Having joined the Labour Party during the war, from 1945 to 1951 Healey worked as its international secretary. He opposed the spread of communism at home and abroad, and at the same time he sought to assist and encourage European social democratic movements. He was elected to Parliament on the Labour Party ticket in a by-election in 1952.
In the internecine political conflicts of the 1950s, Healey firmly supported Hugh Gaitskell, who was an opponent of the leftist faction led by Aneurin Bevan. In 1959, Healey assumed a spot in the opposition shadow cabinet, concentrating on colonial affairs and defense issues.
After thirteen years in opposition, the Labour Party achieved power in October 1984, and Healey was appointed minister of defense. Serving in that post during 1964–1970, he was compelled to institute large cuts in defense spending, which forced him to cancel the purchase of U.S. F-111 aircraft and the construction of a new aircraft carrier. Continuing economic pressures similarly prompted his July 1967 policy statement, which precipitated the withdrawal of British troops from their traditional role east of the Suez, an announcement that had been delayed by British involvement in the 1963–1966 confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia.
In 1968 Healey, along with other Western defense ministers, agreed to the new defense doctrine of flexible response, designed to give the Allies more leeway in responding to potential confrontations. Upon the fall of the James Harold Wilson government in 1970, Healey resigned his ministry and became shadow foreign secretary during 1970–1972 and then shadow chancellor in 1972–1974.
Upon Labour's return to power in 1974, Healey was appointed chancellor of the exchequer, holding that post until the fall of the Labour government in 1979. In this role, Healey steered Britain through a period of profound economic difficulty and was obliged to accept credits from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in late 1976. Defeated for his party's leadership by Michael Foot in 1980, Healey was deputy leader during 1980–1983. He left the House of Commons in 1992. He also wrote an amusing, if slightly pompous, memoir, The Time of My Life, published in 1989.
Morgan, Kenneth. Britain since 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.; Pearce, Edward. Denis Healey: A Life in Our Times. New York: Little, Brown/Time Warner, 2002.