Denis Healey: “The figures are so often wrong”
Denis Healey came to speak at the Mile End Group last night – the video is here. He was on characteristic form, presented by Peter (Professor the Lord) Hennessy and William Keegan (right), to an audience that included Nigel Lawson, David Owen, Joel Barnett, David Miliband, Andrew Adonis and mandarins from Healey’s time at the Treasury and Ministry of Defence.
On the day that we were told that the economy shrank 0.5 per cent in the fourth quarter 2010, he said: “The figures are so often wrong. When I was Chancellor they were nearly always wrong.”
He had lost none of his sense of comic timing. Speaking on “Being Chancellor”, he said: “It’s an almost impossible job. I feel very sorry for the present Chancellor. Despite his politics. And his character.”
He said he knew “absolutely nothing” about economics when he became Chancellor; but he had since learnt that “it’s not a science, just a branch of social psychology”.
Asked what he thought of Ed Balls, Healey said: “He is very clever. I have known his wife since she was a pretty young thing about 30 years ago. She’s not here is she?” (She was at his Oxford college, Balliol.)
With reference to the current fiscal crisis, he was asked why he didn’t raise taxes rather than cut spending in 1976: “Oh, I thought we would have lost more votes. I am not a lunatic.”
Asked whether he thought David Owen (in the audience) have been a better Chancellor than Gordon Brown, he said: “No.”
But he soon had enough of the looking back. “I’m very much against nostalgia. To me it’s a vice.” He believes in progress, and said that he thought “class divisions, which were very real and strongly felt, have almost completely disappeared. If you ask people what class they belong to, they say, ‘I left school years ago.’”
Photograph: Bruno Vincent/Getty ImagesTagged in: contemporary history, denis healey
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