How we met: Neil Kinnock and Barbara Castle

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The Independent Culture
Neil Kinnock MP, 51, was born in South Wales, the son of labourer and a nurse. Educated at Cardiff University, he became an MP in 1970 and was leader of the Labour Party from 1983 to 1992. He and his wife, Glenys, live in London and Wales. They have two children. Barbara Castle, 82, went to Bradford Girls' Grammar School and St Hugh's College, Oxford. A Labour cabinet minister, then a Euro-MP, she now sits in the House of Lords. Married for 35 years to Ted Castle, who died in 1979, she lives in the Chilterns. Her autobiography, Fighting All the Way, is out next week.

NEIL KINNOCK: My first sight of Barbara was when I was an 18-year-

old Socialist. It was at the Ebbw Vale by-election after Nye Bevan died, and she was one of the speakers there among the stars of the Labour movement. She was elegantly dressed with brilliant ginger-red hair. The only other woman I'd seen on the platform at that stage was Jennie Lee. But Bar- bara was truculent and assertive. I was struck by her fiery splendour.

It wasn't until 1970, just after I was elected, that we finally met. We found ourselves shuffling next to each other through the division lobby one warm summer night. I introduced myself and she said a few welcoming words. Then I raised the subject of her White Paper on the trade unions, In Place of Strife, which I'd battled against incessantly. Barbara immediately became assertive - passionate, even. I suppose you'd call it a spat, but I felt encouraged because she didn't just dismiss me.

We had a fair amount to do with each other over the Industrial Relations Bill. But it's in the last dozen or so years that we've formed a personal relationship. Barbara used to seek me out when I was leader of the Labour Party and tell me how things should be run: 'You've got to be bold, throw off those advisers,' she'd say. 'Strike out in a new direction, lift the rhetoric, lift the audience, go for inspiration]' When I went through rough patches as leader, she'd write me long letters, or she'd come through my door with the polemic in her hand, as it were. She was frustrated because I insisted on being disciplined and gradual. I've always found the way Barbara bristles very endearing. We can also blast away at each other and remain the best of friends. That doesn't mean she will ever concede defeat, though she'll sometimes make a patronisingly gracious withdrawal: 'Well, if that's what you think, dear,' then she'll sweep out of the room.

I'm not sure I could live with Barbara, admirable though she is. She's a liberator who engages in the charge, she wants to carry all before her - whereas the lady I'm very happy to live with likes to make bridgeheads. The two women get on very well, but Glenys sees advances on relatively narrow fronts as a form of progress, and Barbara wants to push everything back at once. In the Sixties, she was resented because she threw her weight around. It's absolutely no discredit to her that on the public platform she was sometimes a mill girl asking for the emancipation of her class and, at others, an almost serene cabinet minister.

Barbara is this wonderful grande dame who is still battling away in her eighties: she writes a book, she goes off to the House of Lords, she bustles, she shoves, she speaks, she addresses rallies. After one of her resounding speeches, the audience claps wildly and Barbara will rise shyly and just wave her hand a little. She knows I'm laughing, but I don't think she minds. Then she'll lean over to me and say: 'Oh, I could kill for a gin.'

Barbara likes to pay attention to her appearance, and there was one occasion at a party conference in Brighton when she'd fixed to have her hair done because she was going to appear on early morning television. I was walking down the corridor at the Ramada Hotel when Barbara popped out of her room in a state of great distress. I thought something really tragic had happened. It was some minutes before I realised that her hairdresser hadn't turned up. I went into our room next door, and said: 'Glenys, can you find a hairdresser?'

Within a short time one had been found. Later that day, I saw Barbara with immaculate hair, a model of sophistication - no sign that she'd been on the point of atomic detonation a few hours earlier. 'I'm sorry I had to call on you for help this morning, dear,' she said. 'Well, I was glad to do it,' I replied. 'Don't forget, anything you need, give us a shout - we're always anxious to help.' 'There won't be another occasion like that,' she said, and swept away.

BARBARA CASTLE: I first met Neil when he got into the House of Commons in 1970. I watched him at Labour Party conferences and then, when we were back in office in 1974, he used to sit on the back benches together with a little bunch of left- wing critics of the government. He always voted solidly with that bunch of critics, often against the Government, but there was no sourness about him. There was an amiability about his

rebelliousness, and he was a lively speaker. At one of the big Tribune rallies at the 1974 conference, he had the job of appealing for funds. I noted in my diary that I'd just listened to one of the funniest fund-raising speeches I'd ever heard. 'He's a find, that boy,' I thought.

I didn't really take him seriously until the argument in the Party over the election of deputy leader to Michael Foot at the 1981 conference. Tony Benn put his name forward, but Neil made it clear that though Tony Benn had an enormous following in the Party with his left-wing views, the Tribune group had ceased to trust him. Neil persuaded them to abstain on that vote, and that was an extremely brave thing to do because it made him desperately unpopular with the hard left. That was when I decided that underneath his witty exterior there was a heavyweight with guts.

I started to feel protective towards Neil when he became leader, because there were too many people waiting to stab him in the back. The hard left never forgave him for what happened with Tony Benn. And, of course, the conventional right-wing of the Party would have preferred a right-winger. As for the Tories, they behaved abominably to Neil from the word go.

What Neil went through would have broken my heart a thousand times, but I find him extraordinarily resilient. I used to have private little chats with him and tell him how

courageous he was. I've grown very fond of him, and as for Glenys - oh my God, what a fantastic woman.

Neil changed the Party in vital ways, recreating it in a more modern mood. He made us more electable - yet we lost. I believe he would have made a great prime minister.

I was in bed feeling absolutely ill with a high temperature when I heard that Neil had lost the 1992 election. I'd given a very poor speech in his constituency on the eve of the poll and I must have been looking rum because Neil sent me home the next morning in his car. The doctor put

me straight to bed. I woke up at 5.30 the next day and turned on the radio. The first thing I heard was that the Financial Times Share Index had risen 55 points. Then I knew. It was devastating and my heart ached for Neil.

Neil may be right when he says that he once helped me out with a hairdresser - I don't remember the details. But if you're a woman in the public eye, getting your hair nice is a constant preoccupation. I've never had my hair permed, it's naturally wavy. But then of course it can wave in the wrong direction and stick out all over. It's at the Blackpool conferences that I've had the biggest worry. I'd go and have my hair done, emerge from the hotel, walk a few yards and my hair would be all whipped up by the sea breezes. It would be typical of Neil to find me a hairdresser - he's a very human person.

In some ways, he was a worry to his campaign managers because of this itch always to be human. But they lost some of his humorous, inventive, idealistic qualities because they tried to make him too serious and respectable. I wrote him a letter in the middle of the campaign, but I didn't send it. I said to myself: 'Barbara, you can't go smashing the poor lad's morale.' It's ridiculous the way he was mocked; it made me so angry. What they used against him most was his lack of ministerial experience, but of course very few Labour politicians have had such experience - except old has-beens like me. I know he'd have got over that. Having won, he'd have broken free from the men breathing self-doubt down his neck.

He accepted the election result with great dignity, saying:: 'Well, of course I resign.' I think this country has thrown away one of the prime ministers who would have stood out in our history.-

(Photograph omitted)

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