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Baroness Castle of Blackburn, who died on 3 May, 2002, was best known as the flame-haired socialist feminist Barbara Castle.She courted controversy in Harold Wilson’s government as Secretary of State for Employment, when she tried to reduce trade union powers.And as Minister of Transport, she introduced seatbelts and breath-testing to combat drink-driving.Barbar a Anne Betts was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, on 6 October, 1910, the younger daughter of Frank Betts, a tax inspector, and his wife, Annie, a milliner.Barbara and her elder sister, Marjorie went to Bradford girls’ grammar school. From there they went to Oxford, Barbara to St Hugh’s College.The industrialised Bradford was a hub of socialism and she fell under its thrall. At school she had stood as a Labour candidate in a mock election and, under the influence of her father, took editorial responsibility for the city’s weekly socialist newspaper, theBradford Pioneer.At Oxford, however, she met disappointment. She was unenthusiastic about her studies — philosophy, politics, and economics – and gained only a third-class degree.Returning home, though, she found a new passion — politics. As propaganda secretary for Hyde Labour party she regularly spoke at street corners, and her rhetoric gathered crowds. Many years later Baroness Castle told of how one Saturday in Ashton under Lyne market place she heard herself being introduced by a male chairman: “Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a unique phenomenon, a woman wot speaks.”Soon she met the man who was to me her mentor — and she his mistress. William Mellor, editor of theDaily Herald, and a leading figure in the Socialist League, came to address a Saturday afternoon public meeting in Hyde, which Baroness Castle and her mother attended. “Our mutual attraction was immediate,” she wrote in her memoirs years later.Mr Mellor was married and twice her age. Soon they became lovers and he an articulate political tutor who found her work as a writer. Mr Mellor died suddenly in June, 1942. Baroness Castle went to the funeral but his wife did not.A year later she met her husband-to-be, after he featured her photograph on the front page of theDaily Mirror. As a St Pancras borough councillor, she was speaking at the Labour Party conference, and her speech so impressed Ted Castle, night editor of theMirror, that he made her the main story the next day. They met — and soon married.Baroness Castle was elected MP for Blackburn in the Attlee landslide of July 1945. Aged 34, she became the youngest woman in the Commons. She served as parliamentary private secretary to Sir Stafford Cripps and Harold Wilson.Mr Wilson remembered her skills when Labour was returned to power in 1964 and she took over the new Department of Overseas Development. She was then promoted — even though she couldn’t drive — to the Department of Transport where she transformed motoring with the introduction of the breath test and the seatbelt.Baroness Castle was so much of a success that Harold Wilson wanted her to take control of pay restraint — the awkward task necessary for a left-wing government to control inflation. He created the Department of Employment and Productivity and made her secretary. And so she attempted to provide a socialist solution to the problem of union control: a document calledIn Place of Strife. It caused such a storm of protest among the trade unions and within the Parliamentary Labour Party that it was watered down.Labour lost June 1970 election — partly because supporters were protesting at what they saw as the treachery ofIn Place of Strife. When Labour returned to power in 1974, Baroness Castle took over the Department of Health and Social Security where she introduced Serps, the pension scheme to help millions of low-paid workers.She left the Commons in 1979, but became the leader of the Labour group in the European parliament where for another 10 years then was ennobled as Baroness Castle of Blackburn to serve in the Lords as a campaigner for pension rights and against animal cruelty.She and Mr Castle, who died in 1979, had no children, but were devoted to their nieces and great nieces and nephews.
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Viewed by: 2817 visitors. Uploaded: 16 years ago
Published in: Online.
Published from: May 03, 2002.
Region: National
Candle candleinglass
Left by Drew Blackburn :
A real firecracker who set the political scene alight - we could do with more people like her, willing to speak their mind. I'd have loved to have met her. There's a new website that's just been launched where you can write about your memories of famous people from Derbyshire. It's called You&Yesterday. It's free to do. The site can be found at www.youandyesterday.
Left by Claire Shanahan: 17/05/2007
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