Lord Radice, Labor moderate who helped prepare intellectual ground for Tony Blair – obituary

Giles Heneage Radice was born in London on October 4, 1936 to Lawrence Radice and the former Patricia Argos. His father was in the Indian civil service and Giles spent his first eight years in Calcutta.

From Prep School at Sunningdale he went to Winchester, where he was on the school’s sprint team, then did his national service with the Coldstream Guards before reading history at Magdalen College, Oxford .

A graduate in 1961, Radice was secretary of the Board of Inquiry into Advertising and personal assistant to Labor MP Francis Noel-Baker.

He joined the Labor Party at Oxford, and in the 1964 and 1966 elections he was the party’s candidate in Chippenham.

In 1966, he was appointed head of the research department of the General & Municipal Workers’ Union. The Union’s biggest wheel was its Northern Regional Leader, Andrew Cunningham; he was also Chairman of the Chester-le-Street Labor Party.

Cunningham was very impressed with Radice, and when the sitting MP for Chester-le-Street died in harness in 1972, he promoted Radice’s candidacy for the seat. He was duly selected.

Chester-le-Street had been Labor since 1910 and Radice defended a majority of 20,000 votes. But in the months leading up to the March 1973 by-election, the web of corruption around Yorkshire architect John Poulson became public knowledge. Awkwardly for Radice, Cunningham would be deeply implicated, then imprisoned for five years (reduced on appeal to three).

As no one has yet faced criminal charges, Cunningham’s involvement has not publicly become an issue. But everyone in Chester-le-Street knew it.

The challenge to Radice came from the liberals. They lined up George Suggett, a soft-spoken antiques dealer from Newbury, born locally and cousin of Sunderland footballer Colin Suggett, and they threw everything they had at Chester-le-Street – and at Radice. Jeremy Thorpe put £150 on Suggett with the local bookmaker, claiming he was only betting on certs.

Radice stuck to his memoir, met the Labor stalwarts on their doorstep and, overnight, defeated the Liberal challenge by 7,066 votes, with Tory Neil Balfour a poor third.

In the wake of the official inquiry into the Poulson affair, Radice called in May 1974 for a mandatory register of MPs’ interests and an inquiry into the Labor Party in the North East.

In the two elections of 1974, he increased his majority to 18,000, then to 24,000. With Labor in power, he introduced an Industrial Democracy Bill, complaining that Britain was 20 years behind Scandinavia in terms of employee participation.

The year Radice chaired the Fabians brought him closer to Ms Williams, and in January 1978 she made him her PPS. Losing her seat in the 1979 election put her out of contention for the Labor leadership, and when James Callaghan retired at the end of 1998, Radice supported Healey against Michael Foot.

He went on, as defections to the SDP increased, to co-found with Roy Hattersley and Peter Shore the Labor Solidarity Campaign, which led the fight back against the Bennite left.

When Robert Maclennan left for the SDP in February 1982, Foot made Radice a prominent foreign affairs spokesman. He also spoke out on jobs, fighting line by line against Norman Tebbit’s trade union legislation.

In the 1983 election the constituency of Chester-le-Street was abolished and Radice was granted the new seat of North Durham. With his majority reduced to 13,437, the lowest on record, he warned for the first time that Labor was losing its main working class support.

Radice appointed Hattersley as manager when Foot resigned, but in the victory Kinnock promoted him to education spokesperson. With the center-right Manifesto group behind him, he narrowly missed election to shadow cabinet in 1984 and 1985.

He ridiculed Sir Keith Joseph for encouraging parents to appoint ‘cannable’ children in schools and accused him of ‘clumsy threats’ to legislate for teachers to be paid based on performance.

Radice promised that Labor would absorb private schools into the public system and abolish their charity status within two years of taking office, and on the eve of the 1987 election promised a National Curriculum and Charter of parental rights. He upset the National Union of Teachers warning them not to disrupt classes if they wanted a Labor government.

Meanwhile, his support among Labor MPs had begun to wane. Labor council leaders began pushing for him to be dropped in favor of either Jack Straw or Jack Cunningham (Andrew Cunningham’s son). And in July 1986, Kenneth Baker told Tory MPs: “I don’t want anyone attacking Giles Radice. I need him to be shadow education secretary until the election.”

After Labour’s further defeat, Radice’s vote for the shadow cabinet fell from 91 to 57, and in July 1987 Straw took his place.

From the back seats, Radice introduced a bill for a Northeast Regional Assembly; from 1988 he chaired the Northern Group of Labor MPs. Appointed to the select committee of the Treasury and the civil service, he pleaded for full membership of the European monetary system.

Comments are closed.