Monday 19 June 1995
Ennals scurried around - and unlike most scurriers, he scurried to great effect - whether the objective of the hour was global peace, the plight of the mentally ill, or the predicament of some wretched individual from a far-off land; be it the Dalai Lama himself, some threatened refugee who had been brought to his attention by Amnesty International, or the Bihari community in Bangladesh, whom he visited regularly.
Ennals was far too formidable an operator for it to occur to anyone that his endless good works were an opportunity for a wry smile. He was the nearest approach in a political animal - and political animal he emphatically was, exuding its nature from every pore - to perpetual motion.
David Ennals was the second of the astonishing and distinguished sons of Arthur Ford Ennals and his wife Jessie Edith Taylor. The eldest brother, John, who died in 1988, was the long-time Director of the UK Immigrants Advisory Service from 1970, Chairman of the Anti-Apartheid Movement 1968- 76, and a war hero with Tito's partisans. The youngest brother, Martin (who died in 1991), later Secretary-General of Amnesty International, for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, was the Information Officer of the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants.
Martin Ennals resigned in 1968 in protest at the Labour Government's treatment of Kenyan Asians, at a time when David was Parliamentary Under- Secretary at the Home Office and James Callaghan was Home Secretary. There was much agony on both sides but Ennals family unity survived undamaged. David took the view that he would have been astonished if Martin had acted otherwise. The Left were angry with David but, as Frank Allaun put it to me yesterday, the Left recognised that if he was to stay in post David Ennals was bound to take the Government line.
"What makes you Ennals brothers tick?" enquired Richard Crossman, Secretary of State for the Social Services, in 1968 when David had just been appointed to his Department as Minister of State at the DHSS. A whole fascinating story emerged: their father was an ardent Baptist, winner of a good MC in Flanders; their mother inherited all the hard-work ethics of generations of Black Country iron founders. Family prayers every morning inculcated the belief that a moment's idleness was synonymous with grave sin. If you knew something was wrong it was a dereliction of duty in the Ennals household not to try to do something about it. Injustice or wrongdoing once identified had to be confronted.
Like his brothers, David went to Queen Mary Grammar School, in Walsall. Unlike his brothers, David did not attend a British university. He turned 17 in 1939, and was trained as a gunner operator in armoured cars, and rose to the rank of Captain in the Royal Tank Regiment by the age of 23. He saw service in North Africa, Italy and the Rhine Crossing. It was appropriate that Ennals's first ministerial post, in 1966, should be as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Army. With his six years of war experience he was totally at ease with officers and men. He confessed to me that he found it delicious dealing with the top brass who respected him for his war record; Ennals delighted in argument with them and more than one senior officer has told me that he enjoyed combative conversation with Ennals. Even more to the point, he was prepared to argue with Denis Healey, his Secretary of State for Defence, as later he would stand up to Dick Crossman.
Ennals played a role out of all proportion to his supposed seniority in the 1964 Government thanks to his naturally argumentative nature and because he was a henchman of the Prime Minister.
After a brief time at college in Connecticut (which gave him a lifelong pro-American stance) Ennals had taken a job with the Council for Education in World Government, from 1947 to 1952. It was this milieu that drew him to Liberal politics. Having failed in two successive elections at Richmond in the Liberal interest, he got the job as Secretary of the United Nations Association. His contemporary Peter Shore, who was then Research Secretary of the Labour Party, told me that Ennals's Liberal flirtation was forgotten in Labour Party circles because he was admired as an enormously vibrant Secretary of the United Nations Association. It was this work that won him the position of the Overseas Secretary of the Labour Party in 1957- 64. It was in this capacity that he accompanied Harold Wilson on a number of journeys, particularly to Moscow, which created an enduring link with the future Prime Minister. Colleagues senior and junior knew that Ennals had a special empathy with and access to Wilson.
However it was on his own merits that Ennals became the Labour candidate in the litmus paper constituency of Dover. Through enormous hard work he turned the Conservative majority from 1959 of the popular and effective Tory MP Sir John Arbuthnot into a Labour majority of 418 (24,115 to 23,697, with 5,843 Liberals). Arbuthnot, who was my neighbour on the Public Accounts Committee, told me afterwards without rancour, "I doubt if any other Labour candidate would have beaten me in Dover." I was deeply impressed when speaking in support of Ennals in Dover in 1963 by the homework that he had done on the then problems of the Dover Harbour Board and of the Mariners who manned the cross-Channel ferries.
Ennals's rise was meteoric. He went from being Under- Secretary for the Army via the Foreign Office to become, in 1968, Minister of State responsible for Health. When he first heard of Ennals's appointment to his department, Crossman exploded: "Ennals is Harold's creature. First of all, Harold asked Barbara Castle to take him on as her PPS; he then appointed him in Defence to keep an eye on Denis Healey; he then put him in the Home Office to spy on Jim Callaghan; and now he wants him to keep tabs on me!"
In the event Crossman had second thoughts and pretends in his diary that he wanted Ennals in the first place. As it turned out, relations developed far better than anticipated. This was partly because Ennals had the capacity to row with Crossman and show a desirable forgettery the following day. Sir Patrick Nairne, who was then Second Cabinet Secretary, told me yesterday that he thought that Ennals was very skilful with his senior ministers. It was partly because Crossman deep down realised that Ennals had a patent desire to help the mentally ill. This passion had roots in first-hand experience as one of his children was mentally ill. By July 1969, Crossman had come to a considered opinion:
He is not a mysterious man and in certain ways he is terribly straightforward, but his standards and behaviour fascinate and impress me. He is extraordinarily efficient and willing. He simply does what I ask him and he adores being a Minister. He is a first-rate Minister of State, with great ability but there is some quality that he lacks. It's not that he has no political principles. He has violent feelings, he likes writing to the Prime Minister to protest against income policies, he likes making speeches and getting publicity. I don't know what the unattractive thing in him is. Is it that he is cold? No, more that he is metallic, almost not flesh and blood. But I am enormously impressed by him.
To be candid, Ennals was mightily concerned in that period with his own advancement to Cabinet. He watched his rivals like a hawk and on one occasion, disconcerted by the Prime Ministerial favour being dispensed to Eric Varley, somewhat unwisely suggested to Crossman that he do something about his own promotion. Since it was the wrong moment Crossman tartly quoted Aneurin Bevan: "There are two ways to get into the British Cabinet - to persuade them that you will kick them in the private parts if you don't, or to crawl. David, you are a natural crawler, so don't make silly postures!"
Like many other excellent Members of Parliament, David Ennals lost his seat in 1970. As with others it created for him enormous personal financial problems, not least because of family illness and personal obligation. Ennals was very persuasive when he returned, suggesting that MPs who lost their seat should be given a cushion because he didn't want his experience to be shared by colleagues. Unlike others, Ennals was soon adopted for another seat, Norwich North. Poignantly, he said to me when he lost it in 1983: "Unlike you, I have never had the luxury of a relatively safe seat and you cannot know what difference it makes to a man knowing that he is spending his life fighting a marginal constituency." And that is why Ennals should be acquitted of a certain frenetic quality in his politics.
On becoming Prime Minister in 1976, James Callaghan sacked Mrs Barbara Castle as Secretary of State for the Social Services. In her diary entry for 8 April she wrote: "He [her assistant Jack Straw] also said my successor was to be David Ennals. I was shocked. None of us trust him since his Common Market switch."
The background to this was a controversy about many aspects of foreign policy; many Labour MPs did not like the way that they had been treated by Ennals who had unwisely often given the impression that, as a minister in the Foreign Office, he was an acknowledged Labour expert on foreign affairs, by background and ministerial position, and therefore knew better than they did. The fact that over 20 years earlier Ennals had been Castle's bag carrier Parliamentary Private Secretary at Overseas Development did nothing to help.
It was hardly an auspicious start. The Left were less than enchanted. Truth to tell, as a cabinet minister, Ennals was more at ease with civil servants than with the Parliamentary Labour Party or the broader Labour movement.
Patrick Nairne, the Permanent Secretary in 1975-79, described Ennals as "A notably caring minister - he was delightful for officials to work with. He commanded our confidence and was willing to take a fresh look at the many problems of the Department." It was Ennals's considerable ill-fortune that his time as Secretary of State coincided with increasing ill-health. Several key departmental meetings with junior ministers and senior officials had to be held in a side ward of Westminster Hospital. Ennals insisted on remaining in post, which was perhaps not the most satisfactory solution for a beleaguered Labour Government without a Commons majority. In the autumn of 1978 an already desperately unsatisfactory situation with the hospital workers was allowed to fester. And I fear that the thought occurred to many Labour MPs that the "Winter of Discontent" would not have been allowed to develop to such extremity if the Secretary of State for the Social Services had not been partially hors de combat.
To his vast credit Ennals overcame his health problems. He did excellent work for occupational therapy, for the anti-smoking campaign, and for coping with Alzheimer's Disease. His last important Commons appearance as Secretary of State was to answer a debate on 3 March 1979, which I had initiated, on the transplant of human organs. It was typical of Ennals that for the next decade and more out of office he should have used his position in the House of Lords to further the cause of the transplantation of human organs.
It was a great sadness that his adopted Vietnamese son, Phuoc Ky Ennals, should have been killed at the age of 21 in the forces in an accident. Ennals was remarkable in overcoming adversity and the Labour movement is the poorer for his passing.
David Hedley Ennals, politician: born Walsall 19 August 1922; Secretary, Council for Education in World Citizenship 1947-52; Secretary, United Nations Association 1952-57, Vice-Chairman 1991-95; Overseas Secretary, Labour Party 1957-64; Chairman, Anti-Apartheid Movement 1960-64; MP (Labour) for Dover 1964-70, for Norwich North 1974-83; PPS to Minister of Overseas Development 1964; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Army 1966-67; Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 1967-68; Minister of State, DHSS 1968-70; PC 1970; Campaign Director, National Association for Mental Health (Mind) 1970-73, Chairman 1984, President 1989-95; Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1974-76; Secretary of State for Social Services 1976-79; created 1983 Baron Ennals; Chairman, Gandhi Foundation 1984-95; married 1950 Eleanor Maud Caddick (three sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1977), 1977 Gene Tranoy; died London 17 June 1995.
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