Hugh Gaitskell

British politician

Hugh Todd Naylor Gaitskell (9 April 190618 January 1963) was a British politician and leader of the Labour Party from 1955 until his death.


Chancellor of the ExchequerEdit

  • Between the wars, the heavy unemployment in Great Britain and keenly competitive conditions abroad were factors which had to be taken into account in wage negotiations. Employers were afraid that higher wages, by adding to their costs, would make it more difficult for them to sell their goods, especially in export markets. If this happened unemployment would increase and workers' representatives had to bear this in mind also. The larger the number of unemployed, also, the more difficult it was to maintain full workers' solidarity, i.e. an employer could resist a strike, and make cuts in wages more easily the more workers were out of work. Thus in the last resort it was the existence of heavy unemployment, at home and abroad, which allowed employers to resist wage claims and discouraged workers from pressing them too far.
    • Memorandum, 'Wages and Prices and Full Employment' (1 December 1950), quoted in Correlli Barnett, The Lost Victory: British Dreams, British Realities: 1945–1950 (London: Pan, 1996), p. 350
  • Conditions have greatly changed in Great Britain since the end of the war owing to the existence of full employment. Negotiations about wages between the two sides of industry now take place in entirely different circumstances. There is no reserve of labour to compete for jobs. ... If wages rise faster than productivity the increases in cost can usually be passed on in increased selling prices. There is thus in the economic system very much less check on the upward movement of money wages. ...if wages at home rise unchecked, it is more likely in general that exports will gradually cease to be competitive and there will be balance of payments difficulties. These can be met, in the end, by devaluation. A succession of devaluations completely undermines confidence in any currency. ... It is clear that a very difficult problem faces a country such as ours, which wishes to maintain full employment and yet to avoid the undoubted evils of rising prices and balance of payments difficulties abroad.
    • Memorandum, 'Wages and Prices and Full Employment' (1 December 1950), quoted in Correlli Barnett, The Lost Victory: British Dreams, British Realities: 1945–1950 (London: Pan, 1996), pp. 350–352
  • In recent years, hours of work have been reduced, holidays have been increased, the age of entry into employment has gone up, and above all, our general health and expectation of life as a people have markedly improved. It is a natural corollary of these changes that we should work longer and retire later.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 April 1951) introducing the 1951 budget

Leader of the Labour PartyEdit

  • We cannot forget that Colonel Nasser has repeatedly boasted of his intention to create an Arab empire from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. The French Prime Minister, M. Mollet, the other day quoted a speech of Colonel Nasser's and rightly said that it could remind us only of one thing—of the speeches of Hitler before the war.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 August 1956) after Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal
  • The fact is that this episode must be recognised as part of the struggle for the mastery of the Middle East. That is something which I do not feel that we can ignore. One may ask, "Why does it involve the rest of the Middle East?" It is because of the prestige issues which are involved here. ... prestige has quite considerable effects. If Colonel Nasser's prestige is put up sufficiently and ours is put down sufficiently, the effects of that in that part of the world will be that our friends desert us because they think we are lost, and go over to Egypt.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 August 1956) after Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal
  • I have no doubt myself that the reason why Colonel Nasser acted in the way that he did, aggressively, brusquely, suddenly, was precisely because he wanted to raise his prestige in the rest of the Middle East. ... He wanted to challenge the West and to win. He wanted to assert his strength. He wanted to make a big impression. Quiet negotiation, discussion around a table about nationalising the Company would not produce this effect. It is all very familiar. It is exactly the same that we encountered from Mussolini and Hitler in those years before the war.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 August 1956) after Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal
  • All I can say is that in taking this decision the Government, in the view of Her Majesty's Opposition, have committed an act of disastrous folly whose tragic consequences we shall regret for years. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Yes, all of us will regret it, because it will have done irreparable harm to the prestige and reputation of our country.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (31 October 1956) against the Suez War
  • I don't believe the present Prime Minister can carry out this policy. His policy this last week has been disastrous and he is utterly, utterly discredited in the world. Only one thing now can save the reputation and honour of our country. Parliament must repudiate the Government's policy. The Prime Minister must resign.
    • Broadcast (4 November 1956) on the Suez Crisis, quoted in The Times (5 November 1956), p. 4
  • You can be assured of this. There will be no increase in the standard or other rates of income tax under the Labour Government so long as normal peacetime conditions continue.
    • Speech in Newcastle (28 September 1959) during the general election campaign, quoted in The Times (29 September 1959), p. 10
  • We may lose the vote today, and the result may deal this party a grave blow. It may not be possible to prevent it, but there are some of us, I think many of us, who will not accept that this blow need be mortal: who will not believe that such an end is inevitable. There are some of us who will fight, and fight, and fight again, to save the party we love. We will fight, and fight, and fight again, to bring back sanity and honesty and dignity, so that our party – with its great past – may retain its glory and its greatness.
    • Speech at the Labour Party conference (5 October 1960) in opposition to a motion endorsing unilateral nuclear disarmament.
  • I don't believe in faith. I believe in reason and you have not shown me any.
    • Remarks to Jean Monnet (4 April 1962), who was trying to persuade him of the benefits of the EEC, quoted in Philip Williams, Hugh Gaitskell (Jonathan Cape, 1979), p. 708
  • Of course after the conference a desperate attempt was made by Mr. Bonham-Carter to show that of course they weren't committed to federation at all. Well I prefer to go by what Mr. Grimond says; I think he's more important. And when he was asked about this question there was no doubt about his answer; it was on television. And the question was [laughter] I see what you mean, I see what you mean. Yes was the question: "But the mood of your conference today was that Europe should be a federal state. Now if we had to choose between a federal Europe and the Commonwealth, this would have to be a choice wouldn't it? You couldn't have the two." And Mr. Grimond replied in these brilliantly clear sentences: "You could have a Commonwealth linked, though not of course a direct political link, you could have a Commonwealth link of other sorts. But of course a federal Europe I think is a very important point. Now the real thing is that if you are going to have a democratic Europe, if you are going to control the running of Europe democratically, you've got to move towards some form of federalism and if anyone says different to that they're really misleading the public." That's one in the eye for Mr. Bonham-Carter. [laughter] Now we must be clear about this, it does mean, if this is the idea, the end of Britain as an independent nation-state. I make no apology for repeating it, the end of a thousand years of history. You may say: "All right let it end." But, my goodness, it's a decision that needs a little care and thought. [clapping] And it does mean the end of the Commonwealth; how can one really seriously suppose that if the mother country, the centre of the Commonwealth, is a province of Europe, which is what federation means, it could continue to exist as the mother country of a series of independent nations; it is sheer nonsense.
    • Speech at the Labour Party Conference (2 October 1962) against the Liberal Party's policy of British membership of the European Communities, quoted in Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1962, page 159
    • See the video clip here

Quotes about GaitskellEdit

  • Butskellism’...was, of course, a term compounded by The Economist out of Gaitskell's name and mine. ... [E]ach of us would, I think, have repudiated its underlying assumption that, though sitting on opposite sides of the House, we were really very much of a muchness. I admired him as a man of great humanity and sticking power, and was to regard his untimely death in 1963 as a real loss to the Labour party, to the country and to the tone of public life. But I shared neither his convictions, which were unquenchably Socialist, nor his temperament, which allowed emotion to run away with him rather too often, nor his training which was that of an academic economist. Both of us, it is true, spoke the language of Keynesianism. But we spoke it with different accents and with a differing emphasis.
    • Rab Butler, The Art of the Possible (Hamish Hamilton, 1971), p. 160
  • He would not have been a perfect Prime Minister. He was stubborn, rash, and could in a paradoxical way become too emotionally committed to an over-rational position which, once he had thought it rigorously through, he believed must be the final answer. He was only a moderately good judge of people. Yet when these faults are put in the scales and weighed against his qualities they shrivel away. He had purpose and direction, courage and humanity. He was a man for raising the sights of politics. He clashed on great issues. He avoided the petty bitterness of personal jealously. He could raise banners which men were proud to follow, but he never perverted his own leadership ability: it was infused by sense and humour, and by a desire to change the world, not for his own satisfaction, but so that people might more enjoy living in it. ... He was that very rare phenomenon, a great politician who was also an unusually agreeable man.
    • Roy Jenkins, 'Gaitskell: how he fought and fought and fought again', The Times (20 January 1973), p. 14
  • I soon came to regard Hugh an outstanding man. His fight against the unilateralists made a deep impression on me. The whole stand against CND within the Labour Party with his famous 'Fight, and fight again' speech made me think: 'This man has principles'.
    • David Owen, Personally Speaking to Kenneth Harris (George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987), p. 23
  • Hugh Gaitskell was that rare creature, a passionate intellectual. Rationality was his creed. His limited patience was strained almost beyond endurance by the the stolid prejudices of the trades union leaders he depended upon, and the colourful sophistries of his left-wing critics. Born in India of Civil Service parents, he was as much a liberal as a socialist. He cherished liberty, detested racism, and believed in the redistribution of income and wealth to achieve social justice. He was never attracted to the European Community, for as a political entity it threatened to eclipse the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth embodied Gaitskell's deepest convictions, including internationalism and interracialism, and it had developed out of Britain's imperial history with which his family had had close connections.
  • Nye called Hugh 'a desiccated calculating machine', thinking him cold and unemotional. It was a serous misjudgement, which proved Nye's undoing. Hugh was passionate in the cause of reason. He loved the Labour Party and wanted to make it something like the German Social Democratic Party was then: free of ideological bitterness and hatred, strong for prosperity and justice and equality, the determined but moderate natural party of government which Harold Wilson foolishly thought he had achieved while actually destroying it.
    • Woodrow Wyatt, Confessions of an Optimist (Collins, 1987), p. 224

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