"The man who was reviled by the Tories, expelled by the socialosts, despised by the Liberals is now en-throned over all three"
AN UGLY-LOOKING broken bottle hurtled across the dimly lighted room. The tall man with the spaniel-brown eyes, sitting next to me in the boxing ring, pushed me aside quickly. The jagged-edged missile whizzed between our heads. Those dark eyes never flickered: they remained focused intently on the rough-and-tumble fight at the back of the hall that commenced with the throw of that bottle.
“They’ve started earlier than I expected,” the tall man commented to me, without changing the direction of his gaze. “Keep a sharp lookout while you’re talking;” and then, as I got to my feet when the chairman sat down, he added: “Good luck— and good fighting.”
That’s how I met the Right Hon. Sir Richard Stafford Cripps, M.P., K.C., for the first time.
The occasion was an anti-Fascist meeting. The scene was a boxing hall in Hackney, one of the east-end parts of London where Mosley’s blackshirted British Union of Fascists were most violently active. Cripps and I were the speakers. Our stage was a boxing ring. Immediately over our heads a nest of high-powered arc lamps flooded us into an unmistakable target while the auditorium
was in gloom. That put us at a grossly unfair disadvantage of which the black shirts were evidently ready to make utmost use. That bottle was the first—and, I was relieved to learn as the meeting proceeded, the worst—of the missiles thrown at us by the Fascists we were there to expose and denounce.
“Good luck—and good fighting,” Cripps had whispered with a wry smile on his sallow, bespectacled face. It was a trifle easier for him, when he followed me, because he is much taller than I and the top rope of the ring just reached as high as my chin. I had to throw an arm over to hold it down, in order to keep it from throttling me as I orated. This in itself was disconcerting because it kept me rivetted to one spot, an easy target for Mosley’s hired thugs.
At times it became bedlamesque and most of what I said was completely drowned in the tumultuous noise. Not so with Cripps. He possesses some spiritual quality which dominated the crowd and silenced the thugs. Not that he is a mob orator. Entirely the reverse: if he knows (which is doubtful), he never employs any platform tricks. He would, I suspect, feel that he was demeaning him-
self if he were to. He simply ignored the black shirts—sort of strolled through them as if they were wraiths—and delivered a quietly spoken exposé of the Fascist philosophy which gripped the audience by its lucidity and sincerity.
That was seven years ago, when Fascism was not unpopular with all the national leaders of this country, when the Daily Mail was running Mosley, and when police protection of immunity against arrest was being officially given to Mosley’s black shirts in their anti-democrat demonstrations. It was a wild night. I had been sent to speak at the meeting by Mr. Herbert Morrison, my leader on the London County Council, in whose constituency of Hackney it was being held. It was a night of acute rowdyism, fights between stewards and black shirts, broken heads and finally intervention by the police—who arrested one of the stewards for “assaulting” a black shirt!
“There’s a back way out,” said the chairman to us at the end of the meeting. “If you’ll come this way, you will dodge the crowd outside. They’re snorting for blood.”
To my regret Cripps said: “You fellow's can do what you like, but I came in by the front door and
I’m going out that way. I’m not sneaking away from that kind of trouble”—and, hatless as he had arrived, the ex-Solicitor-General and pre-eminent K.C., walked down the platform steps, through the emptied auditorium to the front door. Trembling inwardly, I followed.
Outside we found the fighting still in progress. When the tall figure, keen eyes glinting behind rimless spectacles, appeared in the doorway with me as close as possible behind—I wasn’t going to lose that shield and buckler!—there was a shout, “Here’s Cripps,” and a threatening rush for the door. Cripps never so much as changed pace or step. He continued to stride forward as if he had not noticed a soul in the vicinity. The crowd milling around the door parted, forming a narrow gulley between two forests of congealed, hate-filled humanity.
Cripps calmly strode on, I behind. Out into the street, then another hundred yards to the main road where, with the crowd hooting from the corner and I watching them fearfully, out of the corner of my eye, he stood at a traffic stop for several minutes, allowing other buses to pass until the one he wanted came along. That was my first experience with Cripps; it was followed by many more. And always there seemed to be a struggle of some kind involved. Always that tall man with those faithful brown eyes of the spaniel strode through—whether he was right or wrong—and disdained to take “the back way out.” So often he could have compromised, could have semi-apologized, could have “explained it away”—dodged the hostility of his opponents by using the back way out—but he had come in by the front door and if he was going to leave the scene of trouble it would be by the same door.
The Cripps Conscience
CRIPPS has a bad handicap for the political arena—a conscience. A devout member of the Anglican church, he has the quaint notion that religion is not a Sunday affair but has to be carried into all of life all the time. To him principles comprise a code of conduct—a fact which has made him an inconvenient “party” man when other politicians regard principles only as something with which to construct the perorations of their speeches. Cripps could have been the leader of his party
five years ago if he, like George Lansbury, had not been handicapped with a conscience. “Stop hawking your conscience around conferences year after year,” burly Ernie Bevin, big boss of the trade unions and now Minister for Labor, bawled at them during the 1936 national conference of the Labor Party.
For five years I was lieutenant to Cripps in his political campaign. He was then leader in the House of Commons of a “ginger group” when the Labor Party was stumbling along in the gloom caused when their most brilliant luminary, Ramsay MacDonald, extinguished himself. There were scores of little powwows in a small second-floor apartment of an old Regency house near Paddington which Cripps and his wife rented. Lady Cripps would flutter around the little group, as we made our campaign plans, with a tray of lettuce sandwiches and weak China tea— nothing stronger in liquids and not much in solids are normal to the Cripps menage to this day. As we talked, Cripps would be making notes and, at the end of the powwow, would summarize the discussion with the same masterly genius which, next day or any day, would enable him to scribble “Five thousand guineas” on a legal brief.
I split with Cripps over his “Popular Front” policy. It was at a stormy session in Caxton Hall, near the House of Commons, followed by a national conference in Leicester when we broke away from Cripps because of his plan to unite people of all, any or no political parties into a joint-action body against Fascism. Looking back on it all I can see how right Cripps was, and how wrong was I and those associated with me—the vast majority of the Labor Party and trade union organization.
Subsequent events have confirmed the correctness and astuteness of Cripps’ analysis of world affairs. If his policy had succeeded in 1937 there would have been no “appeasement” of the dictators, no surrender of
Czecho-Slovakia, no Danzig “incident” and probably no war, because joint action of all anti-Fascist forces would have had the effect of isolating Fascism—like any other germ. Cripps predicted that, as Fascism can only thrive on expansionism, aggrandizement, annexations and acquisitions, it would expire in such isolation.
Ousted From Party
A FEW weeks later I was at Bournemouth when Cripps faced a thousand delegates of the Labor Party and trade unions in national conference and fought for his policy against the outspoken hostility of the majority. There he stood, on the central rostrum, a lithe figure, his dark hair and eyes accentuating the normal pallor of his face, his expressive hands seldom gesticulating, his evenlymodulated voice never raised, the form of his speech more appropriate to the High Court than to a political gathering. Two weapons only were in his armory then, as now—a mind, razor sharp, with icepacked logic and a transparent sincerity.
“But sincerity, like patriotism, isn’t enough,” Clem Attlee whispered to me. “Cripps has plenty of political sincerity but very little political sagacity.” They hit hard at Cripps that day. “Cripps is the biggest asset the Tory Party has got,” shouted McGurk, the spokesman of the powerful Mineworkers Federation. “Cripps is a rich man with rich pals around him. You’ll find them all where Mosley is before much longer.” Herbert Morrison then attacked Cripps in a lengthy speech, and the vote was taken: 2,116,000 against Cripps, 331,000 for.
Cripps declared: “The minority opinions of
today will become the majority opinions of tomorrow.” How right he was; he is now associated with Churchill (chairman of the Tory Party) in the leadership of a “United Front” Government of joint action against Fascism—and so are the Labor men who, in 1937, rejected his proposal for such joint action.
Eighteen months later he tried again, advocating a “Popular Front” of Labor, Liberals and Progressive Tories to oppose Fascism and save the world from war. For that the hierarchy expelled him from the Party, allowing him to appeal at the next national conference against his expulsion. I was present. It was held at Southport and Cripps was seated in the front row of the gallery with Lady Cripps when his name was called. He walked the entire length of the building to the rostrum in arctic silence.
The scene was dramatic: the most brilliant K.C. in the land, who had made numerous speeches in defense of clients before bewigged judges, now made a speech in his own defense before a jury of 1,000 comrades. It was a quietly-delivered speech: academic, dialectic, forensic. It lacked the fire and fervor of soapbox oration which might have swept a gathering of soapbox orators; but because he disdained the use of such oratorical arts—refused to take “the back way out”—the conference heard him in silence and sourness.
He left the rostrum, walked through the hall to his gallery seat, the object of ill-concealed hostility —and conference confirmed his expulsion. Cripps walked out into the wilderness with the same firm stride as when he walked out of that Hackney boxing hall into a crowd of Fascist thugs.
Exactly two years later Winston Churchill, as Prime Minister of a “United Front” Government with Labor and Liberals, for advocating which Cripps had been expelled from his party, sent Sir Stafford to Moscow as British Ambassador. A year of brilliant diplomatic negotiations created a condition of trust and friendliness between Britain and the Soviet Union which had never existed before. It made the present alliance-in-arms possible. Three years after his expulsion, Cripps, a member of no Party, was made leader in Parliament of all parties; leader, in fact, of that “united front” he had urged before the war. “The stone which the builders had rejected has become the cornerstone of the house.” I was with him immediately on his return from Moscow: I met a changed man, yet unchanged.
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Changed, because he has acquired a reputation for responsibility he had not enjoyed before. Unchanged, because he is still the same politicianwith-a-conscience, still fanatically single-minded, still armed with the same two weapons: a logical mind and a transparent sincerity.
He wrote me a short personal note on reaching this country : “The past has been engulfed in a supremely difficult present and future; and we must walk warily as we still have a great many formidable enemies. The unconscious fifth column is enormous.”
No more will I be able to spend week ends with him at his moated grange in the Cotswolds, because he gave that luxury up when he gave his services to his country and renounced his $250,000 a year profession. “I’ve left the law for good,” he told me in the little three-roomed flat he has taken in a Westminster back street. “I shall never return to it.” He has decided to devote his life to winning the war against Fascism and then reconstructing human existence on principles which make war impossible.
Father Turned Socialist
SIR RICHARD Stafford Cripps— always “Stafford” to us who have been closely associated with him—is the youngest of four brothers, son of a peer who started as a Tory and died a Socialist. He is the nephew and godchild of Lady Passfield, better known as Beatrice Webb, whose favorite sister, Theresa, died when her son, Stafford, was a baby, whereupon “Aunt Beatrice” took him under her charge. His brother, Colonel the Hon. F. H. Cripps, once told me a great deal about Stafford who, he said, was a precocious child and, from an early age, fond of giving advice to the elder members of the family—a habit that earned him the nickname of “Dad” which still clings to him in family circles. “Stafford was constructive by nature,” his brother said, “and spent much of his childhood building underground houses, bridging the pond and generally using his hands.
“In the very early days he was a capitalist. I remember the tea shop which he and my brother, Leonard, organized in a tiny room of the nursery wing. Here tea was dis-
pensed to waylaid guests at sixpence per head. As the food had been surreptitiously removed from the larder, the business was a very profitable one to the caterers.”
That phase did not last long, and in 1906—when Stafford was not quite seventeen and aviation was mainly a dream—he started to construct a glider airplane. He made it entirely himself and housed itin a shed, close to the most precipitous hill on the farm, which, his brother said, was known as “Stafford’s Folly.” It was pulled uphill by an old carriage horse, and when the wind was favorable young Stafford climbed into the seat of the glider and launched himself on fateful winds, if not the winds of fate. His flight ended in disaster and the machine was irreparably wrecked.
Round about the same time the youth who was to become an extreme Socialist ran the local Conservative paper which became known as Cripps’ Chronicle, but his experience with journalism was not lasting enough to give him any but a very poor opinion of the press in later life. While at London University his papers brought him to the notice of that great chemist, Sir William Ramsay, who took him into his laboratory at University College, but progress along that career was interrupted when his father (who became Lord Parmoor) stood as a Tory. Stafford helped in the election rooms, folding literature and addressing envelopes. It was then that Stafford met Isobel Swithinbank and a love affair began which has never shown signs of abatement. They married in 1911. The same year he deserted chemistry for law. He was Called to the bar in 1913.
When war broke out Stafford took a motor lorry to France for the Red Cross and spent a whole year driving around on the battle fronts, often under fire. He was recalled to undertake scientific work and worked in a government explosive factory as a chemist.
It was not until 1920 that he began topractice lawand the fact that in ten years he was at the head of his profession and Solicitor-General in the Government testifies to his possession of qualities which make “the lawyer magnificent.” He has always given his services freely to those who, without special pleading, might not
obtain justice. When McGurk was making his impassioned attack at the 1937 conference I could not help remembering that a few months earlier Cripps had freely represented McGurk’s miners at a Government enquiry into the Gresford colliery disaster.
"For a number of years Stafford was actively engaged in farming,” his brother said. "His chief interest was a pedigree flock of Ryeland sheep. At home he is happiest in his carpenter’s shop, which gives his original mind scope to produce articles of his own design. He once surprised his family by making a hand loom on which he wove scarves for his children.
"For long his health was affected by an illness he contracted in France, and from which he suffered until he became a complete vegetarian.”
It is not much more than ten years since he became an active political figure. When he entered Parliament it was Stanley Baldwin, sitting on the opposite side of the House, who tipped him as "a future Conservative Prime Minister,” and I am always meeting important people in both the Tory and Labor camps who persist in declaring that Cripps is, at heart, a Conservative.
I used to spend week ends with the Cripps family at Filkins, the little Cotswold village where he was popularly known as "the red squire.” He had bought up an old farmhouse and converted it into what he named "Goodfellows,” a large country mansion of thirty rooms with a trout stream hidden behind a fringe of weeping willows, a tennis court, flower gardens and ornamental lake. Here the man who can trace his ancestry back to the early thirteenth century spent many thousands of dollars in an attempt to retain the old Cotswold atmosphere and save Filkins from the vandalism of modernity. He bought thatched cottages in the village when the jerry-builders were on the prowl for sites, turned one into a village museum, another into a clubhouse for the villagers and two he renovated into homes for old-age pensioners. He provided baths for the villagers, changing rooms for the village sports team, and set the village doctor up in a suite complete with waiting room, surgery and dispensary. He gave the village a swimming pool, a bowling green and tanks for the local water supply.
And now he has given up "Goodfellows,” turned it into a nursery
school, and taken a small cottage in the district. Lady Cripps, only daughter of the manufacturer of a very famous patent medicine, and an heiress in her own right, shares her husband’s views on politics and dietetics. They are vegetarians and nondrinkers. They usually have one meal a day, which Lady Cripps prepares herself, consisting of vegetables, sour milk and wholemeal bread. Their private life chimes with the sincere simplicity of their characters.
And now the man who was reviled by the Tories, expelled by the Socialists and despised by the Liberals is' enthroned with power and authority over all three. No greater contrasts, in many respects, can there be between the essential characteristics of Winston Churchill and Stafford Cripps, the two leaders of Britain’s first real "United Front” Government, and yet both have at least one factor in common: great moral courage. Neither would demean himself by taking "the back way out” of any trouble. Both would say: "I
came in by the front door and no one will stop me going out that way.” It is the courage of sincere conviction. It will win the war.