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Frances Morrell

An obituary of the Labour figure

Frances Morrell who has just died at the age of 72 was a conviction politician of great energy, imagination, courage and commonsense. She was one of Tony Benn's two close advisers (the other being Francis Cripps) while he was Secretary of State for industry and energy from 1974-79, and then became Labour leader of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) in the 1980s. She had long been active in the left of the Labour Party and was press officer for the NUS, Fabian Society and (unofficially) Tony Benn before joining him in government. Benn relied heavily on her loyalty, judgment and advice.

There are hints in her obituaries that she was part of the 'hard left', the trotskyist factions who disfigured Labour Party politics during the 1970s and 1980s. This was not the case. She regarded them (and their 'soft left' fellow travellers) with contempt long before her bruising struggles as leader of ILEA with the hard left teachers’ association in Inner London. 

Morrell was a social democrat, or democratic socialist, who had a strong commitment to improving life for working class people. With Michael Meacher and me, she founded the Labour Coordinating Committee after 1979, with the aim of creating a thoughtful left programme for the party. The LCC soon became embroiled in the bitter feuding over intra-party democracy and she was one of the very few of us who stood firm for the principle of ‘one member, one vote’ against the trotskyist demands that only members of constituency party general committees should be enfranchised (they being easier to control). It was not a popular place to be in left Labour circles.

Indeed, her contribution in and out of government could have been far greater; and what she did contribute will not be fully recognised. For Frances was an imposing and forceful figure who was very sure of her own gifts and less so about those of others, friends or foes. She was more respected than liked and after being deposed as ILEA leader in 1987 she left active politics and became active in citizenship and arts bodies.

About the author

Stuart Weir is a political activist. He was formerly editor of the New Statesman when he launched Charter 88, and director of Democratic Audit at Essex University.

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