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Stafford Cripps

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Rt Hon Sir Stafford Cripps
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Rt Hon Sir Stafford Cripps

Sir Richard Stafford Cripps (April 24, 1889 - April 21, 1952), British Labour politician, was born in London, the son of a Conservative member of the House of Commons who late in life, as Lord Parmoor, joined the Labour Party. He was educated at a public school and at University College, London, where he studied chemistry. But he abandoned science for the law, and in 1912 was admitted as a barrister. He served in World War I as an ambulance driver in France.

In 1930 Cripps joined the Labour Party. In 1931 he was appointed Solicitor-General in the second Labour government. This post was customarily accompanied by a knighthood, making him Sir Stafford Cripps. As he was not yet an member of Parliament, he stood for and was elected in a by-election for the solidly Labour seat of Bristol East. He moved rapidly to the left and became an outspoken socialist, although his strong faith in evangelical Christianity prevented him from becoming a Marxist.

In the 1931 general election, Cripps was one of only three former Labour ministers to hold their seats and so became the number three in the Parliamentary Labour Party, under the leader George Lansbury and deputy leader Clement Attlee. In 1932 he was one of the founders of the Socialist League, composed largely of members of the Independent Labour Party who rejected its decision to disaffiliate from Labour. The Socialist League put the case for an austere form of democratic socialism. Tall, thin and intense, he became the archetype of the British upper-class doctrinaire socialist so common in the 1930s.

Cripps was an early advocate of a United Front against the rising threat of fascism. In 1936, he was the moving force behind a Unity Campaign, involving the Socialist League, the ILP and the Communist Party of Great Britain, designed to forge electoral unity against the right. Opposed by the Labour leadership, the Unity Campaign was a damp squib: Cripps dissolved the Socialist League in 1937 rather than face expulsion from Labour, though Tribune, set up as the campaign's propaganda organ and bankrolled by Cripps and George Strauss, survived (and survives to this day). In 1939, however, Cripps was expelled from the Labour Party for his advocacy of a Popular Front with the communists and anti-appeasement Liberals and Tories.

When Winston Churchill formed his wartime coalition government in 1940, he appointed Cripps ambassador to the Soviet Union, in the perhaps naive view that a left-wing socialist was the best person to try to negotiate with Stalin, at this time allied with Nazi Germany through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 Cripps became a key figure in forging the alliance between the western powers and the Soviet Union.

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Ac.cripps.jpg
Cripps with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan

In 1942 he returned to Britain and made a broadcast about the Russian war effort. The popular response was phenomenal and Cripps rapidly became one of the most popular politicians in the country, despite having no party backing. He was appointed a member of the war cabinet, with the jobs of Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons - perhaps a deliberate overpromotion designed to diminish his standing. He was sent to India to try to negotiate an agreement with the nationalist leaders Gandhi and Jinnah that would keep India loyal to the British war effort in exchange for a promise of full self-government after the war. Although no formal agreement was reached, he helped calm the situation in India. Later in 1942 he was appointed Minister for Aircraft Production. In 1945 Cripps rejoined the Labour Party.

When Labour won the general election of 1945, Clement Attlee appointed Cripps President of the Board of Trade, the second most important economic post in the government. Although still a strong socialist, Cripps had modified his views sufficiently to be able to work with mainstream Labour ministers. In Britain's desperate postwar economic circumstances, Cripps became associated with the policy of "austerity." As an upper-class socialist he held a puritanical view of society, and took a grim pleasure in enforcing rationing with equal severity against all classes.

In 1946, Cripps returned to India as part of the so-called Cabinet Mission, which proposed various formulas for independence to the Indian leaders. The other two members of the delegation were Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, and A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty. However, the solution devised by the three men, known as the Cabinet Mission Plan, was unsatisfactory to the Indian National Congress, and India travelled further down the road which eventually led to Partition.

In 1947 amidst a growing economic and political crisis, Cripps tried to persuade Attlee to retire in favour of Ernest Bevin, however Bevin was in favour of Attlee remaining. Cripps was instead appointed to the new post of Minister for Economic Affairs. Six weeks later Hugh Dalton resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1947 and Cripps succeeded him, with the position of Minister for Economic Affairs now merged into the Chancellorship, and laboured tirelessly to rescue Britain from its economic crisis. Cripps increased taxes and forced a reduction in consumption in an effort to boost exports and stabilise the Pound Sterling so that Britain could trade its way out of its crisis. He strongly supported the nationalisation of strategic industries such as coal and steel.

Although Cripps's severe manner and harsh policies made him very unpopular, especially among the middle classes, he won respect for the sincerity of his convictions and his tireless labours for Britain's recovery. In 1950 his health broke down under the strain and he was forced to resign his office in October. He retired from Parliament the same month, being succeeded as MP for Bristol South-East by Tony Benn, and died two years later while recuperating in Switzerland.


Preceded by:
Sir James Melville
Solicitor General
1931
Succeeded by:
Sir Thomas Inskip
Preceded by:
Winston Churchill
Leader of the House of Commons
1942
Succeeded by:
Anthony Eden
Preceded by:
Clement Attlee
Lord Privy Seal
1942
Succeeded by:
Viscount Cranborne
Preceded by:
John Llewellin
Minister of Aircraft Production
1942–1945
Succeeded by:
Ernest Brown
Preceded by:
Oliver Lyttleton
President of the Board of Trade
1945–1947
Succeeded by:
Harold Wilson
Preceded by:
Minister for Economic Affairs
1947
Succeeded by:
Office Abolished
Preceded by:
Hugh Dalton
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1947–1950
Succeeded by:
Hugh Gaitskell

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