Denis Healey is dead at 98. He was the best leader Labour never had. He was also the last of a generation of politicians who had a hinterland to their political life.

The best (and the first) political autobiography I ever read was Healey's The Time of My Life. In it he prophesies against the trend for career politicians who had never done anything else. He also claimed that politicians who had no experience of war were more likely to send the country into war than those who had endured its realities. Healey had fought – latterly at Anzio – and knew its cost.

He was right. Politicians with amnesia or no cultural/historical hinterland are dangerous. Speaking with very bright Germans in Liverpool today (I am chairing the Meissen Commission), it is worrying that the intellectual and cultural insularity of so much UK politics makes our political discourse so poor. Healey represents the last of a generation who brought to our political life a deep experience of human conflict – one that fired his humanity and political life.

It is only when they have gone that we begin to realise what we have lost.