In the 20 years since Tony Crosland's death his beliefs have been in retreat, even in the Labour party. Dick Leonard, a former Crosland adviser, says his revisionism is still Blair's best betby Dick Leonard / March 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
In many ways he was an Olympian figure. Blessed with an intelligence several notches higher than that of any other politician, with film star good looks, an incisive writing and speaking style and apparently brimming with self-confidence, it was pre-ordained that Crosland would rise to great heights. Added to that, his glamorous wartime record in the parachute regiment, his first class honours and presidency of the Union at Oxford, his publication at the age of 38 of the widely acclaimed The Future of Socialism, and a glittering future seemed assured. Instead, despite some real achievements, he had a difficult and often frustrating career, and it was only in the final months of his life that it seemed that the early promise would be fulfilled.
For there was also a downside. His gifts provoked as much resentment as admiration. His complex character embraced a large dose of diffidence and moral fastidiousness, which frequently led to accusations of indecisiveness. His wit threatened as much as it amused, and his warmheartedness and loyalty to his friends (to which I, for one, can testify) did not communicate itself to the public, to whom he too often conveyed an hauteur which was alien to his real nature.
He was also the victim of ill luck. Hugh Gaitskell’s sudden death in 1963 cost him the chance of becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer when a Labour government was formed the following year. He again narrowly missed the chancellorship after the devaluation of 1967, when James Callaghan resigned and recommended him as his successor. Instead, Harold Wilson chose Roy Jenkins, which had the unfortunate effect of souring future relations between two men who had been close friends since Oxford, and whose views and outlook were more similar than either of them would subsequently admit.
Throughout Wilson’s long tenure as Labour leader and prime minister Crosland’s talents were under-used. He held five ministerial posts, but he was kept out of the top jobs. It was only when Callaghan became prime minister in March 1976 that he was promoted to foreign secretary, a post he had never sought and initially regarded as no better than a consolation prize. Callaghan hinted that he would soon swap jobs with the Chancellor, Denis Healey, and I was surprised when Crosland confided to me just eight days before his death, that he no longer expected this exchange to take place, and indeed that…