Charles Morris: Well-liked and highly regarded politician who served as PPS to Harold Wilson

 

As Opposition Leader and Prime Minister, Harold Wilson was careful about the choice of his Parliamentary Private Secretary. He displayed shrewd judgement, and it was never shrewder than the choice of Charlie Morris in the crucial years from 1970-74. Morris was immensely well-liked across the spectrum of a fractious Parliamentary Labour Party. And he was a reflective colleague, with good judgement about issues and people. He had an unerring "feel" for the Labour movement.

In my informed, close-up, first-hand opinion Morris contributed significantly to Labour's victory (unexpected, even by Wilson) in February 1974. He counselled Wilson against certain precipitate actions, particularly in regard to relations with Jim Callaghan, his Home Secretary, which would have opened up fault-lines in the Labour Party and led to victory for Edward Heath.

"Getting to" a party leader can often be difficult. Unlike many people who say they will tell the boss and then fail to do anything of the kind, Morris did. If he thought a point was trivial or unreasonable he would say, "I'm not going to bother Harold with that." He was the best kind of ministerial gatekeeper and he did speak truth unto power.

In the first week after I was elected in 1962 I was mystified when the MP for Gateshead, Harry Randall, who had been Organising Secretary of the Union of Postal Workers, came into the Commons post office to collect his mail and greeted another elderly colleague warmly, saying, "Good morning to you, Post Office." Soon I discovered that this elderly colleague was "Post Office Williams", William Richard Williams, MP for Manchester Openshaw.

Alas, within a year, "Post Office" died, causing a by-election. It was accepted that the UPW thought Openshaw was their seat, and Charles Morris was chosen. He had impeccable credentials: Mancunian through and through, a member of Manchester Corporation since 1954 and Labour candidate for Cheadle in 1959 when, though he came third, he fought a courageous campaign.

I remember asking two very different brothers, Sir Leslie Lever, flamboyant Lord Mayor of Manchester at the time of the Munich air crash and MP for Ardwick, and Harold Lever, the MP for Cheetham who made millions in the City and bankrolled the Labour Party, whether as a recent by-election winner I had a duty, as was the custom, to canvass in Openshaw. Their answer was identical: Don't waste your bloody time: Morris is a really good guy with a great wife; they are tailor-made for Openshaw. Morris romped home.

Alf Morris, now Lord Morris of Manchester, told me, "Charles and I and six siblings were brought up in the slums of Manchester." Their father, disabled through being gassed in Flanders, became a poorly paid signwriter who died aged 44. Little wonder that Charles was concerned about poverty and disadvantaged children. But I never heard him harp on about deprivation in his childhood. As his daughter Estelle, Baroness Morris of Yardley, put it to me, "My dad was always more concerned about where one is going rather than where one has come from. He taught us that opportunities were always there to be seized." Her judgement chimed with that of parliamentary colleagues.

A single speech can establish a new MP's reputation. I recall how impressed the PLP was by Morris's first major contribution, in a February 1964 debate on the vexed subject of Household Delivery Services, in which he annihilated the Postmaster General Reggie Bevins: "Not since the time of Postmaster-General Herbert Samuel and the Liberal administration of 1911 has there been such a disputatious atmosphere in the Post Office as that which exists at present ... Why are the postmen concerned about the introduction of this service? Having worked with so many of them for so long, I know that they have a pride of craft in the service ... When one is wearing the Queen's uniform and going about with crowns on ones lapels one does not want to be reduced to the status of pamphlet peddler."

With Labour's election in 1964 Morris was invited to become PPS to the Postmaster-General Tony Benn, who told me that "There was significant opposition in the senior echelons of the Post Office to my using a union official. But such an attitude was the opposite of what I wanted to do – to foster close relations with the UPW." Benn developed a high regard for Morris's balanced approach, which came to be shared by the Post Office management.

Morris had a long spell in the Whips' Office, ending up in 1969-70 as deputy to Bob Mellish. He was talkable-to, a valued quality in a Whip, especially at a time when Barbara Castle was driving half the PLP to despair with her zeal for industrial relations laws and her White Paper In Place of Strife. The verbally explosive Mellish recognised the value of a No 2 "who unlike me is quiet and reasonable and civilised with dissenters." What angered Morris was not awkward opinions but colleagues whose behaviour in any way brought the Labour Party, to which he was intensely loyal, into disrepute.

After a short spell as Environment Minister, Morris spent 1974-79 as Minister for the Civil Service, a round peg in a round hole who won the respect and liking of the mandarins. His last major contribution was on the contentious Telecommunications Bill. On 29 November 1982 he told the Commons that his concern was the Bill's impact on jobs in British Telecom's equipment manufacturing industries. "Successive governments have rightly put constraints on BT in relation to where it can purchase services and equipment. Most of the 70,000 jobs in BT's equipment industries depend on BT's orders. A fit home market is vital for export success. However, the privatisation of BT will inevitably mean a move to a worldwide sourcing system as pressure to maximise profits increases. For evidence of that we need only to look at what happened after the so-called liberalisation of telephone equipment supply under the British Telecommunications Act of 1981. Only two of the 96 telephone handsets from other BT sources which were submitted for approval were made in Britain. The Bill will encourage that."

In 1983 the Openshaw constituency numerically shrank as a result of a slum clearance and was divided into three, with the result that Morris did not stand. Albeit no longer in Parliament, Charles and Pauline – they came as a package – occupied themselves with Party responsibilities and good causes.

Tam Dalyell

Charles Richard Morris, politician: born Manchester 14 December 1926; MP, Manchester Openshaw 1963-83; Whips' Office 1966-70; PPS to Harold Wilson 1970-74; Minister of State, Civil Service Department 1974-79; married 1950 Pauline Dunn (two daughters); died Manchester 8 January 2012.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution