If it be the aim of a politician to have all men speak well of him, Sir Stafford Cripps
must be feeling proud of himself on his entry into the War Cabinet. This step was proposed by the Times
and others early last year, was duly taken up by newspapers of all political complexions—if, that is, the reader can now distinguish between one complexion and another—and is hailed by Moscow and the Communists. Apart from some hundreds of millions of people in the Axis nations all the world appears to love Sir Stafford.
After early scientific training he was Assistant Superintendent of a large Government explosives factory during the last war, then became a very successful lawyer, and was reputed to earn £25,000 a year. Joining the Labour Party in 1928 he was Solicitor-General in the Labour Government in 1931. During the Abyssinian War he resigned from the Labour Party Executive because he opposed the policy of “sanctions” by the League of Nations against Italy. Later on he was expelled by the Labour Party for running a “Popular Front” campaign against Labour Party policy.
Born into a strongly Conservative family, he had the support of the Liberal News-Chronicle in his quarrels with the Labour Party over the “Popular Front” early in 1939. At that time he was denouncing a short-lived Churchill group called the “Hundred Thousand” movement on the ground that its object, though nominally democratic, was really “to capture the youth for reactionary imperialism.” It might, he feared, be leading youth “ into what are substantially Fascist paths.” He has often had the approval of the Communists and is now much favoured by the Russian Government following his work as Ambassador to Moscow.
During an earlier campaign for “Socialism in our Time,” he urged that it might become necessary to suspend ordinary Parliamentary procedure. At the Labour Party Conference in May, 1939, he strongly opposed the idea of a National Government, though four years before he had said that the Baldwin National Government had “done quite well for a capitalist Government. . . . There is really very little case at all for an alternative Government within the capitalist system.” He has claimed at times that Socialism must be the paramount aim of the Labour Party, though when he launched his “Popular Front” campaign he frankly stated that it meant putting Socialism “into cold storage.” The idea of the Cripps Popular Front was that all the “genuine friends of democracy,” Liberal, Labour, Communist and Conservative (but excluding the Churchill group) should get together on a limited programme of reforms in order to save democracy at home and abroad; yet not long before Sir Stafford had argued that it would be fatal to do “as the Social-Democrats did in Germany; that is combine with any anti-Fascist forces for the sake of saving democracy.” “That way,” he said, “lies disaster.” “We must, then, firmly and definitely abandon any idea of working in association with any other political group or party that denies the absolute necessity of Socialism.” (Quoted in Daily Herald, 2nd March, 1939.) At one time he distinguished himself as a critic of the Monarchy.
It will be seen that he has been everything in turn and nothing long, and his much-praised brilliant legal mind seems to be chiefly effective in persuading him that his sincerely held but shallow notions of any given moment are the last word in political wisdom for the human race.
It is not easy to discern exactly where he stands at present. Perhaps he does not know himself, hence his remark, “I want to sit on a back bench in the House of Commons for a while and think.” (This was, of course, just prior to his appointment to the War Cabinet.)
On February 8th, 1942, he delivered a speech at Bristol. He dealt with many things, but according to the published reports the one thing he did not deal with was Socialism and his attitude to it. He showed that he is not overmuch enamoured of Russian State Capitalism (which he called “Communism”) and went out of his way to dissociate himself from much that he saw in Russia.
There is in Communism a great deal to be admired. There is a great deal which one would not wish to see in one’s own country.—”Daily Mail,” February 10th, 1942.
When he dealt with the future that he wishes to see he appears to envisage in this country some kind of State capitalism allied with democratic parliamentary methods.
Shall we be able to face up to the new conditions after the war? Shall we be able to recognise the need which has been taught us for a planned economy side by side with a liberal culture? Can we try to combine the best of the systems that are to-day fighting for world survival?—“Manchester Guardian,” February 9th, 1942.
It may be gathered from this that he admires Russian State planning and wants it combined with the political system existing here. He never was a Socialist though he regarded his reformist and State capitalist notions as Socialism, and it may be taken that at the moment he is not particularly anxious even to claim that he is a Socialist.
Some twelve years ago Lord Baldwin tipped him as “a future Conservative Prime Minister,” His present appointment certainly brings the forecast nearer to fulfilment and the uncertainties of war-time and post-war politics may yet land him in that august position; to the eventual deep disgust of his “left wing” Labour Party admirers, among whom the S.P.G.B. has never been numbered.