Trust me, Denis Healey would have made a terrible Prime Minister (and I'm his son)

My father is supremely confident and intelligent. But he was never a natural leader

Share

The Independent once listed my father, Denis Healey, as one of the best Prime Ministers we never had.

Not so. I think my father would have made a rubbish PM. He was not clubbable enough; never bothered to nurture a coterie of supporters. And he could privately be very diminishing about people who were in his own camp. 

Dad’s supreme confidence in his own judgements, forged in that mighty, double-first Balliol man’s brain, meant that he lacked the simpler chairman-like skill of listening to other people. 

I think he was happiest heading a department, where he was not so much pitting himself against people as against intellectual problems, whether relating to Defence or the Exchequer. He loathed being in Opposition, because it seemed to him all about point-scoring, not problem-solving.  

I do believe that he saw himself as a public servant, and was entirely content serving under a Prime Minister better skilled at premiership than he. An almost soldierly loyalty was one of his virtues in politic, a quality perhaps learned in the war but also, I believe, a part of his temperament. Dad was completely loyal to the Labour Party when many of his closest political allies were defecting to the SDP. He was completely loyal to Harold Wilson (who he did not much like) and to Michael Foot (who he liked, despite Foot’s own, glaring lack of premiership qualities).

I believe that Dad was most comfortable working for Jim Callaghan, a personal friend who shared his centre right views within the Labour Party. Absolutely no part of my father would ever have manoeuvred to replace him as premier. In fact, it was quite the reverse. When Callaghan’s retirement became imminent I found Dad musing by the pool at his home near Alfriston in East Sussex.

"They’re talking about me as possibly the next prime minister."
"Well, of course,’ I said, ‘You’re the obvious choice."
"It’s ridiculous."
"Why’s that?"
"It’s ridiculous," he repeated.

Denis Healey, classic Virgo! You’ll have to forgive me, but as a child of the sixties I take a passing interest in star signs.

Virgos are characterised by hard work, organisational ability and an intensely critical, discriminating intelligence. They tend to be perfectionists, favour orderly routines and possess an unwavering attention to detail. That’s Dad all right.

He is 96 now, and has kept a diary, methodically and pretty much daily since his teens. His huge library of books, records and newspaper cuttings has always been filed with an extraordinary neatness, and while my mother was alive he disapproved of – or was frankly baffled by – the clutter in her study.

The downside of all that diligence and efficiency is a tendency to be hypercritical, which can manifest in rude and domineering behaviour. These traits my father certainly exhibited in his political life, and they did him no favours with the more sensitive souls in the Labour Party.

Above all, Virgos are said to have an ethic of utility to society imprinted in their DNA. Their motto is "I serve". They are not known for an ability to handle public life, often preferring to work alone, or in the background. Is that why, when the issue of the premiership came up, Dad just sort of went blank?  It wasn’t that he didn’t want the job. He couldn’t imagine it. It was, well, ridiculous.

Unfortunately, a brief look at the historical record reveals that three notable British premiers were Virgos: Henry Campbell Bannerman; Herbert Asquith and Andrew Bonar Law. Law was the shortest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century, which might give some credence to my theory that Virgos are unsuited to premiership.

However, Asquith was the longest continuously serving premier in the 20th century before Mrs Thatcher. Drat! There goes another theory. You will have to excuse me on the grounds that I am, myself, a Gemini and we are known for a tendency to favour enchanting fantasies over matters of sober fact.

READ NEXT
Grace Dent's latest top World Cup moments
As the daughter of a billionaire, I know Sting is right not to give his children any money
What happens when Western fighters for Isis return home?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
If Miliband is PM, it is expected that Cameron will stand down as party leader quickly  

General Election 2015: With more options to form a government, Miliband should win this campaign

Jane Merrick
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk