Denis Winston Healey, Baron Healey PC (30 August 1917 – 3 October 2015) was a British Labour Party politician who served as Secretary of State for Defence from 1964 to 1970 and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1974 to 1979. He was a Member of Parliament for 40 years (from 1952 until his retirement in 1992) and was the last surviving member of the cabinet formed by Harold Wilson after the Labour Party's victory in the 1964 general election.
- The upper classes in every country are selfish, depraved, dissolute and decadent. The struggle for socialism in Europe...has been hard, cruel, merciless and bloody. The penalty for participation in the liberation movement has been death for oneself, if caught, and, if not caught oneself, the burning of one's home and the death by torture of one's family. ... Remember that one of the prices paid for our survival during the war has been the death by bombardment of countless thousands of innocent European men and women.
- Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (May 1945), quoted in Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (1990), p. 67
- Britain's economic problem is fundamentally far greater than France's since France is much less dependent on foreign trade and imported raw materials. Moreover Britain has economic relations with her Commonwealth whose importance outweighs the potential benefits of economic co-operation with Europe. For example, by 1952 over half Britain's foreign trade will be with the Commonwealth as against 22 per cent with Europe. Also Britain's imports from the Commonwealth are mainly indispensable raw materials, whereas her imports from Europe are less essential.
- Western Europe—The Challenge of Unity (1950), quoted in Edmund Dell, A Strange Eventful History: Democratic Socialism in Britain (1999), p. 181
- By his conduct of the campaign against the Labour Government Aneurin Bevan has destroyed a good chance of succeeding the Party's leadership. Whereas Bevan's proletarian virility has always hypnotised many middle-class intellectuals, the trade unionists tend to see in him the familiar figure of the self-seeking agitator... Bevanism is essentially a flight from reality into dogma. But its opponents have had little to offer as a positive alternative. The Great Debate in British Socialism has so far consisted in one side talking nonsense and the other side keeping mum.
The Labour Party may hope to carry the Welfare State and planning further than the Tories, but for a long time physical and psychological factors will fix rigid limits. Further 'soaking the rich' will no longer benefit the poor to any noticeable extent. Further nationalisation no longer attracts more than a tiny fringe of the Labour Party itself; it positively repels the electorate as a whole. Even among Labour economists there is a growing revolt against physical controls in favour of the price mechanism. A policy based on class war cannot have a wide appeal when the difference between classes is so small as Labour made it.
- Article in Arbeiderbladet (1951), quoted in Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (1990), p. 150
- Nye [Bevan] thinks that the best way to win friends and influence people is to kick them in the teeth... But there is in the country and in the Party a great deal of real anti-Americanism and in my view it is a disgrace to Socialism and a menace to peace. A lot of it is just jingoism with an inferiority complex, trying to make foreigners a scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in this country. We are Socialists; we are supposed to believe...in the brotherhood of man, and we cannot say all men are brothers except Americans... I ask you to throw away the stale mythology of these political Peter Pans... We cannot solve the problems of foreign policy on a diet of rhetorical candy-floss.
- Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Morecambe (1952), quoted in Labour Party Conference Report (1952), pp. 123-124 and Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (1990), p. 152
- 'The owl of Minerva only flies abroad when the shades of night are gathering.' Speaking for Conservatism, Hegel was right. And nothing proves it better than the post-war crop of Tory intellectuals, sprouting like mushrooms in the damp cellars of Abbey House. Not until the stimuli which originally conditioned Conservative reflexes have finally disappeared can the intellectual emerge to provide a rationale for Conservative behaviour. So Conservative theory must always base itself on some form of historical restorationism. The moderate seeks the world of Joseph Chamberlain—or if he is daring, of Disraeli. The really advanced radical looks still further back, to Prince Rupert, or the Middle Ages, particularly if he is a Catholic.
- 'The Owl and the Bulldog: Reflections on Conservatism and Foreign Policy', Twentieth Century, Volume 155 (1954), p. 107
- Hugh Gaitskell was absolutely right when he said yesterday that what gets cheers at this conference does not necessarily get votes at elections. If it did we would have won Devonport [the seat which Michael Foot had just lost]. There are far too many people who...want to luxuriate complacency in moral righteousness in Opposition. But who is going to pay the price for their complacency?
You can take the view that it is better to give up half a loaf if you cannot get the whole loaf, but the point is that it is not we who are giving up the half loaf. In Britain it is the unemployed and old age pensioners, and outside Britain there are millions of people in Asia and Africa who desperately need a Labour Government in this country to help them. If you take the view that it is all right to stay in Opposition so long as your Socialist heart is pure, you will be 'all right, Jack'. You will have your TV set, your motor car and your summer holidays on the Continent and still keep your Socialist soul intact. The people who pay the price for your sense of moral satisfaction are the Africans, millions of them, being slowly forced into racial slavery; the Indians and the Indonesians dying of starvation.
We are not just a debating society. We are not just a Socialist Sunday School. We are a great movement that wants to help real people living on this earth at the present time. We shall never be able to help them unless we get power. We shall never get power unless we close the gap between our active workers and the average voter in the country.
- Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (29 November 1959), quoted in Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (1990), p. 159 and Greg Rosen, Old Labour to New: The Dreams that Inspired, the Battles that Divided (2005), p. 215
- I think the Services can be rightly very upset at the continuous series of defence reviews which the Government has been forced by economic circumstances—and maybe economic mistakes too—to carry out...
- On BBC Television's Panorama programme (22 January 1968)
- I warn my hon. Friends...that once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders.
- Speech in the House of Commons (5 March 1969)
- We did not want middle class Robespierres.
- On Tony Benn; remark to the Shadow Cabinet (31 July 1972), quoted in Tony Benn, Office Without Power: Diaries 1968–72 (1988), p. 441
- Do we really want to nationalise Marks and Spencers to make it as efficient as the Co-Op?
- Question at a meeting of the National Executive Committee in the Churchill Hotel (31 May 1973), quoted in Michael Hatfield, The House the Left Built: Inside Labour Policy-Making, 1970–75 (1978), p. 197
- We are all agreed on a massive extension of public ownership...We are all agreed on establishing comprehensive planning control over the 100 or so largest companies in Britain. We are all agreed on the need for a national enterprise board to organise and extend public ownership in the profitable manufacturing industries.
- Speech in York (2 June 1973), quoted in The Times (4 June 1973), p. 2
- We shall increase income tax on the better off so that we can help the hundreds of thousands of families now tangled helplessly in the poverty trap by raising the tax threshold and introducing reduced rates of tax for those at the bottom of the ladder. I warn you, there are going to be howls of anguish from the rich. But before you cheer too loudly let me warn you that a lot of you will pay extra taxes too.
- Speech to the Labour Party Conference at Blackpool (1 October 1973)
- Squeeze property speculators until the pips squeak
- Speech in Lincoln (18 February 1974), quoted in The Times (19 February 1974), p. 4. Misreported as "tax the rich until the pips squeak". "The pips squeak" metaphor was originated by Sir Eric Campbell-Geddes and later used by David Lloyd-George.
- It has never been my nature, I regret to admit to the House, to turn the other cheek.
- Speech in the House of Commons (18 December 1974)
- It is far better that more people should be in work, even if that means accepting lower wages on average, than that those lucky enough to keep their jobs should scoop the pool while millions are living on the dole. That is what the social contract is all about.
- Speech to the East Leeds Labour Club (10 January 1975), quoted in The Times (11 January 1975), p. 1
- We are spending 6 per cent more than we are earning... You can also bankrupt a nation by excessive wage demands... That is why I said that it is better to have a lower standard of life for all workers than for some of them to be unemployed.
- The fact is that she [Margaret Thatcher] emerged in this debate as La Pasionaria of privilege.
- Speech in the House of Commons (22 January 1975)
- The borrowing requirement was 'terrifying'. He just had to cut back public expenditure. The Social Contract wasn't working. Inflation was getting out of control.
- Remarks to Barbara Castle (9 April 1975), quoted in Barbara Castle, The Castle Diaries, 1974–76 (1980), p. 359
- I fully understand why I have been urged by so many friends both inside and outside the House to treat unemployment as the central problem and to stimulate a further growth in home consumption, public or private, so as to start getting the rate of unemployment down as fast as possible. I do not believe it would be wise to follow this advice today. As I have said, I did last July and November adopt reflationary measures whose full effect would only be felt this year. I cannot afford to increase demand further today when 5p in every £ we spend at home has been provided by our creditors abroad and inflation is running at its current rate. I do not believe anyone in Britain would thank me for producing an even larger deficit on our balance of payments and injecting a further massive dose of inflation through price and wage increases. Moreover a Rake's Progress of this nature could not last for long. The patience of our creditors would soon be exhausted. We would then face the appalling prospect of going down in a matter of weeks to the levels of public services and personal living standards which we could finance entirely from what we earned. I do not believe that our political or social system could stand that strain.
- Budget speech in the House of Commons (15 April 1975)
- The Budget I have presented today is a hard one for all of us in Britain. It is dictated by the harsh reality of the world we live in. A severe Budget is a necessary element in any strategy for improving the overall performance of our economy, which has been lagging increasingly behind most industrial economies for more than a single generation. Added to the need for measures to produce the essential structural changes in the balance of our economy are the burdens we carry with other countries because the explosion of world prices has cut our real income by 4 per cent. But in this situation the key to our immediate success is the rate of inflation inside Britain, and it is our failure here which is responsible for the special severity of this Budget. So long as pay and prices increase at their present rates, no Chancellor of the Exchequer who puts his country first would act otherwise than I have done this afternoon.
- Budget speech in the House of Commons (15 April 1975)
- No country would suffer more than Britain from an international trade war, since we depend more on world trade than any of our competitors. That is why we cannot accept the proposal made in some quarters that we should seek to solve our problems through imposing import controls for a long period over a whole range of manufactured consumer goods.
- Speech in the House of Commons (17 December 1975)
- He must be out of his tiny Chinese mind.
- Attacking Ian Mikardo, a left-wing critic of spending cuts, using a phrase of the comedienne Hermione Gingold (The Daily Telegraph, 24 February, 1976), quoted in Denis Healey The Time of My Life (1990), p. 444
- By the end of next year, we really shall be on our way to that so-called economic miracle we need.
- In an Ministerial broadcast on the Budget (6 April 1976)
- If we can keep our heads—and our nerve—the long-awaited economic miracle is in our grasp. Britain can achieve in the Seventies what Germany and France achieved in the Fifties and Sixties.
- The Sunday Telegraph (4 July 1976)
- The alternative to getting help from the IMF would be economic policies so savage I think they would produce riots in the streets, an immediate fall in living standards and unemployment of three million.
- On ITN's News at Ten (29 September 1976)
- I am going to negotiate with the IMF on the basis of our existing policies, not changes in policies, and I need your support to do it. (Applause) But when I say "existing policies", I mean things we do not like as well as things we do like. It means sticking to the very painful cuts in public expenditure (shouts from the floor) on which the Government has already decided. It means sticking to a pay policy which enables us, as the TUC resolved a week or two ago, to continue the attack on inflation. (Shout of, "Resign".)
- Speech at the Labour Party Conference (30 September 1976), quoted in Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1976, p. 319. Healey had been forced to abandon plans to attend an international finance ministers' conference in order to speak to the conference because of a run on the pound.
- No Government can produce an economic miracle. An economic miracle depends on people on the shop floor, in the board room, in the sales office, working a bit harder and more efficiently than they have worked in the past.
- On BBC TV (15 December 1976)
- Keynesianism has failed.
- Remark at a meeting in No. 10 Downing Street (2 May 1977), quoted in Bernard Donoughue, Downing Street Diary, Volume Two: With James Callaghan in No. 10 (2008), p. 182
- The central problem of our economy for more than a generation has been that, although our productivity has grown more slowly than that of our competitors, we have seen annual wage increases of the same order as theirs. So our inflation has risen faster than in other countries and we have been able to maintain price competitiveness and full employment only by a series of devaluations which have further added to inflation and increased the pressure for excessive wage increases. In the era of North Sea oil it will be more difficult to devalue our currency to maintain price competitiveness. So unless we can keep wage increases close to the level of productivity increase we shall face rising unemployment and a further erosion of our industrial base.
- Memorandum ('The Pay Scene') (20 December 1977)
- I start with the measures which the Government announced last Thursday, and which are the immediate occasion of today's debate, and to which the right hon. Gentleman finally came round - a trifle nervously, I thought - after ploughing through that tedious and tendentious farrago of moth-eaten cuttings presented to him by the Conservative Research Department. I must say that part of his speech was rather like being savaged by a dead sheep.
- Austria came to terms with its political and economic disadvantages after the war, jettisoned those parts of its Marxist ideological inheritance which were obviously no longer relevant, and turned a country which in the inter-war years had been suffering from an ex-imperial hangover into a model welfare state, without sacrificing any of its cultural attractions in the process. [I am offering no New Jerusalem], simply a country with stable prices, jobs for those who want them and help for those who need it.
- Sarah Barker Memorial Lecture (8 September 1979), quoted in Peter Jenkins, Mrs Thatcher's Revolution: The Ending of the Socialist Era (1989), p. 141
- Our party can't be united unless it remains what it always has been till now: a broad coalition of men and women from all sections of our society, supporting many different approaches to democratic socialism, who tolerate their disagreements with one another, and defend the right of minorities to fight for changes in the policies they disagree with.
- I don't believe the party gains when a member of the last two Labour governments stumps round the country blackguarding the record of the governments as a betrayal of the British working class, and describing the Prime Ministers through whom he accepted office as medieval monarchs who turned Labour MPs into their puppets. What nonsense! Tell that to Eric Heffer or Jeff Rooker or any of the many Labour MPs who've made my life as Chancellor so difficult from time to time, and I never objected to that. No! Those who betray the working class of Britain are those who forced us for two whole years to fight one another when we should have been fighting the Tories and through a sort of ideological narcissism are helping to keep in power the most brutal government in living memory, a government which has commit itself to destroy our trade union movement. We didn't lose the last election because we failed to follow the advice of these elitists. It was Maggie Thatcher who won the last election, not Mick McGahey. And we're losing votes today not to the Socialist Workers Party or the IMG but to David Steel and Roy Jenkins.
- NATO's nuclear strategy is an essential part of that balance [between East and West]. To threaten to upset it by refusing to let America base any of her nuclear weapons in Britain would make war more likely, not less likely.
- The Guardian (14 August 1981)
- I would fight to change the policy before the General Election. If I failed then I wouldn't accept office in a Labour Government.
- On unilateral nuclear disarmament. (The Guardian, 15 September 1981)
- Faced with the difficulties of unilateral reflation, some socialists are tempted to seek salvation through trade restrictions or competitive devaluation. But such beggar-my-neighbour policies, if pursued on the scale required...are more likely to lead to a trade and currency war than to insulate their sponsors from the recession in the outside world.
- Speech to the twelfth congress of the Confederation of Socialist Parties of the EEC in Paris (12 November 1982), quoted in The Times (13 November 1982), p. 3
- We will unilaterally get rid of Trident and cruise, and we will put Polaris into the arms talks with the Soviet Union and hope to phase it out in multilateral negotiations. If the Russians...fail to cut their nuclear forces accordingly it would be a new situation that we could consider at that time.
- The Times (25 May 1983), p. 1
- [Margaret Thatcher] wraps herself in the Union Jack and exploits the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Falkland Islands for purely party advantage – and hopes to get away with it. It wasn't a very credible approach from the word 'go' because this Prime Minister, who glories in slaughter, who has taken advantage of the superb professionalism of our armed forces, is at this very moment lending the military dictatorship in Buenos Aires millions of pounds to buy weapons – including weapons made in Britain – to kill British servicemen. That is an act of stupefying hypocrisy.
- Speech in Birmingham (1 June 1983), quoted in The Times (2 June 1983), p. 1. Healey withdrew the remark "glories in slaughter" the next day and claimed he should have said "conflict" rather than "slaughter" (The Times (3 June 1983), p. 1)
- What almost halved the support for the Labour Party was the feeling that it has lost its traditional common sense and its humanity to a new breed of sectarian extremism.
- On the 1983 general election (The News of the World, 19 June 1983)
- [W]ho is the Mephistopheles behind this shabby Faust? The answer to that is clear. The handling of this decision by—I quote her own Back Benchers—the great she-elephant, she who must be obeyed, the Catherine the Great of Finchley, the Prime Minister herself, has drawn sympathetic trade unionists, such as Len Murray, into open revolt. Her pig-headed bigotry has prevented her closest colleagues and Sir Robert Armstrong from offering and accepting a compromise.
The right hon. Lady, for whom I have a great personal affection, has formidable qualities, a powerful intelligence and immense courage, but those qualities can turn into horrendous vices, unless they are moderated by colleagues who have more experience, understanding and sensitivity. As she has got rid of all those colleagues, no one is left in the Cabinet with both the courage and the ability to argue with her.
I put it to all Conservative Members, but mainly to the Government Front Bench, that to allow the right hon. Lady to commit Britain to another four years of capricious autocracy would be to do fearful damage not just to the Conservative party but to the state.
- So long as the Soviet Union has nuclear weapons there have to be nuclear weapons somewhere in NATO to deter them from using them.
- The Tribune (28 March 1986)
- The reason we were defeated in so far as defence played a role is that people believe we were in favour of unilaterally disarming ourselves. It wasn't the confusion. It was the unilateralism that was the damaging thing.
- Explaining Labour's defeat in the 1983 election in an interview in Marxism Today (April 1986)
- We are going through a period of uncertainty, but we are in a good position to strengthen ourselves and win back a majority. We have already got rid of much deadwood and Kinnock is winning back younger voters. He is politically intelligent, has character and courage; but he has never been a minister, lacks experience, and people know it. In troubled times, the electorate looks for a strong leader and Mrs Thatcher is seen as one.
- Interview for La Stampa (5 April 1986), quoted in The Times (7 April 1986), p. 2
- The US, whether we like it or not, has nuclear weapons. The US is a member of NATO. Possession by the US of nuclear weapons is obviously a deterrent.
- The London Standard (30 September 1986).
- No. Absolutely not. I think that the Russians are praying for a Labour victory...praying is perhaps an unfortunate choice of words. I think that they would much prefer a Labour government and that the idea that they would prefer a Tory government, I think is utter bunkum, and they [the Soviets] authorized me to say so.
- Answering a suggestion that the Soviets would prefer a Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher than a Labour government headed by Neil Kinnock at a press conference in Moscow after a meeting with Anatoly Dobrynin (11 May 1987), quoted in E. B. Geelhoed, Margaret Thatcher: In Victory and Downfall, 1987 and 1990 (Greenwood, 1992), pp. 120-1.
- The trouble about Europe is what I call the Olive Line, the line below which people grow olives. North of the Olive Line people pay their taxes and spend public money very cautiously. South of it they fail to pay their taxes at all, but spend a lot of public money.
- Interview with Michael Crick (9 May 2013)
Quotes about HealeyEdit
- Denis Healey was a great champion for social justice, in and out of government, a stalwart of the Labour Party, a true patriot who fought for and cared deeply about his country and an extraordinary and vibrant character. ... He steered the Labour government and the country through some of the most difficult economic times; and in winning the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 1981, he probably saved the Labour Party as an instrument of government and social change. All of us in the Labour Party owe him a huge debt. Britain has lost a dedicated and faithful public servant.
- I always had a sneaking affection for Denis Healey, even at his most outrageous. I liked his rumbustiousness, a quality which adds richness to politics provided it is combined with intellectual insight and personal incorruptibility, as it was in Denis's case. He is an instinctive bully, but bullies always bring out the best in me and I enjoyed our clashes in Cabinet. His autobiography is a masterly piece of work and, as I read it, I chuckled over the cunning way he skates over his confessions of past mistakes, leaving the impression that they did not adversely affect events, though of course they did.
- Barbara Castle, Fighting All the Way (1994), p. 155
- Denis Healey was a giant of the Labour Party whose record of service to his party and his country stands as his testament. ... His wit and personality transcended politics itself, making him one of the most recognisable politicians of his era. Speaking personally, we had many interesting conversations when I was first elected to Parliament in 1983 and I found him a decent and very knowledgeable man who I enjoyed engaging with, particularly in his work as shadow foreign secretary.
- The art of John Dryden would be required to encompass the complex personality of the ambitious and many-sided politician who, in 1974, became Chancellor of the Exchequer. The most cultured of Chancellors, he could also be the greatest bully. Perhaps the most brilliant of Chancellors intellectually, he was possessed also of a common touch which attracted a wider public even when it most disliked his actions. His various disguises could confuse. A friendly commentator might attribute to him a deep seriousness worn lightly, sometimes perhaps flippantly. The flippancy could have been diagnosed as a defence mechanism for a man whose outward ebullience concealed inner doubts. Or it could have been interpreted as an expression of total self-confidence. The friendly commentator would have detected great courage, normally kept in reserve, as though courage was only for the decisive moment and it would be tedious to fight too hard when the issues appeared not of the first importance. A less friendly commentator might have criticised the flippancy, encountered not just in words but in deeds, as indicative of irresponsibility. Certainly it was not always to the taste of those who worked for him. By civil servants in the Treasury, he came to be admired for the excitement he generated and feared for his penetration of official work less than first class. But by those, Ministers and officials, who could not take his dismissive rudeness, he might even be hated. He came to dominate the international community of Finance Ministers by his intellectual brilliance and his committee skills.
- Edmund Dell, The Chancellors: A History of Chancellors of the Exchequer 1945–90 (1996), p. 402
- He had a clear idea of the objectives he wanted to secure, and mostly, from a socialist point of view, they were good ones. He would listen; he could be endlessly patient in negotiations, which is the only way to negotiate with would-be friends or allies; he had an irrepressible intellectual curiosity deriving partly from his interest in matters which touched only the fringe of politics.
- Michael Foot, ‘Denis Healey’, The Observer (15 October 1989), quoted in The Uncollected Michael Foot: Essays Old and New, ed. Brian Brivati (2004), pp. 271–272
- The greatest interest to economists of the Budget strategy will be in the way the Chancellor [Healey] has finally and totally broken with postwar economic orthodoxy, abandoned full employment as the sovereign purpose of the Budget, and decided that future stability of both prices and the foreign balance depended on achieving a better balance of the Budget itself.
- Peter Jay, 'It all depends on future pay settlements', The Times (16 April 1975), p. 1
- He has long carried light ideological baggage on a heavy gun carriage.
- Roy Jenkins, A Life at the Centre (1991), p. 617
- He didn't suffer fools gladly or, indeed, at all. That partly explains why he was never leader of the party despite having rich political talent. He was brilliant in the Commons, an ebullient campaigner in the country, and his piano-thumping performances in by-election sing-songs were – like him – loud, lively, and uplifting. ... To know Denis Healey was to enjoy him.
- The only hope was Denis Healey. ... But my hopes were shortlived. Soon after the party conference in October , it became evident that Denis Healey, whether he became leader or not, was not going to fight head-on the unilateralist and anti-European policy of the Labour Party. He was not going to make the party face up to the electoral incredibility of being both in effect anti-Nato and anti-European. ... So, Denis Healey was not going to fight the left. That became clear. Denis does not have good political judgement. In that sense he is not a good politician. He has a first-class brain, he is extremely well informed and he's got good judgement about many things, but he's not been a very good judge of feelings and moods within the Labour Party. I think he calculated that by taking the soft approach, the emollient approach, he could woo the left and win the leadership and, having secured it, would then fight for his policies. But he wasn't going to fight beforehand.
- David Owen, Personally Speaking to Kenneth Harris (1987), pp. 169–171
- We wanted Denis Healey to win, and Bill and I voted for him to win, but we wanted the right policies to win too. If he had fought for those policies and had lost we would have been bound to stick with him for a while and to have gone on fighting for them within the party. No question about it. Well, Denis did not heed our message. He stood as a ‘Peace’ candidate. It was just ludicrous. Everybody knew perfectly well, I think, that he didn't agree with a word of what he was supporting. His position was totally unconvincing. If he had fought on, so to speak, a ‘war ticket’, he would have probably lost, but I have no doubt that he would have been the leader of the Labour Party within two years. In retrospect that was the moment when the SDP was created.
- David Owen, Personally Speaking to Kenneth Harris (1987), p. 171
- Of all the senior politicians I have known, Denis was by far the most loyal to decisions he did not like, to colleagues he served or who served him, to Labour Party policy he disliked and above all to his wife Edna and his family. This quality of his, more than any other, means that I have always measured Denis by a stringent but more generous yardstick than I use for any other politicians. He also has great style. I can hear him, as if it were yesterday, getting up from a dinner at Admiralty House and announcing with chuckle that he was off "to vote for the people against privilege". It was not just a joke. There was always a hint of "Denis the Menace" against privilege, and justly so. For all his faults he is a big man and I have been lucky to learn from him and to know him.
- David Owen, Time to Declare (1991), p. 142
- On Wednesday 10 March  members of the Tribune group of left-wing MPs launched their attack by abstaining on a motion from the Chancellor to 'level off' total public expenditure from April 1977... There were bitter exchange among MPs... Tribunites hurled vulgar abuse. Denis Healey...responded with characteristic vigour. 'Stalinist! Stalinist!' Eric Heffer shouted at him. 'Bastard! Bastard!' echoed Russell Kerr. Healey's own version is that, returning to the Chamber from the voting lobby, 'one of the rebels used demotic language to cast aspersions on my paternity, so I praised his virility in similar language several times.' According to one witness, the Chancellor's precise words to his critics were: 'Go and fuck yourselves.'
- Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (1992), p. 678
- The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been—I know this because I have watched him over the years—a monetarist much longer than anyone has ever suspected of him. I used to listen with enjoyment to his speeches in the years 1972 to 1974, and I would shake my head and say to myself, "He will be a good Chancellor of the Exchequer, for he understands the real causes of inflation." Oh, he understands them all right.
- The right hon. Gentleman will be known for ever as the only Chancellor in the post-war period who brought this country to the brink of bankruptcy.
- [T]he defence budget is one of the very few elements of public expenditure that can truly be described as essential. The point was well-made by a robust Labour Defence Minister, Denis (now Lord) Healey, many years ago: ‘Once we have cut expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders.’
- Margaret Thatcher, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World (2002), pp. 43–44
- Denis is a colourful, ebullient personality, combative and life-loving, with an unusually rich hinterland outside politics. He is an exceptionally gifted photographer...and is immensely knowledgeable about music... Yet he was never a serious candidate for the leadership. He was unpredictable, behaving rather like a strongly served tennis ball hitting a soft spot and then bouncing sideways. You could never be sure what he might do. He was a loner, enjoying his family and a few close friends, mainly not politicians, so predictions about his behaviour from colleagues were not particularly helpful. He had been brusque with many of them, or scorched them with his brilliant, brutal humour. He was not a popular figure in the Commons tea room. I liked him very much.
- Shirley Williams, Climbing the Bookshelves (2009), pp. 223-224
- He said things the way they were and you couldn't stop him from doing so. ... He was a mixture of incredible courage, lack of tact and not very good at playing in a way that would give him the advantage as distinct from party or the country. It was an impressive performance and I shan't forget it.