Denis Healey hailed as 'giant' of Westminster after death aged 98

Edinburgh International Book Festival
Edinburgh International Book Festival

Tributes have been paid to former Labour chancellor Lord Denis Healey, who has died aged 98, with political foes and allies describing him as a "giant" of Westminster.

The Labour peer served in Number 11 during the 1974-79 government and became the party's deputy leader in 1980 during a career on the frontline of British politics which began in 1952.

He died peacefully at his home in Sussex this morning after a short illness, his family said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Denis Healey was a Labour giant whose record of service to party and country stands as his testament. All our thoughts are with his family."

Prime Minister David Cameron said Lord Healey was a "huge figure" in British politics and highlighted his military service during the Second World War.

Lord Healey, often described as "the best prime minister the party never had", served as a major in the Royal Engineers in North Africa and Italy.

During the Anzio landings he was a beach master, received the MBE, and was mentioned in despatches.

Mr Cameron said: "We've lost a huge figure of post-war politics. A hero in World War Two as beach master at Anzio and a brave politician, Denis Healey told his party hard truths about Britain having to live within her means.

"By all accounts he was a hugely entertaining man personally - and author of tremendously readable and informative books. A great man and a genuine public servant has left us. We should mourn with his family and give thanks for all he gave our country."

Lord Healey stood unsuccessfully for election in 1945 and eventually entered the Commons as MP for Leeds South East in 1952.

He reached the Cabinet as defence secretary in 1964, but he will be remembered for his role as chancellor during a turbulent time for the British economy.

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, whose father Tony unsuccessfully ran against Lord Healey for the party's deputy leadership in 1981, said: "Very sorry to hear that Denis Healey has died. All our thoughts are with his family on their loss."

Labour's leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon, said: "Denis was a great man of British politics and a real character with a tremendous sense of fun.

"He maintained his passion and commitment and all of us in the Labour peers group will miss him so much."

Chancellor George Osborne described his predecessor as a "giant of the Labour movement".

Lord Healey was in Number 11 when the government was forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for a loan as the UK economy teetered on the brink of collapse in 1976.

Mr Osborne said Lord Healey had been in office "in the most difficult circumstances".