey (and simultaneously on that of his reviewer on this occasion) was passed by the people. When both left Parliament together in 1977, the one through a tragic death and the other to a functionary’s post in Brussels, at a particularly difficult moment for the Labour Government, the electors of the comparatively marginal Grimsby returned a Labour MP, and those of the utterly safe Labour mining constituency of Ashfield, a Conservative one. I prefer the verdict of the electors of Grimsby to that of an ex-Labour, now Social Democratic, political academic, attempting to rewrite the history of a great man – a man who, but for his death, would have been leader of the Labour opposition today and a future Labour prime minister.
House of Commons