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Off with her head

John Lloyd, 24 November 1988

Office without Power: Diaries 1968-72 
by Tony Benn.
Hutchinson, 562 pp., £16.95, October 1988, 0 09 173647 1
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... is not hard to guess what this hard-boiled gathering – Bob Mellish, Denis Healey, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Roy Jenkins, Jim Callaghan among them – made of that. Fifteen years later, Benn showed me his father’s election handbill and made the same point – one he must have made to hundreds of others. Where Thatcher rose up the English class ...

Enfield was nothing

P.N. Furbank: Norman Lewis, 18 December 2003

The Tomb in Seville 
by Norman Lewis.
Cape, 150 pp., £14.99, November 2003, 0 224 07120 3
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... he wanted one of ‘British woman’, one asks oneself, whom would he have chosen as his model: Barbara Cartland, Edith Evans or Barbara Castle? His remark that ‘to a Vietnamese all Europeans looked exactly the same’ demands much probing.) But a great strength of his writing, here as elsewhere, is ...


Robert Morley, 7 July 1983

Downing Street in Perspective 
by Marcia Falkender.
Weidenfeld, 280 pp., £10.95, May 1983, 0 297 78107 3
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... to a very senior position in the Department of Health and Social Security. Marcia greatly admires Barbara Castle, perhaps at one time Labour’s answer to Mrs Thatcher, although her quarrels with Jim Callaghan led to his sacking her from the Cabinet when he took over the reins. As Harold often joked, women seldom make it to the top jobs. The Home Office ...

Michael Foot’s Fathers

D.A.N. Jones, 4 December 1980

My Life with Nye 
by Jennie Lee.
Cape, 277 pp., £8.50, November 1980, 0 224 01785 3
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Debts of Honour 
by Michael Foot.
Davis-Poynter, 240 pp., £9.50, November 1980, 0 7067 6243 6
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... with Nye and in Foot’s life of Bevan. This sort of statesman needs and appreciates philosophers. Barbara Castle, gleefully broadcasting about Foot’s recent assumption of Labour Party leadership, announced: ‘Michael will be setting his decisions within a philosophic context – which appeals to the soul of the Labour Party.’ It was almost the same ...

‘Wisely I decided to say nothing’

Ross McKibbin: Jack Straw, 22 November 2012

Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a Political Survivor 
by Jack Straw.
Macmillan, 582 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 4472 2275 0
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... the Trots; political networking; president of the National Union of Students; political adviser to Barbara Castle and then Peter Shore (there are shrewd portraits of both); local government (he was elected to the old Inner London Education Authority and became its deputy leader); Labour candidate, first in a hopeless seat, then the safe Labour seat of ...

Spookery, Skulduggery

David Runciman: Chris Mullin, 4 April 2019

The Friends of Harry Perkins 
by Chris Mullin.
Scribner, 185 pp., £12, March 2019, 978 1 4711 8248 8
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... recognisable as an amalgam of the passing generation of Labour heavyweights, from Benn himself to Barbara Castle and bruisers like Denis Healey and Eric Heffer. Its atmosphere derived from the lurid tales of spookery and skulduggery that emerged in the dying days of Harold Wilson’s premiership, when the longstanding suspicion that Wilson was a KGB ...

Late Developer

Paul Foot, 22 February 1990

Against the Tide: Diaries 1973-1976 
by Tony Benn.
Hutchinson, 512 pp., £20, October 1989, 0 09 173775 3
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... left adds enormously to the value of Tony Benn’s Diaries. His contemporaries Dick Grossman and Barbara Castle have also published diaries. Others have written autobiographies. All are full of evidence of the impotence of office. Even Denis Healey in his recent popular autobiography admits that the notorious ‘IMF cuts’ in 1976 were probably based ...

Up the Garden Path

R.W. Johnson: Michael Foot, 26 April 2007

Michael Foot: A Life 
by Kenneth O. Morgan.
Harper, 568 pp., £25, March 2007, 978 0 00 717826 1
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... Foot’s marriage to Jill Craigie. Although Craigie wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea – not Barbara Castle’s, for a start – she was clearly a wonderful partner for Foot, but Morgan can’t stop there: ‘The Labour Party cherishes its great partnerships – Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Douglas and Margaret Cole, the Callaghans, the Kinnocks, the ...

Upside Down, Inside Out

Colin Kidd: The 1975 Referendum, 25 October 2018

Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain 
by Robert Saunders.
Cambridge, 509 pp., £24.99, March 2018, 978 1 108 42535 3
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... club. For E.P. Thompson, it was ‘a group of fat, rich nations feeding each other goodies’. Barbara Castle, Michael Foot and Tony Benn led a powerful Labour campaign against the Common Market, in itself a pejorative term on the left. But Roy Jenkins and others on Labour’s centre-right emphasised reconciliation with former enemies, highlighting in ...

You’re only interested in Hitler, not me

Susan Pedersen: Shirley Williams, 19 December 2013

Shirley Williams: The Biography 
by Mark Peel.
Biteback, 461 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 1 84954 604 1
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... was frustrated by her tendency to get mired in detail. Contrast this with the record of Barbara Castle, Labour’s top woman at a string of second-rank ministries a few years earlier. Like Williams, Castle never held the great offices of state, but she wrung headlines and achievements from the most thankless ...

Digging up the Ancestors

R.W. Johnson, 14 November 1996

Hugh Gaitskell 
by Brian Brivati.
Cohen, 492 pp., £25, September 1996, 1 86066 073 8
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... the first ballot, Morrison trailing dismally in third place. Bevanites like Wilson, Crossman and Barbara Castle were livid, for there could be little pretence but that power-mongering was at the root of Bevan’s politics. Although he made his peace with Gaitskell, a sort of Bevanism lived on in the Victory for Socialism and Tribune groups and in a ...

Tony and Caroline

Ben Pimlott, 26 November 1987

Out of the Wilderness: Diaries 1963-67 
by Tony Benn.
Hutchinson, 592 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 09 170660 2
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... the late Eighties who do not fill the odd moment between division bells or Cabinets (if not, like Barbara Castle, actually at them) writing up a currilous version of events in order to give themselves financial or other forms of pleasure in their old age. Not only is there a good market for diaries among the book-buying and Sunday-newspaper-reading ...

Off-Screen Drama

Richard Mayne, 5 March 1981

European Elections and British Politics 
by David Butler.
Longman, 208 pp., £9.95, February 1981, 0 582 29528 9
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Political Change in Europe: The Left and the Future of the Atlantic Alliance 
edited by Douglas Eden.
Blackwell, 163 pp., £8.95, January 1981, 0 631 12525 6
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... voting on the same side as the Italian Communists. And Labour Members of the Parliament like Mrs Barbara Castle, pledged to oppose any extension of its power, have found themselves extending its influence. Europe’s constitutional battles can make nonsense of national party lines. So it’s an engrossing story, with possible portents for Europe’s ...

Tam, Dick and Harold

Ian Aitken, 26 October 1989

Dick Crossman: A Portrait 
by Tam Dalyell.
Weidenfeld, 253 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 297 79670 4
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... be used in evidence against them by no fewer than three intending diarists. There they sat, Dick, Barbara and Tony, scribbling away while the nation’s fate was being decided. No wonder there was resentment among the less literary members of the Cabinet. They didn’t think it was fair. It is also a misfortune that all three of those diarists were broadly ...

Associated Prigs

R.W. Johnson: Eleanor Rathbone, 8 July 2004

Eleanor Rathbone and the Politics of Conscience 
by Susan Pedersen.
Yale, 469 pp., £25, March 2004, 0 300 10245 3
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... Yet she was a far greater figure than Ellen Wilkinson, Nancy Astor, Margaret Bondfield or Barbara Castle. Her neglect shows how important it is to have members of your party or faction evoking your name as part of their tradition. Perhaps the greatest recent example of what this can do for popular memory is Aneurin Bevan, whose myth reflected ...

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