Denis Healey MP in 1986
Lord Healey pictured in 1986. He retired from politics after 40 years as an MP for Leeds. Reuters/Stringer

Former Labour chancellor Lord Dennis Healy has died aged 98. Healey was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1974-1979, before becoming deputy leader of the Labour Party, while it was in opposition, in 1980.

He spent 40 years as an MP before joining the House of Lords in 1992. He died peacefully at his home in Sussex on Saturday morning, after a short illness, the BBC reported.

Born in Mottingham, south-east London, Healey was the last surviving member of the cabinet formed by Harold Wilson after the Labour Party's victory in the 1964 general election.

Despite being an influential figure in the Labour party, he failed twice to secure his party's leadership. Healey was easily recognisable by his bushy eyebrows and earned a reputation for his creative turns of phrase. One such example was when, in June 1978, he compared being attacked by the mild-mannered Sir Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons to being "savaged by a dead sheep".

The former chancellor was responsible for the treasury between 1974-1979, where he had to deal with the economic consequences of oil prices increasing five-fold in 1973-1974. He also grappled with the demands of powerful trade union leaders, as well as the IMF crisis of 1976. Healey was credited with preventing British troops from being sent to Vietnam, when he served as Secretary of State for Defence from 1964-1970 under Wilson.

During his time in the shadow government, he was the first Labour politician to publicly declare his support for Tony Blair to take over the Labour leadership in 1994.

Tributes have flowed from fellow Labour party colleagues and celebrities alike. Current Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Denis Healey was a Labour giant whose record of service to party and country stands as his testament. All our thoughts are with his family."

Radio host Dermot O'Leary wrote: "RIP Denis Healey. Loved studying him. Gave my Dad his book 'When Shrimps Learn to Whistle' for Xmas. Poor guy was a little bemused."

Healey grew up in Keighley, Yorkshire, and won a scholarship to Balliol, Oxford. After graduating, he served with the Royal Engineers in North Africa and Italy during the Second World War.

Before going into politics, Healey was a member of the Fabian Society executive committee and a councillor of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. He was first elected to the House of Commons as MP for Leeds East at a by-election in February 1952: a position he held for 40 years.