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Obituary-The Economist-Denis Healey  

2015-10-10 00:11:36|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Obituary: Denis Healey
A fighting life
Lord Healey, a giant of the Labour Party, died on October 3rd, aged 98
Obituary - The Economist - Denis Healey - 坚尼仔 - 人在风中
WHEREVER he went, Denis Healey took photographs. From a Brownie box camera, which ignited the boyhood passion, he soared up to an Olympus, snapping all the way. More than 42,000 photographs and slides eventually filled his house in Sussex. At summits, banquets and college dinners what other guests saw of him was mostly a toothy grin beneath a large flashing lens, and over it those extraordinary eyebrows, God’s gift to cartoonists, twitching up and down.

A photographer places himself at a certain distance from events; so did he. Though caught up for 40 years in the whirl of British politics, and especially Labour’s sempiternal internecine struggles, he attracted no clique or claque around him, and did not try to. He said he went to the Members’ Tea Room in the House of Commons, the Labour Party’s den of plots, only when he actually wanted a cup of tea. Though heartily gregarious, he was politically a loner who beat his own path.

He often did so bruisingly. At east London by-elections in the 1960s he twice floored fascist hecklers with his fists. Colleagues were summed up unsparingly. Roy Jenkins had “the sleek pomposity of Mr Podsnap”; to be attacked by Geoffrey Howe was like “being savaged by a dead sheep”; Margaret Thatcher was “Rhoda the Rhino”, and her love for Milton Friedman’s economic policies “sado-monetarism”. Vast reading and a double first in Mods and Greats (classics and philosophy) from Oxford gave him an inexhaustible supply of allegory and metaphor on which to draw.

In 1976 he came very close to being prime minister, but was beaten by Jim Callaghan. In 1980 he almost became leader of the Labour Party, only to be bested by Michael Foot. He would not have minded being prime minister; but his dream job was foreign secretary, where he could do most to prevent another war like the one he had coolly fought in. He had credentials: as a student he had cycled through Nazi Germany, and from 1946 he was Labour’s international secretary, helping to rebuild Europe’s battered socialist parties. Yet he was never foreign secretary either. In 1979 he was given the shadow job, sheer frustration. It was, as Coleridge wrote, “unmeaning as moonlight on the dial of the day.”

The two posts he held in government were secretary of defence and chancellor of the exchequer. He loved the first, all globe-trotting and congenial top brass, even though he had to withdraw from east of Suez and chop ?400m out of the arms budget. The chancellorship was something else. Knowing nothing of “absurd” economics, he had to sort out a country with soaring inflation, a massive balance-of-payments deficit and no growth; in 1976 the markets began to abandon sterling, which had to be rescued with a loan of ?1.9 billion from the IMF. Freedom from its grip (“Sod off Day”, he called it) took a year to achieve, and only at the cost of enraging the unions with curbs on wage rises. Their resentment roiled Labour for a decade.

A knight against pomposity
His relations with the hard left had never been sweet. He detested those “Toytown Trots”, and as early as 1959 had warned the Labour Party not to “teach Socialist Sunday school” but to engage with the problems of the average worker—like the man in his constituency of Leeds South East, who brought him a jar of slugs to demonstrate how damp his kitchen was. (Such episodes easily moved him to tears.) In the shadow cabinet he strenuously opposed nationalisation for the sake of it, or kneejerk opposition to NATO and the Americans. He did not mind milking the rich, gleefully anticipating the “howls of anguish”—but only in order to make their taxes proportionate to those on the poor. In 1981, “by an eyebrow”, he defeated the left-wing Tony Benn for the deputy leadership of the party. He thereby saved it to govern another day—only to live long enough to see it fall again to leftist Sirens in 2015.

Immersed in all this, he was also detached from it. Relishing politics, he did not take it too seriously. He happily appeared with TV comedians, plunked on pianos at election time and was made a Knight of the Order Against Pomposity. And he had a hinterland, as he put it. Family—three children and Edna, his staunchly supportive wife—was his first delight. After that came poetry, painting, music and his camera. He slipped away from an IMF meeting in Washington to hear a Ravel opera, played truant from a summit at Rambouillet to catch the scenery, and even nipped off to the Edinburgh Festival as sterling crashed.

For him, art of all kinds came closest to explaining the human predicament. He learned more from a novel by Virginia Woolf, or a poem by Yeats, than from any political treatise. As one who wrestled inconclusively with the biggest issues of the day—whether nuclear weapons really deterred, whether the EU and its antecedents were really good for Britain—he loved, too, the way that a painting by Cotman or a sonata by Beethoven could make many disparate elements into one architecture of beauty. If only politics could do the same.

He was asked in old age what advice he would give to students of politics. His answer was one word: “Live.” Eat, drink, fight, love, work, travel—and take photographs. For as he ended his autobiography, in Blake’s words, “He who kisses the joy as it flies/ Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”
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