Obituary: Ron Hayward

Tam Dalyell
Wednesday 27 March 1996 00:02 GMT

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Ron Hayward was the General Secretary of the Labour Party during the most internally difficult years, both in government and in opposition, in the party's history - from 1972 until 1982. He was much reviled by the right of the party for being weak and ineffectual, and by the left who shook their heads at him for allowing himself too often, in their view, to become the creature of the leadership.

But no proverbial political Solomon could have done better in that very exposed position. Shortly after he retired, Hayward told me, half-joking but wholly in earnest: "My epitaph might be: `Ron did his bit to help the Labour Party hold together and survive'." It may seem modest enough, from this modest, unselfimportant, thoroughly decent man, but anyone who attended the Labour Party Conference in the years following 1979 will know that such an epitaph represented no mean achievement.

By the end of Hayward's tenure the Militant Tendency, the Trotskyist left-wing political grouping operating within the Labour Party, had been found in breach of Labour Party rules and faced the threat of expulsion. It fell to Ron Hayward, along with David Hughes, the National Agent, to draw up a report for the Labour National Executive Committee. They were lenient and gave Militant a three-month period in which to conform to Labour rules and offered them what was considered in many quarters as over-fair treatment.

Hayward was by temperament and belief a "roper-in" rather than "a driver- out". He would argue convincingly that however uncomfortable some elements of the party might be it was healthier for Britain to have them inside the body politic rather than feeling excluded, and indeed becoming an excluded political force in society. However, Hayward was at no time the creature of Militant, let alone a covert sympathiser. He was a healer. Dennis Skinner, a long-term member of the National Executive, says: "Ron had a spontaneous way of speaking with lots of passion and, even though his language was not precise, you knew exactly what he was saying and where he stood."

Hayward's personal opinion and personal causes placed him firmly on the left of the party. One such cause was a sustained, passionate, support of the Allende revolution in Chile and its repression which he regarded as the Spanish Civil War of the second half of the 20th century. He and his wife Phyllis (constantly by his side since they had met - he in the RAF and she in the Women's Air Force - in 1943) befriended President Allende's formidable widow in her exile and showed her characteristic hospitality. Indeed, it was on the subject of his own Labour government's attitude to what had happened in Chile that I saw Hayward show rare fits of sheer anger.

Hayward was an emotional internationalist. In his finale speech to the 1981 Labour Party conference he said:

Comrades, the whole world is looking to you. On the travels you have sent me on in the last 10 years, I have talked to peasants and presidents in most parts of the world. I have talked in your name to workers in most parts of the world. I have seen the kids and held the babies of hundreds of people all over the world and never met one working-class man who said to me; "My ambition in life is to blow you to kingdom come if I have an opportunity." Not one single man. It is leaders.

Whatever you do about this [the disarmament controversy in the Labour Party] remember it is only four minutes, whether you are multilateral or unilateral, it is still four minutes. If you are multi, you have four minutes and four minutes after you have had it, 50 million in the Soviet Union will have had it. If you are

unilateral you might have a little

better chance.

In October 1979 Hayward arranged that Peter Shore, then shadow Foreign Secretary, Alec Kitson, party chairman, Jenny Little, International Secretary of the Labour Party, and I as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party Foreign Affairs Committee should go to meet Lord Carrington as the new Foreign Secretary. Leaving the door of the Ambassador's waiting room in the Foreign Office, Hayward turned to us and said: "Well, we got more civility, more good sense and a far better hearing from that Tory aristocrat than we ever did from bloody David Owen." That Owen had been Foreign Secretary in a government of a party of which he was general secretary and had treated himself and those who thought like him so shabbily incensed Hayward beyond measure.

Gwyneth Dunwoody, another member of the National Executive who knew Hayward well, recollects: "He was misunderstood by intellectuals, who did not realise that Hayward had a clear understanding of the Labour Party at the grass-roots and at all levels. He was a cheerful anti-intellectual who understood others by a developed instinct and therefore was underestimated by some of his intellectual opponents."

He was a guardian of the party's traditions and Dunwoody was greatly touched that he should take her into his room in Transport House shortly after he became General Secretary and tell her that he was proud of the fact that he had arranged for his room to be put back exactly as her father Morgan Phillips, the famous post-war General Secretary of the Labour Party, had had it.

Though he was never a supporter of the Common Market it was not the opinions of the Gang of Four which made Hayward see red. (He was tolerant of views diametrically opposed to his own.) It was their behaviour. How on earth could Shirley Williams sit for all those months on the ruling body, the National Executive Committee, the heart of the Labour Party, without letting on that she had it in mind to desert the party for another party? It was beyond his comprehension that senior party colleagues honoured to be secretaries of state in a Labour government could behave in such an underhand way. His reaction in a curious way reflected his own country-values background.

Ron Hayward was born into a family of Oxfordshire small farmers but he had a hard upbringing. He had to be fostered and was brought up by his grandparents.

He addressed the 1981 Labour Party conference:

I want to say this to my comrades who have literally preached bloody revolution, and I knew all about that when I was an apprentice boy at 14 cycling seven miles from a Cotswold village to the nearest town as an apprentice cabinetmaker. Every Monday morning I would pray for a revolution. I never gave up because I hated Monday mornings. If it did not happen this Monday, my goodness, it would happen next Monday. It saw me through many a difficult year, but I want to say to some of these young comrades who have attended the fringe meetings at conference which I have listened to with great respect.

I respect your energy, but the way some of you talk you are the last people I would go behind the sandbags with, because the first car that backfired you would be over the wall.

It was part of Ron Hayward's make-up that he should be imbued with a service spirit of comradeship which he brought to the Labour Party from the wartime RAF. On demobilisation, idealistically wanting to improve the post-war world, he became secretary and agent to the Banbury Labour Party and in 1949 went to Rochester and Chatham Labour Party which brought him into contact with Arthur Bottomley, the local MP, and indirectly to the notice of the party leadership.

On Bottomley's strong recommendation he became assistant regional organiser to the London Region in 1950 and in 1959 was promoted to Regional Organiser for the Southern Region of the Labour Party. I remember during the many summer days I spent at the Winchester and Devizes by-elections of May 1964 what a wonderful rapport Ron Hayward very obviously had with the many individual members in an area which was not noted for rock-solid Labour support. He did extremely well on promotion in 1969 to National Agent and improved the atmosphere in Transport House and in the constituencies, winning over the Left without upsetting the right wing of the party at that time.

In the words of Alec Kitson, "Hayward broke the dynasty. He started a new phase in Transport House as a man who had come from the regions and was prepared to reorganise the centre in order to have closer contact with the regions. Before Hayward, it had been a question of the hierarchs of the party taking the attitude, `If I say, you do do it!' Hayward started the process of doing away with tight central control."

When it became necessary to appoint a successor to Sir Harry Nicholas as General Secretary of the party the choice was between Gwyn Morgan, for 10 years the energetic and bright International Secretary of the party, and Hayward. On the casting vote of Tony Benn as chairman by 15 votes to 14 Hayward was chosen.

Those colleagues who remain in the Labour Party, especially those who rowed the most with him, will remember Ron and Phyllis Hayward as wonderful comrades sincerely committed to the ideals that they espoused and continued to espouse throughout their immensely worthwhile lives.

Ronald George Hayward, politician: born near Chipping Sodbury, Oxfordshire 27 June 1917; Secretary-Agent, Labour Party, Banbury Constituency 1945- 47, Rochester and Chatham Constituency 1947-50; Assistant Regional Organiser, Labour Party 1950-59, Regional Organiser, Southern Region 1959-69, National Agent 1969-72, General Secretary 1972-82; CBE 1970; married 1943 Phyllis Allen (three daughters); died Birchington, Kent 22 March 1996.

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