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The Lord Varley
Secretary of State for Industry
In office
10 June 1975 – 4 May 1979
Prime Minister
Preceded byTony Benn
Succeeded byKeith Joseph
Secretary of State for Energy
In office
5 March 1974 – 10 June 1975
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byThe Lord Carrington
Succeeded byTony Benn
Shadow Secretary of State for Employment
In office
14 July 1979 – 31 October 1983
Preceded byJim Prior
Succeeded byJohn Smith
Shadow Secretary of State for Industry
In office
4 May 1979 – 14 July 1979
LeaderJames Callaghan
Preceded byJohn Biffen
Succeeded byJohn Silkin
Member of Parliament
for Chesterfield
In office
15 October 1964 – 19 January 1984
Preceded byGeorge Benson
Succeeded byTony Benn
Personal details
Eric Graham Varley

(1932-08-11)11 August 1932
Poolsbrook, Derbyshire, England
Died29 July 2008(2008-07-29) (aged 75)
Political partyLabour
Marjorie Turner
(m. 1955)
Alma materRuskin College

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

Early life

Varley was born at 15 Poolsbrook Square, Poolsbrook, Staveley, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, the son of Frank Varley, coalminer, and his wife Eva, née Goring. He attended the local secondary modern school after failing his eleven-plus but left at the age of fourteen in 1946. His mother was determined that he should not go down the pit, and he began his working life as an apprentice turner at Staveley iron works, before qualifying as an engineer's turner in 1952. If it had not been for his political predilections his career could have gone in an entirely different direction, since in his youth he was regarded as a first-rate soccer player, became a semi-professional, and was believed by experts to have the makings of a leading professional footballer.

Political career

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, Varley won the NUM nomination to be the Labour candidate for his home town, where the sitting Labour Member of Parliament (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 the 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 he 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. He 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 company manufacturing coal-based products including a coke-like smokeless fuel of the same name, 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, including a regional director for Lloyds Bank from 1987 to 1991. Ashgate Hospice Ltd, 1987–96; Cathelco Ltd, 1989–99 when he retired; Laxgate Ltd, 1991–92. Following a Labour Party nomination, he was created a life peer on 30 May 1990 taking the title Baron Varley, of Chesterfield in the County of Derbyshire.[1]

Personal life

An observant Methodist all his life, on 11 June 1955 he married Marjorie Turner, a 21-year-old shop assistant, at Middle Duckmanton Methodist Church. She was the daughter of Alfred Turner, a coal miner. They had one son, Roger.


Eric Varley died on 29 July 2008 of cancer at his home.[2][where?]


  1. ^ "No. 52157". The London Gazette. 4 June 1990. p. 10067.
  2. ^ Goodman, Geoffrey (29 July 2008). "Labour peer Lord Varley dies at 75". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 30 July 2008.
Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byGeorge Benson Member of Parliament for Chesterfield 19641984 Succeeded byTony Benn Political offices Preceded byThe Lord Carrington Secretary of State for Energy 1974–1975 Succeeded byTony Benn Preceded byTony Benn Secretary of State for Industry 1975–1979 Succeeded bySir Keith Joseph, Bt Party political offices Preceded byNorman Atkinson Treasurer of the Labour Party 1981–1983 Succeeded byAlbert Booth