Barbara Castle:


Born On The: 6th October 1910
Died On The: 3rd may 2002.
Birthplace: Chesterfield, Derbyshire.
Occupation(s): Politician.
Zodiac: Born under the Star Sign LibraLibraWhat Star Sign are You?
Achievement(s): The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Silver, an Open University Honorary degree, a German Cross of the Order of Merit and A life Peerage.


Baroness Barbara Anne Castle of Blackburn was a Labour Party politician, elected to Parliament in 1945, she rose to become one of the most important Labour Party politicians of the twentieth century and she was the first woman to hold the office of First Secretary of State.

After moving to Bradford, West Yorkshire at the age of twelve she attended Bradford Girls Grammar School, where she became involved in dramatics and it was there that she first developed her oratory skills; she excelled academically, becoming an A grade student and winning numerous performance awards; she also organised mock elections at the school, in which she stood as the Labour candidate.

Her further education continued at St. Hugh's College, Oxford from which she graduated with a third-class BA degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics; she first began her serious political activity at Oxford, serving as the Treasurer of the Oxford University Labour Club, the highest position a woman could hold in the club at the time; later she was elected to St. Pancras Borough Council in 1937 and in 1943 she spoke at the annual Labour Party Conference for the first time and during the Blitz she was a senior administrative officer at the Ministry of Food and an ARP warden.

Following her marriage to Ted Castle (1907–1979) in 1944, Castle became a journalist on the Daily Mirror, which by this time had become strongly pro-Labour; in the 1945 general election, which Labour won in a landslide, she became MP for Blackburn, Lancashire; she soon achieved a reputation as a left-winger and a rousing speaker; during the 1950s she was a high-profile Bevanite and made a name for herself as a vocal advocate of decolonisation and the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

In the Wilson government of 1964–1970, she held a succession of ministerial posts; she entered the Cabinet as the first Minister for Overseas Development, in so doing becoming only the fourth woman in British history ever to hold position in a Cabinet, after Margaret Bondfield, Ellen Wilkinson and Florence Horsbrugh.

As Minister of Transport (23 December 1965–6 April 1968), she introduced the breathalyser to combat the then recently acknowledged crisis of drink-driving and also made permanent the 70mph speed limit; she presided over the closure of approximately 2050 miles of railways as she enacted her part of the Beeching cuts, a betrayal of pre-election commitments by the Labour party to halt the proposals; nevertheless, she refused closure of several lines, one example being the Looe Valley Line in Cornwall and introduced the first Government subsidies for socially necessary but unprofitable railways in the Transport Act 1968.

One of her most memorable achievements as Transport minister was to pass legislation decreeing that all new cars had to be fitted with seat-belts; despite being appointed to the Ministry of Transport, a role which she was originally unenthusiastic about, Castle could not actually drive herself and was chauffeured to functions, the Labour politician Hazel Blears driving her at one time as a young Labour party activist in the 1980s; despite her lack of a driving licence, she attracted controversy when she told local government leaders to give added emphasis to motor vehicle access in urban areas, as "most pedestrians are walking to or from their cars."

As Secretary of State for Employment, she was also appointed First Secretary of State by Wilson, bringing her firmly into the heart of government; she was never far from controversy which reached a fever pitch when the trade unions rebelled against her proposals to reduce their powers in her 1969 white paper, 'In Place of Strife'; this also involved a major cabinet split, with threatened resignations, hot tempers and her future nemesis James Callaghan breaking ranks to publicly try to undermine the bill; the whole episode alienated her from many of her friends on the left, with the Tribune newspaper railing very hard against the bill, which they held to be attacking the workers without attacking the bosses; the split is often said to be partly responsible for Labour's defeat at the 1970 general election.

The eventual deal with the unions dropped most of the contentious clauses, leaving not much to show; despite failing to be elected to the shadow cabinet, Castle remained as the Labour shadow spokesperson on Employment in the early days of the incoming Conservative government in 1970, which introduced many of her policy suggestions as part of their Industrial Relations Act; when she was attacking the Conservative bill, the government simply pointed to her own white paper, leading to Wilson reshuffling her first to the health portfolio and then out of the shadow cabinet.

She also helped make history when she intervened in the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968, in which the women of the Dagenham Ford Plant demanded to be paid the same as their male counterparts; she helped resolve the strike, which resulted in a pay rise for Ford's female workers bringing them to 92% of what the men received; most significantly, as a consequence of this strike, Castle put through the Equal Pay Act 1970; a 2010 British film, Made in Dagenham, was based on the Ford strike; Miranda Richardson portrayed Castle in the film.

In 1974, after Harold Wilson's defeat of Edward Heath, Castle became Secretary of State for Health and Social Services; in the 1975 referendum debate she took a Eurosceptic stance; during a debate with Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe he asked her whether, if the vote would be yes, she would stay on as a minister; to this she replied "If the vote is yes my country will need me more than ever."; despite her views she later became a Member of the European Parliament (1979–1989).

Castle remained in cabinet until Wilson's resignation in April 1976, despite his own concerns about her ability; the head of the Downing Street policy unit, Bernard Donoghue, records in his diary that he warned Wilson that Castle's dogged pursuit of personal policy stances on public health would "wreck the NHS"; Wilson agreed, but admitted he would leave it to his successor to resolve; Castle lost her place as a cabinet minister when her bitter political enemy James Callaghan took over from Wilson as prime minister in 1976 and dismissed her almost immediately upon taking office; in an interview many years later, discussing her removal from office by James Callaghan, she claimed that the Prime Minister had told her he wanted "somebody younger" in the Cabinet, to which she famously remarked that perhaps the most restrained thing she had ever achieved in her life was not to reply with "Then why not start with yourself, Jim?"

Despite her Eurosceptic stance, less than a month after leaving Westminster at the 1979 general election she stood for and was elected to the European Parliament, writing in the Tribune that "politics is not just about policies: it is about fighting for them in every available forum and at every opportunity."; she represented Greater Manchester North from 1979–1984 and was then elected for another five years to represent Greater Manchester West from 1984–1989; she was, at that time, the only British MEP to have held a cabinet position; in the European Parliament Castle led Labour's delegation, serving as vice-chair of the Socialist Group and as a member of the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development and also the Delegation for relations with Malta.

Barbara Castle was the recipient of "The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Silver", a South African award to foreign nationals for friendship with that country; in a statement the South African government recognised Castle's "outstanding contribution to the struggle against apartheid and the establishment of a non-sexist, non-racial and democratic South Africa"; this can be seen throughout Castle's career with her active support for the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) in Britain from the very start of its existence and her continued interest and devotion to colonial issues within Parliament.

In June 2003 Castle was posthumously awarded an Honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University; she also received a Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, for services to European democracy and in 2008, Barbara Castle was named by The Guardian as one of four of 'Labour's greatest heroes'.

In September 2008 Northern Rail, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and PTEG (Passenger transport executive Group) named a train after her; the plaque was unveiled by Barbara's niece, Sonya Hinton and Ruth Kelly MP (then Secretary of State for Transport); a commemorative brochure of the event was produced by PTEG.

The Castle Diaries were published after the 1979 General Election, chronicling her time in office from 1964–1976 and providing an insight into the workings of Cabinet Government; a review in the London Review of Books at the time of their publication claimed, "Barbara Castle's diary shows more about the nature of Cabinet Government than any previous publication, it is, I think, better than Crossman", a reference to the published diaries of former Cabinet Minister Richard Crossman; however, when Enoch Powell reviewed her diaries he remarked that the "overpowering impression left on the reader's mind by her diary is that of triviality: the largest decisions and the profoundest issues are effortlessly trivialised."

In 1974, Ted Castle was made a life peer; this meant that Barbara was now formally Lady Castle, but she refused to use this courtesy title; Ted Castle died in 1979; in 1990, she was made a life peer in her own right, as Baroness Castle of Blackburn; she remained active in politics right up until her death, attacking the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, for his refusal to link pensions to earnings at the Labour party conference in 2001; she died in Chiltern, Buckinghamshire, of pneumonia and chronic lung disease.

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