Obituary: Geoffrey Drain

Geoffrey Ayrton Drain, trade-union leader: born Preston 26 November 1918; Assistant Secretary, Institute of Hospital Administrators 1946-52; executive, Milton Antiseptic Ltd 1952-58; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1955; Deputy General Secretary, Nalgo 1958-73, General Secretary 1973-83; member, General Council, TUC 1973-83; President, National Federation of Professional Workers 1973-75; Director, Bank of England 1978-86; CBE 1981; married 1950 Dredagh Rafferty (one son; marriage dissolved 1959); died London 2 April 1993.

GEOFFREY DRAIN was general secretary of Nalgo (the National and Local Government Officers' Association) from 1973 to 1983. In the 10 years that he led the largest white-collar union in Britain its membership rose to a peak of 800,000 and was the third largest union in the country with an influence in local and central government that was quite exceptional. Indeed this growth and influence of Nalgo, probably more than any other trade union, reflected the shift of power from the old industrial groupings within the TUC to a new articulateness among salaried and professional workers which in turn began to develop a fresh phenomenon in British trade-unionism - the militant white-collar worker.

But that was not the style of Geoffrey Drain, though he started his political life as an ardent left-winger and in particular a strong supporter of the old Bevanite wing of the Labour Party. In fact, as a one-time Labour councillor in Hampstead and a leading figure in that local party during the late Fifties he tried unsuccessfully to force the expulsion of the late Hugh Gaitskell from the Hampstead party when the Labour leader advocated the toning down of socialist ideology and the abandonment of Clause 4 and nationalisation.

But Drain shifted to the right during the 1960s and the period of the Wilson government, especially after his appointment as deputy general secretary of Nalgo - a post he held from 1958 till 1973, when he was selected for the union's top post. By the time he became general secretary he was the essence of a moderate, statesmanlike trade-union leader ready to set a pattern for responsible trade unionism and co-operation with the Labour government of 1974, when Harold Wilson returned to Downing Street after defeating Ted Heath. By then Drain was a member of the TUC General Council, to which he was elected in 1973. Four years later, in the critical period of James Callaghan's premiership, Geoffrey Drain became a member of the 'Neddy Six', arguably the most powerful grouping of the TUC's inner cabinet at a time when the voice of trade-union leadership echoed so strongly through the corridors of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street.

The Neddy Six, so called because they comprised the six most senior TUC leaders who sat on the National Economic Development Council, were the principal conduit between the Labour government and the trade-union movement. Their membership at that time reads like a trade- union scroll of honour and power: Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon, David Basnett and Alfred Allen, Len Murray, who was then TUC general secretary and Geoffrey Drain. All but Jones and Drain later became peers.

Geoffrey Drain was one of the Neddy Six at a memorable and historic meeting between the Prime Minister, James Callaghan, and the TUC leaders, on the eve of the 1978 trade-union congress - a meeting which Callaghan held over dinner at his Sussex farm to discuss the timing of the coming general election. Everyone expected that election to take place in the autumn of 1978 rather than the spring of 1979 after a winter of discontent.

Drain was one of the majority of that Neddy Six to warn Callaghan not to wait until 1979, but to go to the country in the autumn because the unions could no longer contain the explosive situation on the wages front. The rest is history.

Geoffrey Drain graduated from Queen Mary College, London, with a law degree and became a barrister, called to the Bar in 1955. After war service in 1946 he was appointed assistant secretary at the Institute of Hospital Administrators (now the Institute of Health Service Administrators). He was already active in Labour politics and in 1950 stood as Labour candidate in Chippenham. After being defeated he turned to local politics and became a leading figure in the Hampstead Labour Party, which at that time included about a third of Labour's leadership within its environs. That marked the beginning of his ideological battle with Hugh Gaitskell - whose policies of moderate socialism Drain was later to adopt.

In appearance Drain was an improbable trade-union leader, never quite fitting the archetypal image created by the caricaturists. He was always immaculately dressed, as befitted the highest-paid trade-union leader at that time; and his legally schooled mind composed speeches delivered in a calm, measured and ever-rational tone. Not for him the great dramatic oratorical gestures across the floor of trade-union conferences; but his counsel was frequently all the more influential because of its tempered thoughtfulness. These characteristics reflected his great loves - cricket, bird-watching and bridge; not forgetting his committed support for Tottenham Hotspur, where he was a season-ticket holder. After his retirement he toured the world following the England cricket team to Australia, the West Indies, India and indeed a few days before he died he had just returned from Sri Lanka. He was a long-standing member of the MCC.

Geoffrey Drain was a JP and Freeman of the City of London and was appointed CBE in 1981. He was a director of the Bank of England from 1978 to 1986 and a director of numerous companies.

His membership of countless committees dealing with health administration, local government, the law - including the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Aid (1974- 76) - brought him into constant contact with a vast range of authority at all levels.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'