Baron George-Brown of Jevington, 70, a former deputy leader of Britain's Labor Party whose cabinet posts during the 1960s had included that of foreign secretary, died June 2 at a hospital near his home in Cornwall. He had undergone surgery for internal hemorrhaging.
Born George Alfred Brown in a South London tenement, the son of a truck driver and union official, he never had the advantage of a university education. Yet he made his way into the highest councils of his party and government. He had a reputation for intellectual brilliance and great ability in politics. He commanded a memorable foghorn voice and had an unusual gift for speaking to ordinary people as well as to those in high places.
He was rough, blunt, and emotional. Even his detractors, who were numerous, admired his honesty.
As foreign secretary from 1966 to 1968, he was sometimes controversial, intolerant of diplomatic niceties, and prone to outbursts that embarrassed foreign dignitaries. Yet some observers rank him among the best to hold that office since World War II.
His efforts to get the country into the Common Market and his role as an architect of U.N. Resolution 242 gained him lasting recognition. Resolution 242 calls on the Arab states to recognize Israel's right to exist and it calls on Israel to withdraw from Arab territories it occupied in the Six-Day War in 1967. Although it has never been implemented, it remains the cornerstone of nearly all efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.
In the 1950s, Lord George-Brown was a member of the Labor Party's "shadow cabinet," serving at different times as spokesman for agriculture, defense, and home affairs. Following the death in 1963 of Hugh Gaitskell, the widely respected party leader, he ran for the leadership of the parliamentary party, which would have put him in line to head the government when Labor took office. He was defeated by Harold Wilson, who became prime minister a year later.
Though bitterly disappointed, Lord George-Brown served loyally as deputy prime minister. He spent the next two years as minister of economic affairs and then went to the Foreign Office. He resigned in 1968 over lack of consultation during a gold crisis. He remained in the House of Commons until 1970, when he lost his seat. Later that year, he was made a life peer.
High as he rose, he might have risen higher still but for difficulties with alcohol. They not only caused him embarrassment, but also may have kept him from the premiership. Denis Healey, Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, said on television yesterday that Lord George-Brown had "lacked a degree of self-discipline that would have taken him straight to the top."
And Lord George-Brown himself told an interviewer in 1977, "I'm no saint. And there were hard drinkers in my family. Of course, I've sometimes woken up next morning and thought, 'Damn!' Of course, I've sometimes wished I'd kept my mouth shut at dinner."
In 1956, at a dinner party given by the Labor Party for visiting Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev, he took outspoken exception to Khrushchev's version of the history of World War II and he inquired aloud about the fate of Russian trade union leaders who had "disappeared." During a Middle East tour in 1970, he said to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, "You are only a Jewess from Russia who came to Israel via America."
In 1976, he resigned from the Labor Party in a rage over proposed legislation that would have mandated closed shops. As he left parliament, he slipped and fell in the gutter. Photographers caught the mishap. "OUT and DOWN!" said a newspaper headline. Lord George-Brown blamed his new bifocals.
"Life has the habit of giving him the banana skin treatment in moments of crisis -- which is why everyone likes him," the Daily Express said.
The future baron left school at the age of 15 to become a clerk in the London financial district. He was a department store fur salesman before becoming a full-time organizer with the Transport and General Workers Union in 1936. He won election to the House of Commons in the 1945 general election that turned out the wartime coalition led by Winston Churchill and brought Labor to power under Clement Attlee.
Lord George-Brown was parliamentary private secretary to the minister of Labor and the chancellor of the Exchequer. He attained junior ministerial rank as parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. In 1951, he was named to the Privy Council and entered the cabinet as minister of Works.
Like the late Ernest Bevin, foreign secretary in the Attlee government, and Gaitskell, men he admired, Lord George-Brown represented the right wing of the Labor Party. Not only was he a critic of the Soviet Union, but he opposed unilateral disarmament schemes and the widespread nationalizaton programs favored by many in his party.
Since 1981, he had been a member of the centrist Social Democratic Party.
On hearing of Lord George-Brown's death, Harold Wilson said, "At best, George was a markedly successful parliamentarian. His off-moments saddened his colleagues and Conservative opponents alike. The unions trusted him and worked with him, and many thousands of the toilers in mills or factories regarded him, in a way, as their spokesman in government."
Lord George-Brown's survivors include his estranged wife, the former Sophie Levene, whom he married in 1937, two daughters and one brother.