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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK
Barbara Castle: A dynamic firebrand
Barbara Castle
Baroness Castle fought for her beliefs with a passion
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By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Before Margaret Thatcher, there was Barbara Castle.

This powerful, strong-minded woman virtually invented the prototype and she will be remembered as one of the most effective and dynamic women in Labour's history.

If any of the party's women in the 1960s and 70s was likely to become its leader and even prime minister, she was it.

She was as robust in her views as Lady Thatcher, and just as willing and able to put them across with force.

Her red hair could only add to her image as a Labour firebrand and her platform performances could still wow audiences even towards the end of her life.

But her relationship with her party was far from easy and, more than once, she found herself the object of attack.

Pensioners' welfare

She was a star of Harold Wilson's cabinets and is remembered particularly for introducing the breathalyser when she was transport minister.

Women politicians in particular will admit they owe her a huge debt

That did not win her too may friends, but it worked in reducing deaths on the roads and is now seen as a radical and forward looking policy.

Later, as social security secretary she developed the state earnings related pension scheme.

The welfare of pensioners was one of her passions and, when she returned to the UK political scene after her time in Europe, she pursued her cause with vigour - regularly taking on Tony Blair.

She was also a pioneer in the battle for equal pay for women, a policy she eventually introduced.


Despite her fierce support for socialism, she fell out badly with the left over her "In Place of Strife" plans to limit trade union power in 1969.

The proposals sparked a major row within the party and with the unions and were ultimately defeated. But not until her standing with that section of the party had been badly hit.

Despite her controversial career, she continued to exert a huge influence over the party she had devoted all her adult life to.

There cannot be a single member of the party who does not view her as a central figure in its development since the war.

Few of the new breed of Labour MPs can deliver the sort of rabble rousing speeches she was capable of

Women politicians in particular will admit they owe her a huge debt.

As with other party veterans, she became an elder statesman in the final years of her life.

She was admired and loved by all wings of the party, even those who had opposed her trades union reforms, and those too young to remember her cabinet career in the 60s and 70s.

And, as she took up the pensioners' cause at recent party conferences, her speeches were awaited with eager anticipation.


Her performances often challenged the party leadership and saw her regain her title of left wing firebrand.

Few of the new breed of Labour MPs can deliver the sort of rabble rousing speeches she was capable of.

And even those on the receiving end of her rhetorical blasts retained a huge amount of respect for her.

Like so many of her contemporaries, she often appeared strangely out of kilter with her party. But it was the party that had changed, not her.

The BBC's Mark Mardell
"She was sharp and funny"
The BBC's Norman Smith
"Few have equalled her achievements"
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