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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?