In the days before blogging, we bloggers had to fulfil our blogging urges somehow. That’s why in spring 1994, with GCSEs looming that summer, I was a keen writer for my school newspaper.
Desperate to report more than school fairs where a splendid time was inevitably had by all, I decided to interview some local people. Vera Ransome (the English teacher who presided over the school rag: where is she now?) suggested Denis Healey and so, as you did in those days before the internet was unbiquitous, I wrote a letter to the House of Lords. Healey called me the next day and set up an interview on the following Saturday. I spent a good hour or so talking to the great man. I have the tape of the conversation somewhere, I imagine.
So when I heard Desert Island Discs at the weekend, my memories of meeting Lord Healey 15 years ago were reawakened. The warmth, humour and humanity I remembered well, and for which he is famous, shone through despite his 91 years. And what a remarkable life he’s had. By the time he was my age (he is 60 years older than me) he’d taken a double first from Balliol, travelled Europe by bike, lived through the second world war, fought in Italy and played a part in Labour’s great landslide of 1945. I felt rather small as I compared my own life so far to his.
And it was his comment about why he went into politics that really brought my memories back. He was driven by his desire to prevent wars. He made the same comment back then and it inspired me to look closer at politics, specifically the Labour party. I started with his own memoirs and then it was biographies of Wilson, Bevan, Attlee, Callaghan, Castle, Jenkins (to name a few) and the diaries by Crossman and Benn. All through my A-levels and indeed my degree, I would always try and drag my interest in the Labour movement into my studies. The Attlee governments 1945-51 are one of my chosen specialised subjects.
That’s my personal debt to Denis Healey. As a kid growing up in the eighties, being anti-tory was my obvious default but he introduced me to Labour and I’ve been a supporter of the party ever since.