Denis Healey dies: The best quotes and quips from the 'Labour giant'

The former Chancellor has died aged 98

Chris Moncrieff,Lizzie Dearden
Saturday 03 October 2015 16:51 BST
Denis Healey opening the budget box at his Treasury office in London, in 1977 during his time as Chancellor.
Denis Healey opening the budget box at his Treasury office in London, in 1977 during his time as Chancellor.

Denis Healey, the former Labour Chancellor, has died aged 98.

Friends and colleagues from his 40 years in the Commons described him as a "Labour giant" with a "fabulous sense of mischief and humour", and a "hero".

Here are some of his most celebrated quotes:

  • When asked what he attributed his long life to in 2012: “Oh, the odd whisky, plenty of rumpy-pumpy when I was young.”
  • On Margaret Thatcher: “Virago intacta”; “La Pasionaria of middle-class privilege”; “That bloody woman.”
  • On Douglas Hurd: “A tattered Talleyrand.”
Lord Healey was known for his humour and sharp wit
  • On debating with Geoffrey Howe: “Like being savaged by a dead sheep.” (The expression “being attacked by Geoffrey Howe is like being savaged by a sheep” was actually coined earlier by journalist Andrew Alexander).
  • On John Prescott: “He has the face of a man who clubs baby seals.”
  • On John Major: “An ineffectual booby.”
  • On Sir Keith Joseph: “A mixture of Hamlet, Rasputin and Tommy Cooper.
  • On Sir Edward Heath: “There is an element of stony rigidity in his make-up which tends to petrify his whole personality in a crisis.”
  • “The Fabians found socialism wandering aimlessly in cloud-cuckoo-land and set it working on the gas and water problems of the nearest town or village” - on the parochialism of the Fabians, New Fabian Essays, 1952.
  • “There are going to be howls of anguish from the 80,000 people who are rich enough to pay over 75% tax on the last slice of their income” - Speech at Labour Party conference, 1973.
Denis Healey has died aged 98
  • “It's no good ceasing to become the world's policeman in order to become the world's parson instead” - At a Cabinet meeting at Chequers, November, 1974.
  • “Healey without Benn would be like Torvill without Dean. I can't get the bugger off my back” - While campaigning for Tony Benn in the 1984 by-election at Chesterfield.
  • “And who is the Mephistopheles behind this shabby Faust Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe? To quote her own backbenchers, the Great She-elephant, She-who-must-be-obeyed, the Catherine the Great of Finchley, the Prime Minister herself” - on Margaret Thatcher in the Commons, February, 1984.
  • “Healey's first law of politics: when you're in a hole, stop digging” - Undated.
  • “Same old Mafia again, I see” - Undated, to a welcoming committee on arrival in Moscow.
  • “While the rest of Europe is marching to confront the new challenges, the Prime Minister is shuffling along in the gutter in the opposite direction, like an old bag lady, muttering imprecations at anyone who catches her eye” - House of Commons, February, 1990.
  • “A raving hag surrounded by ministers fighting each other like weasels in a sack” - Comment in 1993 on a Thatcher television appearance.
 Margaret Thatcher in 1981. 
  • “Today's MPs are terrible. They even look the same. You used to be able to tell the difference between Tories and Labour. The Tories wore waistcoats and Labour wore cords or caps. Now they all wear the same polyester-looking suits.” - Newspaper interview, 1996.
  • “Being Chancellor is not a woman's job. There's a difference between the sexes, and people who don't know that don't know what people are like with their clothes off. So there.” - Newspaper interview, 1997.
  • “I invented Blairism, you know. I wrote an article in 1952 saying we should stop all this class war stuff and cosying up to the unions” - Interview, 1997.
  • “Yes I have been on a diet, but not the Nigel Lawson one. I don't want to look like death warmed up” - To a reporter in 1997.
'I invented Blairism, you know'
  • But he denied ever having said, as Chancellor, that he wanted to “squeeze the rich until the pips squeak.”
  • “A statesman is a dead politician. I am in the home of the living dead which is betwixt and between. The House of Lords” - To a reporter in 2000.
  • “A Prime Minister who doesn't have a good Chancellor is finished” - Newspaper interview, 2000.
  • “There has always been a tradition of thinking that politicians are nastier than other people. But in my experience at the top of any profession you have exactly the same kind of jungle war. It's true that if a bishop stabs another in the back you can't see the blood flowing down because he wears a red surplice. But that's the only difference. When people are competing for fame or position, then it's jungle war” - Newspaper interview, 2000.

What others have said about Lord Healey

  • “The atomic maniac” - Pravda, when Healey was Defence Secretary in the 1960s.
  • “A practical old bruiser with a first-class mind and very bad manners” - Lord Hailsham.
  • "A political thug” - Lady Falkender.
  • “One of the most insensitive know-alls of British politics” - Lord Jenkins of Hillhead when he was plain Roy Jenkins.
  • “I saw a headline which read 'Denis Healey caught with his pants down'. That's a shame: it will make it easier to hear what he's saying” - Comedian Bob Monkhouse.

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