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Eric Graham Varley, Baron Varley, PC (11 August 1932 - 29 July 2008) was a British politician and former Cabinet Minister on the right wing of the Labour Party.

Varley was born in Poolsbrook near Chesterfield, Derbyshire and left school at 15 to become a craftsman, first in the local iron works and then for the local mining industry. He was active in the National Union of Mineworkers, and became a branch secretary of the union in 1955, joining the Labour Party the same year. After a period at Ruskin College, Oxford, Varley won the NUM nomination to be the Labour candidate for his home town, where the sitting Labour MP George Benson was retiring from Parliament. He was narrowly selected in June 1963 and duly held the Chesterfield seat in the 1964 election.

Despite rebelling against the government's application to join the Common Market in 1967, Varley became an Assistant Whip later that year, and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Prime Minister Harold Wilson in November 1968. He served briefly as a junior minister under Tony Benn at the Ministry of Technology from 1969. During the Labour Party's period of opposition in the early 1970s Varley was Chairman of the Trade Union Group of MPs, and became spokesman on fuel and power.

Varley was appointed Secretary of State for Energy in March 1974 when Labour returned to power. The appointment of an NUM-sponsored MP helped the government end the NUM strike which had led the previous government to ration electricity to three days a week. Varley subsidised the National Coal Board and chose a British design for new nuclear power stations over an American rival. He also began the procedure to nationalise North Sea oil. During the Common Market referendum Varley advocated a 'No' vote but was not prominent in the campaign. Immediately afterwards Wilson swapped Varley's and Benn's posts, so that Varley was effectively promoted to Secretary of State for Industry. In November 1976 Varley suffered an embarrassing public defeat when he determined to shut down the loss-making Chrysler car factory: the Cabinet forced him to increase its subsidy to keep it open. Varley continued the government's slow nationalisation programme by appointing Michael Edwardes to take over at British Leyland.

When Labour went into opposition in 1979 Varley was elected to the Shadow Cabinet in fifth place. He led Denis Healey's campaign for the party leadership in 1980 and defeated the left-winger Norman Atkinson for the post of party Treasurer (an office he had coveted for some years) in 1981. He served as opposition spokesman on employment, and resisted an attempt by Michael Foot to replace him with Neil Kinnock (whom he disliked) in 1982.

After Kinnock's election as party leader in 1983 Varley announced that he would retire from Parliament at the next general election. However, he was appointed as Chairman of Coalite PLC, a private coalmining company, and resigned his seat in January 1984. Ironically, this opened the way for Tony Benn to return to the House of Commons as Varley's successor in the seat. Varley served five years at Coalite, and later held other directorships. He was given a life peerage as Baron Varley, of Chesterfield in the County of Derbyshire on a Labour Party nomination in 1990.

Eric Varley died in 2008 of cancer at his home. [1]


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Benson
Member of Parliament for Chesterfield
Succeeded by
Tony Benn
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Carrington
Secretary of State for Energy
Succeeded by
Tony Benn
Preceded by
Tony Benn
Secretary of State for Industry
Succeeded by
Sir Keith Joseph
Preceded by
Norman Atkinson
Treasurer of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Albert Booth


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