The departure of Mr Hattersley, 61, will rob Labour of one of its few leading voices with Cabinet experience. 'The next Labour Government will get along without me very well. They are a group of people with very great talent,' he said.
However, his departure underlined the disappointment at having to endure 14 years out of office. Mr Hattersley said he announced his decision to give his constituency party plenty of time to find a replacement. The author of several books, including novels based on his family, he intends to devote more time to his writing.
After serving as a foreign minister in the Wilson government, he was promoted to the Cabinet by Lord Callaghan as Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. He would have gained higher office, but his ministerial career was cut short by Labour's defeat in 1979.
While his contemporaries Brian Walden, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams deserted the party, some to form the SDP, he stayed to fight against the hard left and remained loyal to Labour. Friends said that when the split came with the 'Gang of Four' - Mrs Williams, Roy Jenkins, Mr Rodgers and David Owen - he was never asked and was never tempted to defect.
His socialism was rooted in the Sheffield city politics he vividly described in Goodbye to Yorkshire, partly written as a minister in the thick of the Cod War with Iceland. He made a speech at the Wembley special Labour conference calling for democratic socialists to stay and fight and launched Labour Solidarity to recapture the party from Militant and other left-wing activists.
He was a Gaitskellite, while Neil Kinnock was a Bevanite. Their rivalry for the leadership went deep. But after defeating Mr Hattersley for the leadership, Mr Kinnock routed the Liverpool Militants at the Bournemouth conference and Mr Hattersley then told the conference: 'You made the right choice.'
From that point, their joint leadership - the so-called 'dream ticket' - was a genuine partnership. When they held hands in a salute to launch the 1987 election manifesto, it was described as a 'gay wedding'. Mr Hattersley saw the funny side, but he was deeply serious about his socialism.
While happy to be seen as a rightwinger, he was also a traditionalist, who fought against trendy labels and Yuppie images for Labour. He was never a 'moderniser' but fought to rebuild Labour as a popular broad church, dedicated to the redistribution of wealth. He looked uncomfortable as a shadow Chancellor and was a better shadow Home Secretary, but he always looked happier in office than in opposition. His deepest disappointment was the Labour defeat in 1992.
The former deputy leader of the Labour Party was the butt of satirists' jokes over the three decades since entering Parliament. Mr Hattersley was the figurehead for Spitting Image and was nicknamed 'Rattersley' for refusing to back Roy Jenkins for the leadership in the 1960s. He became 'hot lunch' in the 1970s for defending school dinners and was caricatured as a champagne socialist, more interested in dinners with literary friends than the hard slog at Westminster, although friends described him yesterday as a 'workaholic'.
His maiden speech was against racial prejudice and his Birmingham Sparkbrook constituency, with its high ethnic minority population, reinforced his views.