Roy Hattersley


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(b. Sheffield, 28 Dec. 1932)

British; deputy leader of the Labour Party 1983–92; Baron (life peer) 1997 Roy Hattersley was born into a Labour political family—his mother was a major political figure in Sheffield and Lord Mayor in 1981. He was educated at Sheffield Grammar School and Hull University, a scholarship boy from a working-class home which expected him to do well. He had turned 40 before he learnt that his father was a lapsed Roman Catholic priest. After university he also became active in local Sheffield politics. In 1964 he won the safe parliamentary seat of Sparkbrook in the centre of Birmingham. The constituency had a large Asian membership and Hattersley was always interested in race and immigration issues. In these years he was on the right of the party and a supporter of Roy Jenkins.

In 1972 Harold Wilson appointed him as shadow Education Secretary, to replace Roy Jenkins, who had resigned over the party's decision to call for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Community. Hattersley believed in greater equality, opposed private education, and was a strong advocate of comprehensive education (or the ending of selection on academic grounds), beliefs which he clung to all his life. He was too radical a figure for Harold Wilson who passed him over when a new Labour government was formed in 1974

Promotion to the Cabinet came in September 1976 when the new Prime Minister, James Callaghan, made him responsible for prices and consumer affairs. This was an important post because the Labour government depended on the co-operation of the trade unions for the success of its anti-inflation policy. Hattersley could not have realized that Labour's defeat in the 1979 election meant that his ministerial career was finished, at the age of 46. Between 1979 and 1983 the left were rampant in the Labour Party, now in opposition. He was a beleaguered figure as many of his political friends left to join the new Social Democratic Party (SDP) and he had little time for the new Labour leader Michael Foot or Labour's policies of unilateral defence, withdrawal from the EC, and more public ownership. Hattersley agreed with virtually all the policies of the SDP, but did not consider that sufficient reason to leave Labour. Almost inevitably, he was criticized as an opportunist.

In 1983 he stood for the leadership, was easily defeated by Neil Kinnock, but elected to the post of deputy leader which he held until 1992. Between 1983 and 1987 he was the party's shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, a post in which he did not make a mark. In the 1987 parliament he moved to be the shadow Home Secretary, a post more to his liking. By now he was the senior figure in the shadow Cabinet. He was not close to Kinnock and there was a certain wariness in their relations. But the two worked to get the party to drop a number of its left-wing policies and helped to bring Labour back into the mainstream. Some reformers in the party were disappointed that Hattersley did not embrace more enthusiastically the cause of constitutional and, particularly, electoral reform. After the party's fourth successive election defeat in 1992 he decided to stand down from the deputy leadership and become a backbencher again. Under the leadership of Tony Blair, Labour moved further to the middle ground, provoking criticism from Hattersley that it was ceasing to present itself as the party of redistribution and equality. He continued his criticism of Blair's policies after standing down as an MP in 1997 and becoming a member of the House of Lords.


Subjects: Politics.

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