Lee Kuan Yew: The man who mesmerised the 1960s Labour cabinet

Lee was a socialist, yes; but he was no democrat

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The Independent Online

Further to Derek Davies’s obituary of Lee Kuan Yew, no invited speaker, not Willy Brandt, not Oliver Tambo, not Olaf Palme, not Julius Nyerere, not Helmut Schmidt, ever transfixed a plenary session of a Labour Party conference as did Lee in 1968, deploying the less-than-popular case for continued British military presence east of Suez. He was a beguiling orator. Quite simply, LKY mesmerised senior members of the Labour cabinet.

In 1965 I had been one of six MPs from a House of Commons delegation to Sarawak and Singapore. We were invited to dinner – 16 courses – by LKY. After disgreeing with him strenuously – he adored argument – I went, on my return, to voice my opposition to the east-of-Suez policy to Harold Wilson. Polite as ever, Wilson listened and said he would make enquiries.

A fortnight later I was summoned to the PM’s room and given a laconic response with a characteristic twinkle: “Tam, do you imagine you are a better democratic socialist than that most gifted alumnus of your University of Cambridge?” Socialist, yes; but LKY was no democrat.