Obituary: Baroness Bacon

Alice Martha Bacon, politician: born 10 September 1909; MP (Labour), NE Leeds 1945-55, SE Leeds 1955-70; Member, Labour Party National Executive 1941-70; Chairman, Labour Party 1950- 51; CBE 1953; Minister of State, Home Office 1964-67, Department of Education and Science 1967-70; PC 1966; created 1970 Baroness Bacon; died 24 March 1993.

ALICE BACON can claim to be one of the most significant figures in the British Labour Movement for over 25 years: from the wartime 1940s to the last years of the Wilson government.

She occupied a position of power within the party hierarchy which she used to promote the brand of socialism in which she believed, practical, commonsensical, the art of the possible, continually beating off the more doctrinaire left wing. Hers was a backroom role, but read the diaries of Benn, Crossman and Castle, and the constant angry references to 'Bacon A' tell the story of her influence. It was the influence of pragmatic moderation which helped produce Labour's successes in 1945 and 1964.

She was an archetypal Yorkshire lass, tough, determined and warm of heart. She came from tough working- class stock - her father was a miner. Like many clever aspiring working- class girls from this background, she saw teaching as the means to further education, and the way ahead. So Alice worked her way through elementary school, up to an external degree at London, and eventually an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Leeds.

To be a member of the Labour Party was, for Alice Bacon, as natural as breathing. Her potential was quickly recognised. That great manager, fixer and relentless right-winger, Herbert Morrison, took her under his wing. She was his devoted disciple.

In 1941, she was elected to the women's section of Labour's National Executive. She was barely 30; she was and still is one of the youngest to have reached such a key position within the Labour Movement. Her youth was used to good effect, and her rousing addresses to young audiences up and down the country are still remembered with admiration.

Labour's great victory of 1945 saw her elected as an MP for Leeds, a former Conservative seat, and she represented Leeds for the next quarter of a century. She was always more of a party politician than a national politician, implacable against Communists and Trotskyists, far-left infiltrators into the constituency parties. Thanks largely to her efforts, Leeds Labour Party became a model after her own heart: the Labour MPs, including herself, were Hugh Gaitskell, Denis Healey and the cockney trades unionist Charlie Pannell ('Show me a Communist and I'll show you a crook'). Denis Healey says that Alice Bacon, the bonny Yorkshire lass, reminded him of Jane Eyre, with sadly no Rochester in her life. But, as he points out, her devotion to Hugh Gaitskell was beyond mere politics. When Gaitskell died a light for many people went out. It undoubtedly did for Bacon. The House of Commons paid its tributes to Gaitskell, breaking with the usual traditional eulogies to dead politicians, and after the leaders had spoken, Alice Bacon was called. Her speech moved many to tears: she described the grief in the poor back streets of Leeds, the dimming down of lights in the little houses, the slow drawing down of blinds.

Bacon stayed on. She served Harold Wilson loyally in government as Minister of State at the Home Office and as Minister of State at the Department of Education. She thwarted him famously in the appointment of a Labour Party secretary; Wilson wanted his left-wing crony the elegant Tony Greenwood to get the job. Bacon, manoeuvring with Morrisonian skill, secured the nomination for a safe trades unionist; and she remained as she had ever been, a thorn in Bevanite flesh.

Honours had come: a CBE and membership of the Privy Council. There had also been a long sentimental friendship with the head of the Press Association's parliamentary office, 'Stacky' Stacpole: the two sitting cosily gossiping, or just silently together in the corridors of the Commons, was a touching sight.

In 1970 Labour was defeated. Alice Bacon was nearly 60, a woman's retirement age. She took a life peerage, but she became more and more remote from politics. The Yorkshire lass did not seem to fit into the House of Lords. Her old chum Charlie Pannell, who had accompanied her thither, did not like it either. He died and she liked it even less. Hugh Gaitskell's successor in Leeds, Merlyn Rees, Northern Ireland Secretary, managed to interest her in women's charities in Northern Ireland, across the religious divide. Other charities took up her time, and she raised money with carol concerts, and events including showbiz people and minor royalty. She became Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire. None of this was quite her scene, but then the Labour Party, as it had become in the early Eighties, was not her scene either. She did not defect to the SDP, but was sympathetic towards those who did, admitting that the Labour Party then was not the one she had joined. She was happy to settle in Leeds, and to pursue what was still, to her, the accepted duty of an unmarried daughter or niece, the care of much-loved aged relatives.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little