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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago