Roy Hattersley, 84, was born in Sheffield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His parents were Enid Brackenbury and Frederick Hattersley. His mother died aged 96 and was Lord Mayor of Sheffield 1981-82 and his father at various times a police officer, clerk at Sheffield Town Hall and chairman of the council’s Health committee.
Roy was a socialist and supporter of the Labour Party as soon as he was out of shorts. He won a scholarship to Sheffield City Grammar School and then read economics at the University of Hull. Whilst there, he joined the Socialist Society and was responsible for changing its name to the Labour Club. He became treasurer and chairman and went on to chair the National Association of Labour Student Organisations. He was elected to the executive of the International Union of Socialist Youth.
After graduating, he worked for a Sheffield steelworks and then, for two years, with the Workers’ Educational Association. In 1956, he married Molly Loughran who went on to become a head-teacher and educational administrator. They were divorced in 2013 after 57 years of marriage but had been separated for five years. Later that year, he married Maggie Pearlstine, his literary agent.
In 1956, he was elected to the Sheffield City Council as Labour representative for Crookesmoor and was appointed a Justice of the Peace. His ambition was to be elected an M.P. but his first attempt in 1959 in the Sutton Coldfield constituency was not successful. Hattersley believed in perseverance and during the next three years applied to be the Labour candidate in 25 constituencies. In 1963, he became the candidate for the multi-racial Birmingham Sparkbrook constituency and on the 16 October 1964 was elected by a majority of 1,254 votes. He remained member for this constituency until he stood down on the 1 May 1997. Despite being a Republican, he accepted a peerage and sat in the House of Lords until he retired in 2015 or, as this is not permitted, he is deemed to be on extended leave of absence. He said, after 18 years as a peer, that ‘the House of Lords is a vastly inferior institution and goes against the idea of equality. How can it be equal if all the new Lords are chosen by the Prime Minister. In principle it is wrong’.
Hattersley has always been a fervent supporter of Sheffield Wednesday. He hit the headlines in 1996 when ‘Buster’, a mongrel whose father was a German Shepherd and mother a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and who had been adopted the previous year from the Brent Animal Shelter, attacked and killed a goose in St James’s Park. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was fined £25 for letting Buster off the lead and £50 for letting him kill the goose.
Ironically, for most of his 33 years in the House of Commons, he was in Opposition.
Upon entry in 1964, he was a high flyer and he soon became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Margaret Herbison, the Minister for Pensions and in 1967, he was a Junior Minister under Ray Gunter at the Ministry of Labour.
6 April 1968-15 July 1969 Under-Secretary of State for Employment, Prime Minister Harold Wilson
15 July 1969-19 June 1970 Minister of Defence for Administration, Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
4 May 1973-5 March 1974 Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Science, Leader Harold Wilson.
7 March 1974-10 September 1976 Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
10 September 1976-4 May 1979 Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, Prime Minister James Callaghan. He was appointed a privy councillor in 1975.
14 July 1979-4 November 1980 Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Leader James Callaghan.
31 October 1983-18 July 1987 Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Leader Neil Kinnock.
13 July 1987-25 July 1992 Shadow Home Secretary, Leader Neil Kinnock.
In 1983, after Michael Foot’s resignation, he stood in the leadership election with John Smith as his campaign manager. Neil Kinnock won and appointed Hattersley as deputy leader.
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party 2 October 1983-18 July 1992, Leader Neil Kinnock.
In 1993, he said that he would not stand at the next general election in 1997.
On the Rock, Roy Hattersley became one of the most reviled British politician alongside Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Peter Hain. The Hattersley Memorandum, published in 1976, become part of Gibraltar’s history. The Foreign Secretary, at the time of the publication of the Memorandum was Anthony Crosland.
Lord Hattersley has been a prolific writer and is the author of three novels and several biographies including a 700 page tome on David Lloyd George, another on John Wesley the Methodist leader and one on William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army. He is a frequent contributor to the press and has enjoyed regular columns in the Daily Mail, the Guardian and political magazines. He is also a prolific broadcaster frequently appearing in programmes such as Question Time and Any Questions?. Politically, he has been an ardent and longstanding supporter of the common market and Britain’s role in the European Union. When New Labour came to power, he moved to attack from the left of the party and gave Gordon Brown his total support. One of his most quoted sayings is “Blair’s government is not the Labour Party I joined”. He is also a leading advocate of the comprehensive education system.
In 2003, Lord Hattersley was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He is also an honorary Doctor of Letters at the Anglia Ruskin University. He has been Visiting Fellow of Harvard’s Institute of Politics and also Nuffield College, Oxford.
He became known to many millions of Britons when on the 4 June 1993, he failed to appear on ‘Have I got news for you’ for the third time having accepted the invitation. He was to have been a member of Paul Merton’s team and was replaced as a tub of lard credited as being the Rt Hon Tub of Lard M.P.
His 26th published work is ‘The Catholics – The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland from the Reformation to the Present Day”. The 596 pages deal with the three hundred years that followed the Act of Supremacy, which by making Henry VIII head of the Church, confirmed in law the breach with Rome. English Catholics were prosecuted, persecuted and penalised for the public expression of their faith. Even after the passing of the emancipation acts, Catholics were still the victims of institutional discrimination.
Lord Hattersley admits to preferring St John Fisher to St Thomas More and Cardinal Manning to Cardinal Newman.
The survival of Catholicism in Britain is the triumph of more than simple faith. It is the victory of moral and spiritual unbending certainty. Catholicism survives because it does not compromise. It is a characteristic that excites admiration in even a hardened atheist.
Lord Hattersley was such an atheist. He started and finished the history as an atheist despite becoming a close friend of Cardinal Vincent Nichols during the years spent researching.
As far as he knew, his father was a local government official but ten days after his death, when Roy was approaching 40, he opened a condolence letter from Father William Ellis (who became the Bishop of Nottingham) which began ‘as you will know, we were at the English College in Rome together and were young priests in the diocese of which I became bishop’.
Hattersley found out that his father had been a parish priest in Nottingham. He instructed Enid Brackenbury to prepare for her marriage to John O’Hara, a young miner and performed the wedding ceremony. Two weeks later, the priest and bride ran away together, eventually marrying after Enid’s husband’s death, and for 45 years until Frederick’s death ‘lived in bliss’.
Lord Hattersley was amazed that he is regarded as the most despised politician on the Rock, all the more after he read the relevant pages in Bob Peliza’s biography and Adolfo Canepa’s autobiography. He was equally surprised to be told that the word Hattersley Memorandum had entered Gibraltar’s history.
He said that the memorandum had been written in 1976 by a senior civil servant, approved by the foreign secretary. The previous year, as Minister of State, he flew to Gibraltar on a routine familiarisation visit when James Callaghan was foreign secretary. He remembers, in 1976, being told by a Gibraltarian fellow diner at The Gay Hussar that Sir Joshua Hassan had won the election which was excellent news.
In ‘Fortress to Democracy’, Francis Cantos writes, ‘On the 24 September 1975, Roy Hattersley visited the Rock on a familiarisation trip. Verbally, he closed the integration option thus inflicting a grievous wound on Xiberras’s IWBP. Hattersley was convinced that the integration idea should be snuffed out once and for all and he said so in unmistakable terms at his press conference and interviews on TV and radio.
Xiberras complained to the Governor and Sir John Grandy tried to placate him by pointing out that Hattersley had given a personal view resulting from his visit and had not been making an official statement of British government policy’.
Canepa writes, ‘during a visit to London in September 1976, Sir Joshua Hassan and Maurice Xiberras met with Roy Hattersley to discuss the constitutional proposals that had been sent to the FCO. Just before their departure, they were given a memorandum, which I (Canepa) clearly remember the head of the Gibraltar department subsequently telling us that the memorandum had been handed to Roy Hattersley for his approval just before he boarded a train for his constituency… The Hattersley Memorandum represented a major crisis for Gibraltar and its people’. By this time, the Foreign Secretary was Anthony Crosland.
There is considerable discrepancy between Lord Hattersley’s account and those of Gibraltar’s politicians. It would appear that on Hattersely’s 1995 familiarisation visit, he was nobbled by certain Gibraltarians and persuaded that integration was a non-starter. This is expounded on during his interviews on the Rock. Upon returning to London, his comments were seized upon by officials in the FCO and subsequently became the Hattersley Memorandum of 1976.
No wonder Lord Hattersley is confused today as to the sequence of events and his contribution to the infamous Memorandum.