A personal tribute by Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell. SUSAN Crosland, who has died aged 84, was a brilliant figure in her own right and the beautiful partner of one of Labour’s most exciting figures. Her death marks the end of an era for Grimsby and for Labour politics generally.
Born and brought up in Baltimore, educated at Vassar college in New York State and married in 1952 to a journalist on the Baltimore Sun she came to England in 1956, in the days when newspapers could afford foreign correspondents.
Her contributions to journalism, writing and politics were all made in this country after her divorce and subsequent marriage in 1964 to Labour’s brightest star, Tony Crosland, MP for Grimsby, the best leader our party never had. He found an equal in Susan who became not only a political wife but, lover, partner and helpmate as well as a considerable journalist in her own right.
At their first meeting in 1956, Crosland dismissed her naive questions on his book, The Future of Socialism with his usual rudeness, but it became the start of a relationship. Both were already married, she with two girls.
Her first arrival in Grimsby in 1959 as a glamorous presence in a sports car caused a certain amount of consternation in the local Labour Party, but it was also the start of another long-lasting relationship.
Grimsby was Crosland’s touch stone for the real world; what mattered to Grimsby was what Labour should do, but for her it was a new world of real people who she quickly got to know and who liked and respected her.
If the respect she had was sometimes like that accorded to a woman from another planet, it was always affectionate. Whether interviewing the high and the mighty or the real people of Grimsby, Susan Crosland’s gift was a sensitive, perceptive rapport and an empathy which drew people out, whether they were the top politicians she profiled for The Sunday Times, or the people of Grimsby’s smaller world.
For the Croslands and for Labour, the 60s and 70s were the golden years. Tony rose to the top of the party, ending as Foreign Secretary on Wilson’s retirement, while she became the star journalist of The Sunday Times. They balanced each other well.
Tony could be brusque and rude, she was beautiful and charming. He dealt with the high politics and ideology, she brought home the gossip and the trends of opinion. Together they were a golden couple.
The idyll ended with Tony Crosland’s death in February 1977. Movingly Susan scattered his ashes from a Grimsby trawler and embarked over four years on her great labour of love – his biography.
This was a masterpiece, one of the best and certainly most personal of political biographies chronicling a love affair as well as the rise of a great man. Grimsby, its people and its Labour Party played their part in the book. Its success opened a new career as an author of a series of novels and collected articles, even a book of Great Sexual Scandals, which was sadly less titivating than it sounds
Throughout she continued to take a close interest in Grimsby and its people, coming at election times and keeping in touch with party members and Tony’s successor. Sadly though, her last years were blighted by pain and ill health caused by arthritis, hip replacements and the fact that MRSA contracted in hospital left her cruelly crippled.
Her last visit was in 2006 in a wheelchair
Disabled and weakened, she was confined to the flat where they’d lived in their golden years, still optimistic and unembittered by the suffering, but in great pain towards the end. She died on February 26 leaving two daughters, four grandchildren and a host of memories in Grimsby and the wider world to which she had been such a lovely, caring and sensitive contributor.