Sunday 6 March 2011

A tribute to Susan Crosland

Guest post by Dick Leonard.

She was the 'southern belle', from Baltimore, who captured the heart of Tony Crosland, and - to his surprise and hers - turned that erstwhile philanderer into a stern monogamist during his last two decades. Susan Crosland died, aged 84, at her West London flat on 26 February, after suffering several years of intense pain and severe disability, very bravely and cheerfully borne, resulting from contracting MRSA following operations for hip and shoulder replacement.

A graduate of Vassar, she was teaching at the Baltimore Museum of Art when, aged 25, she married her first husband, the Anglo-Irish journalist Patrick Skene Catling. He had been working as a reporter on the Baltimore Sun, where Susan's father, Mark Watson, was a senior editor. The marriage was not a success, though it produced two lively and beautiful daughters, Sheila and Ellen-Craig, and was already 'rocky', in Susan's words, when Patrick was posted to England in 1956, and shipped his family over. No sooner had they arrived, than he was sent on to the Middle East to cover the Suez War, and Susan had her fatal encounter with the author of the newly published work, The Future of Socialism, at a party given by one of her Vassar friends.

It was over seven years before they were to marry - both for the second time - in January 1964, but from then onwards, despite many vicissitudes, neither of them seriously doubted that they had met the great love of their lives. In the meantime, Susan built up a distinguished journalistic career for herself, writing under the name of Susan Barnes, a series of in-depth interviews or profiles with leading figures in British life, initially for the Sunday Express, and later for the Sunday Times.

Wherever she went, she charmed the backsides off all the people she encountered, including, not least, the great bulk of her interviewees. Her striking good looks, her empathy, openness and graceful manner readily seduced not only the men, but also the women whom she got to know. She remained a fiercely loyal supporter of the Labour Party, but her friendships were cross-party, and among the devoted group of family and friends who attended her cremation on Friday were the wives of two former Tory cabinet ministers.

For Tony, she proved the ideal mate, bringing a new stability into his life, and providing him with a ready-made family of two step-daughters, both of whom became devoted to him. To their great regret, he and Susan were unable to have any children of their own. With Susan's whole-hearted support, Tony buckled down and became one of the most capable and influential ministers in both the Wilson cabinets, though he was grievously disappointed not to be chosen as Chancellor of the Exchequer, when James Callaghan resigned, after the devaluation of 1967. When Callaghan succeeded Wilson as Prime Minister in 1976, he appointed Crosland as Foreign Secretary, but his tenure was brought to an abrupt end by his tragic death in February 1977.

After his death, Susan turned down the chance of fighting his Grimsby constituency as the Labour candidate in the ensuing by-election, but she produced a remarkable memoir, Tony Crosland, published in 1982. This combined a moving account of their life together, with unprecedented insights into the life of a senior cabinet minister and into internal conflicts in the Labour Party during a tumultuous period.

Susan went on to write another half dozen books, including four rather raunchy novels, and also wrote her own memoirs, for which, however, she was unable to find a publisher. From 1985 until his death in 2001, she enjoyed a close friendship with the novelist and editor, Auberon Waugh.

She was a good friend of the Fabian Society, contributing to the book, Crosland and New Labour, which I edited for the Fabians and Macmillan in 1999. She also wrote an 'Afterword' for the 50th anniversary edition of The Future of Socialism, in 2006, and - despite her acute disability - travelled up to Grimsby to speak at the launch meeting held by the Fabian Society.

Above, all, Susan was a life-enhancer, and will be long remembered with admiration, affection and, indeed, love, by all who knew her.

Dick Leonard, political writer and journalist, was PPS to Tony Crosland in the House of Commons from 1970-74, and is a former deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society.


From 'Snapshots of Tony' by Susan Crosland, her 'Afterword' to the 50th anniversary edition of 'The Future of Socialism'

In 1956, my then husband, Patrick Skene Catling, was assigned to head the Baltimore Sun's London bureau for two years. Our marriage was distinctly rocky. Yet despite terrific discouragements, neither of us wanted a divorce, and I didn't contemplate an affair. That spring, along with our two small daughters, Sheila and Ellen Craig, I boarded the Mauretania II to join Patrick in London.

At the beginning of November 1956 the Conservative government under Sir Anthony Eden had British troops poised for the invasion of Egypt. Patrick flew to the Middle East to report events as they unfolded there. I attended a small cocktail party given by Sue Cardozo, a friend from Vassar. In her drawing room the Suez fiasco was one topic of heated conversation. Another was The Future of Socialism, about which everybody present seemed to hold a strong view, I alone oblivious to its recent publication and its author's name until our hostess introduced us.

'Let's sit down,' Tony Crosland said, settling on our hostess's unoccupied sofa. 'Cannot understand why people want to stand around while holding a conversation. I expect you'd like to discuss your psychoanalyst.'

'I've never been analysed, as it happens.'

'Nonsense. Every American female has been analysed. Generally twice.'

Later, over dinner on a ship moored in the Thames with Sue and half a dozen of her friends I asked him: 'What is The Future of Socialism? Is it one of those pamphlets?'

That gave him great pleasure.

Unusually tall and broad-shouldered, to me he looked raffish - with embryonic shadows beneath his eyes - and was compelling at the same time. I'd rarely seen irises so pale: I was fascinated by their contrast with the nearly black straight hair. When we took to the dance-floor, he stood turning on one spot, holding me close - a form of dancing sometimes called 'a vertical expression of a horizontal intention'.

While Labour MPs responded to The Future of Socialism, his earlier image as a dilettante was to linger overlong as myths do. He was not going to make the slightest attempt to alter that opinion of him: to do so would be squalid. Nor did he advertise his great kindness.

In the copy of The Future of Socialism he gave me, he marked chapters I should skim, others for me to skip altogether. At Vassar previously, I had read virtually nothing about political philosophy or sociology, not to mention economics, and he was too good a teacher to overburden a novice. His moral case for greater equality moved me deeply.

* Extracted from Susan Crosland's 'Afterword' to the 50th anniversary edition of The Future of Socialism, published by Constable, in association with the Fabian Society.

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