Having failed to gain a seat or spark a revolt in 1945, he worked for some time as head of Labour's International Department, observing the Iron Curtain falling across Eastern Europe and meeting future continental leaders such as Willy Brandt. At this time Healey lent backing to Bevin's Atlantacist stance with a string of anti-Soviet pamphlets. In 1952 he became Labour MP for Leeds South East.
Healey's rise was largely down to his expertise and knowledge of foreign affairs, and never built up alliances or networks around himself. As a hard-headed theorist upon power realities, he offended many advocates of a 'socialist foreign policy.' He argued that power and force retained the driving force behind international politics, particularly with regard to the Soviet Union. Recent sociological theory on the collapse of the Soviet system would probably concur with much of this.
As Defence Secretary in the 1964 governemt, he did much to calm the fears of the armed forces about Labour, despite making substantial cutbacks to forces deployed in the Far East. Actually the MoD escaped relatively unscathed, despite manifesto commitments to reject Polaris, many ended up in Scotland by 1970. Gained distinction by thumping a pack of fascists at a by-election in Walthamstow.
Self-consciously cultured and refined, Denis Healey has been prone to bad temper. Few Labour activists in the 1970s do not remember the odd occasion when, red-faced and shouting, he would turn on hecklers with the force of a full-throttle juggernaut. Often this has merely underlined his heavyweight status; as not everyone could get away with this!
In some respects this might have made him unsuitable to lead the Party, despite his ability. However, there is every reason to believe that he would have arranged a settlement with the Left, and even less doubt that he would have been excellent as a Foreign Secretary. To develop a coherent Labour international strategy, allied with comprehensive knowledge of global realities, has apparently been beyond his successors capabilities.
1970 - 1976
This was obviously a tricky time to be Chancellor. Oil price rises and correspondingly high wage demands meant that in 1975, inflation was approaching over twenty per cent. At least the public did not perceive a particular sense of panic, as Denis Healey's plans were buffetted by financial crises, sterling being repeatedly battered by the currency markets. Treasury sources suggested approaching the IMF for a loan was the only way to rescue the public finances (on an apparently false projection).
In late 1975, Denis Healey faced the ignomy of being a British Chancellor forced to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund. Through persistance and strength of will, Healey secured special drawing rights of #1000m and a stand-by credit of #700m.
The prolonged crisis meant the IMF demanded public spending cuts of #3billion in 1976. Healey from this point on was to be Chancellor of deflation, barely surprising with inflation so high, but the Government persisted in spending #1000 millions on Chevraline for defence. This incensed the Labour left, who increasingly saw this as an effect of American political and economic muscle being flexed.
By 1978, the economy seemed on an even keel, but in accepting that the 'growth in the money supply must be curbed,' Denis Healey effectively ended the post-war Keynesian consensus of spending for growth - that the end of the Bretton-Woods exchange system had perhaps prompted in 1972 anyway.
Workable alternative strategies at the time were not in abundance to solve what was primarily a monetary crisis, and Healey's intellectual abilities and down-to-earth style made him an asset in arguing for the best deal during this difficult time.
Out of the other ministers on the right of the Party, there were
few who could have survived this ordeal with their reputations
intact and even enhanced. Thanks to a supportive Prime Minister in
James Callaghan, some harsh medicine was issued to Britain.
Whether it worked in the medium-term is debatable, and for the Party,
splits were exacerbated.