Barbara Castle was a Labour politician who served as a Cabinet minister in two governments, 1964-1970 and 1974-1976. After each Cabinet meeting, she typed up what had been said, from memory and her shorthand notes, creating this week’s object, her Cabinet diaries. These were later published.
Barbara Castle never shrank from controversy: she was at the heart of the introduction of seatbelts and the breathalyser to improve road safety, the Equal Pay Act, and, as Secretary of State for Employment, the 1969 white paper “In Place of Strife” which sought to curb the power of the trades unions. Her diaries show government actually happening, and her candid thoughts about everyone involved. In his review of her 1974-1976 volume in the London Review of Books, Edmund Dell said, “Barbara Castle’s diary of the period 1974-76 shows more about the nature of cabinet government – even though it deals with only one Cabinet – than any previous publication, academic, political or biographical”.
The unpublished diaries are exciting to use even though they also exist in published form. The publications omitted some material (mainly technical), and also lose the vitality of Castle’s input. The diaries are a melange of typescript, shorthand, handwriting, doodles and caricatures, and give a sense of how she composed them.
Castle’s papers were left to the Bodleian Library (she studied at Oxford University), but she bequeathed her diaries to Bradford University because the city meant so much to her. Although not born here, she spent her formative years in this hotbed of radical politics. The University awarded her an honorary degree in 1966.