Long before there was New Labour in Britain - before Prime
Minister Tony Blair was even born - there was Old Labour that
looked very like it: strongly pro-American, staunchly opposed to
unilateral nuclear disarmament, and firmly committed to expanding
In the 1950s, this kind of Labour was exemplified by Hugh
Gaitskell, who served as chancellor of the exchequer in the waning
days of Clement Attlee's administration in 1950-51, and went on to
become leader of the opposition in 1955. But for his untimely death
early in 1963, Gaitskell would have become prime minister the
following year instead of Harold Wilson.
In Hugh Gaitskell (Richard Cohen Books, 492 pp., $50), Brian
Brivati, a British historian, provides a valuable portrait of a man
widely regarded as one of the best prime ministers Britain never
had. Brivati, though too young to remember Gaitskell, is an
excellent guide to the rediscovery of a political leader who paved
the way for the present government: "In some respects Mr. Blair can
be seen as Gaitskell writ large," notes Brivati. "He leads from the
front and is prepared to push the boundaries of revisionism against
all that was formerly sacred."
Brivati is well aware of the differences between Blair and
Gaitskell, but the Blairite perspective that he brings to this
biography clearly enhances its value to today's readers.
Whereas Blair's New Labour has triumphed by assimilating many
Thatcherite ideas, Gaitskell succeeded in getting the Conservative
government of the 1950s to adopt many of his economic policies.
Known as Butskellism, after Gaitskell and his Conservative
successor as chancellor, R. A. Butler, this moderate stewardship of
a mixed economy was a tribute to Gaitskell's brand of socialism,
just as New Labour's adoption of Thatcherite policies can be seen
as validating her approach.
Gaitskell was derided by his leftist enemies as "a desiccated
calculating machine." He is revealed here to have been something
very different. True, this academic economist and civil servant was
analytical and intellectual, but he was also a man of strong
beliefs and considerable passion - and not only for politics:
Although a fond husband and devoted father to his daughters, he had
a long affair with the wife of James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming.
But he will be remembered as the man who wanted to "fight and
fight and fight again to bring back sanity and honesty and dignity,
so that our Party with its great past may retain its glory and its
greatness." And he would, as this book clearly shows, be delighted
by Tony Blair's triumphant return of Labour to power.
Not one of history's most admired monarchs, Phillip II
(1527-1598) ruled Spain, its European dependencies, and its rapidly
expanding New World empire in the second half of the turbulent 16th
century. He reigned over a country where the infamous Inquisition
was in full force. On the larger European stage, Philip's regime
fought to crush dissenting Protestants. In the Americas, Spanish
settlers enslaved the native populations.
A contemporary of England's Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Philip
had been married to her older half-sister, Mary Tudor, and at one
point was considered - and firmly dismissed - as a potential
husband by the self-styled Virgin Queen herself. She would later
thwart his designs far more seriously when England's unpredictable
weather destroyed his formidable Spanish Armada in 1588 in what
proved a vain attempt to show English privateers who ruled the
Henry Kamen's scholarly but very readable Philip of Spain
(Yale U. Press, 384 pp., $35), aims to redress what the author sees
as the Spanish monarch's excessively bad press. Philip, Kamen
feels, has too often been portrayed as a bigoted, tyrannical Prince
Using many primary documents, including Philip's own
letters, Kamen presents a more congenial portrait of a man who may
have had his flaws, but who was not a monster. …