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Stafford Cripps
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
13 November 1947 – 19 October 1950
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byHugh Dalton
Succeeded byHugh Gaitskell
Minister for Economic Affairs
In office
29 September 1947 – 13 November 1947
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byNew creation
Succeeded byPost abolished (Trial post)
President of the Board of Trade
In office
27 July 1945 – 29 September 1947
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byOliver Lyttelton
Succeeded byHarold Wilson
Minister of Aircraft Production
In office
22 November 1942 – 25 May 1945
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded byJohn Llewellin
Succeeded byErnest Brown
Leader of the House of Commons
Lord Privy Seal
In office
19 February 1942 – 22 November 1942
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded byWinston Churchill (as Leader of the House of Commons)
Clement Attlee
(as Lord Privy Seal)
Succeeded byAnthony Eden
(as Leader of the House of Commons)

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil
(as Lord Privy Seal)
Solicitor General for England and Wales
In office
22 October 1930 – 24 August 1931
Prime MinisterJames Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded byJames Melville
Succeeded byThomas Inskip
Member of Parliament
for Bristol South East
Bristol East (1931–1950)
In office
16 January 1931 – 25 October 1950
Preceded byWalter John Baker
Succeeded byTony Benn
Personal details
Richard Stafford Cripps[1]

(1889-04-24)24 April 1889
Chelsea, London, England
Died21 April 1952(1952-04-21) (aged 62)
Zürich, Switzerland
Political partyLabour
Other political
Popular Front
SpouseDame Isobel Cripps
Children4, including Peggy Cripps
Parent(s)Charles Cripps
Theresa Potter
RelativesCharlotte Thomas
Kwame Anthony Appiah (grandson)
Alma materUniversity College London

Sir Richard Stafford Cripps CH QC FRS[1] (24 April 1889 – 21 April 1952) was a British Labour Party politician, barrister, and diplomat.

A wealthy lawyer by background, he first entered Parliament at a by-election in 1931, and was one of a handful of Labour frontbenchers to retain his seat at the general election that autumn. He became a leading spokesman for the left-wing and co-operation in a Popular Front with Communists before 1939, in which year he was expelled from the Labour Party. During this time he became intimately involved with Krishna Menon and the India League.

During World War II, he served as Ambassador to the USSR (1940–42), during which time he grew wary of the Soviet Union,[citation needed] but achieved great public popularity because on being invaded by Nazi Germany the USSR stated its co-operation with the Allies and restoring peace, causing Cripps to be seen in 1942 as a potential rival to Winston Churchill for the premiership. He became a member of the War Cabinet of the wartime coalition, but failed in his efforts (the "Cripps Mission") to resolve the wartime crisis in India, where his proposals were too radical for Churchill and the Cabinet, and too conservative for Mahatma Gandhi and other Indian leaders, but nonetheless kept the trust and friendship of V. K. Krishna Menon, allowing him to retain a role in Indian affairs, including the 1946 Cabinet Mission to India and, ultimately, the selection of the final Viceroy. He later served as Minister of Aircraft Production, an important post but outside the inner War Cabinet.[2]

Cripps rejoined the Labour Party in 1945, and after the war; served in the Attlee ministry, first as President of the Board of Trade and between 1947 and 1950 as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Labour party member and historian Kenneth O. Morgan claimed of his role in the latter position that he was "the real architect of the rapidly improving economic picture and growing affluence from 1952 onwards".[3]

The economy improved after 1947, benefiting from American money given through grants from the Marshall Plan as well as loans. However, the pound had to be devalued in 1949. He kept the wartime rationing system in place to hold down consumption during an "age of austerity", promoted exports and maintained full employment with static wages. The public especially respected "his integrity, competence, and Christian principles".[2]

Early life

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Cripps was born in Chelsea, London, the son of Charles Cripps, a barrister and later Conservative MP, and the former Theresa Potter, the sister of Beatrice Webb and Catherine Courtney. Cripps grew up in a wealthy family and was educated at Winchester College, where the Headmaster described him as "a thoroughly good fellow"[4] and at University College London, where he studied chemistry. He left science for the law, and in 1913 was called to the bar by the Middle Temple. He served in the First World War as a Red Cross ambulance driver in France, and then managed a chemical factory producing armaments. He practised as a barrister during the 1920s, where he specialised in patent cases, and was reported to be the highest paid lawyer in England.[5] He was appointed a King's Counsel in 1927.

Cripps was a member of the Church of England and in the 1920s became a leader in the World Alliance to Promote International Friendship through the Churches, as his father had been. From 1923 to 1929 Cripps was the group's treasurer and its most energetic lecturer.[6]

Joining the Labour Party

At the end of the 1920s, Cripps moved to the left in his political views, and in 1930 he joined the Labour Party. The next year, he was appointed Solicitor-General in the second Labour government, and received the then customary knighthood. In 1931, Cripps was elected to Parliament in a by-election for Bristol East. As an MP, he was a strong proponent of Marxist social and economic policies, although he had strong faith in evangelical Christianity, and did not subscribe to the Marxist rejection of religion.

In the 1931 general election, Cripps was one of only three former Labour ministers to hold his seat, alongside George Lansbury, who subsequently became party leader, and Clement Attlee, deputy leader.

Cripps in 1930

In 1932, Cripps helped found and became the leader of the Socialist League, which was composed largely of intellectuals and teachers from 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. He argued that on taking power the Labour Party should immediately enact an Emergency Powers Act, allowing it to rule by decree and thus "forestall any sabotage by financial interests", and also immediately abolish the House of Lords.[6]

In 1936, Labour's National Executive Committee dissociated itself from a speech in which Cripps said he did not "believe it would be a bad thing for the British working class if Germany defeated us".[7] Cripps also opposed British rearmament:

"Money cannot make armaments. Armaments can only be made by the skill of the British working class, and it is the British working class who would be called upon to use them. To-day you have the most glorious opportunity that the workers have ever had if you will only use the necessity of capitalism in order to get power yourselves. The capitalists are in your hands. Refuse to make munitions, refuse to make armaments, and they are helpless. They would have to hand the control of the country over to you."[8]

Cripps was an early advocate of a united front against the rising threat of fascism[9] and he opposed an appeasement policy towards Nazi Germany. In 1936, he was the moving force behind a Unity Campaign, involving the Socialist League, the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain, designed to forge electoral unity against the right. Opposed by the Labour leadership, the Unity Campaign failed in its intentions. Rather than face expulsion from Labour, Cripps dissolved the Socialist League in 1937. Tribune, set up as the campaign's newspaper by Cripps and George Strauss, survived. In early 1939, however, Cripps was expelled from the Labour Party for his advocacy of a Popular Front with the Communist Party, the Independent Labour Party, the Liberal Party, and anti-appeasement Conservatives.

In 1938, Cripps visited Jamaica to investigate violence which took place during mass strikes. During one of the political meetings he spoke at, the audience included the future pioneer of black civil rights in Britain, Billy Strachan, who had been taken by his father to hear Cripps speak. During this same meeting, the People's National Party was formed.[10]

Second World War

Sketch of Cripps commissioned by the Ministry of Information in the World War II period

When Winston Churchill formed his wartime coalition government in 1940 he appointed Cripps Ambassador to the Soviet Union in the view that Cripps, who had Marxist sympathies, could negotiate with Joseph Stalin who had a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany through the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Cripps became a key figure in forging an alliance between the western powers and the Soviet Union.[11]

In 1942, Cripps returned to Britain and made a broadcast about the Soviet 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, and was considered for a short period after his return from Moscow as a rival to Churchill in his hold on the country.[12]

Mission to India

Cripps meeting Mahatma Gandhi during the Second World War

Churchill responded by sending Cripps to India on a mission ("the Cripps Mission") to negotiate an agreement with the nationalist leaders that would keep India loyal to the British war effort in exchange for self-government after the war. Cripps designed the specific proposals himself, but they were too radical for Churchill and the Viceroy, and too conservative for Mahatma Gandhi and the Indians, who demanded immediate independence. No middle way was found and the mission was a failure.[13][14]

Minister of Aircraft Production

In November 1942, Cripps stepped down from being Leader of the House of Commons and was appointed Minister of Aircraft Production, a position outside the War Cabinet in which he served with substantial success until May 1945, when the wartime coalition ended.[15] A supporter of Air Chief Marshal Harris's strategic bombing campaign against Germany, Cripps stated in a July 1943 broadcast that "the more we ... can destroy from the air the industrial and transport facilities of the Axis, the weaker will become his resistance. ... The heavier our air attack, the lighter will be the total of our casualties".[15]

Cripps was unhappy with the British black propaganda campaign against Germany. When Cripps discovered details of the German radio work of Sefton Delmer (through the intervention of Richard Crossman) he wrote to Anthony Eden, then Foreign Secretary: "If this is the sort of thing that is needed to win the war, why, I'd rather lose it." Delmer was defended by Robert Bruce Lockhart who pointed out the need to reach the sadist in the German nature.[16]

In February 1945, Cripps rejoined the Labour Party.[17]

After the war

When Labour won the 1945 general election, 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 post-war economic circumstances, Cripps became associated with the policy of "austerity". As an upper-class socialist, he held a puritanical view of society, enforcing rationing with equal severity against all classes. Together with other individuals, he was instrumental in the foundation of the original College of Aeronautics, now Cranfield University, in 1946. The Stafford Cripps Learning and Teaching Centre on Cranfield's campus is named after him.[18]

In 1946, Soviet jet engine designers approached Stalin with a request to buy jet designs from Western sources to overcome design difficulties. Stalin is said to have replied: "What fool will sell us his secrets?" However, he gave his assent to the proposal, and Soviet scientists and designers travelled to the United Kingdom to meet Cripps and request the engines. To Stalin's amazement, Cripps and the Labour government were willing to provide technical information on the Rolls-Royce Nene centrifugal-flow jet engine designed by RAF officer Frank Whittle, along with discussions of a licence to manufacture Nene engines. The Nene engine was promptly reverse-engineered and produced in modified form as the Soviet Klimov VK-1 jet engine, later incorporated into the MiG-15 which flew in time to deploy in combat against UN forces in North Korea in 1950, causing the loss of several B-29 bombers and cancellation of their daylight bombing missions over North Korea.[19]

Also in 1946, Cripps returned to India as part of the "Cabinet Mission", which proposed formulae 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 mainly its principal leaders, and instead of having to hold together the emerging one nation, Indian National Congress leaders travelled further down the road that eventually led to Partition.

In 1947, amid 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 and Cripps succeeded him, with the position of Minister for Economic Affairs now merged into the Chancellorship. He increased taxes and continued strategic rationing which muted consumption to boost the balance of trade and stabilise the Pound Sterling seeing Britain trade its way out of a real risk of fiscal and economic gloom. He was among those who brought about the nationalisation of strategic industries such as coal and steel.[20]

Amid financial problems from 1948 to 1949, Cripps maintained a high level of social spending on housing, health, and other welfare services, while also maintaining the location of industry policy. Personal incomes and free time continued to rise, as characterised by cricket and football enjoying unprecedented booms, together with the holiday camps, the dance hall, and the cinema.[21] In his last budget as Chancellor (1950), the housebuilding programme was restored to 200,000 per annum (after having previously been reduced due to government austerity measures), income tax was reduced for low-income earners as an overtime incentive,[22] and spending on health, national insurance, and education was increased.[23]

Cripps had suffered for many years from colitis, inflammation of the lower bowel; a condition aggravated by stress. In 1950, his health broke down and he was forced to resign his office in October. He resigned from Parliament the same month, and at the resulting by-election on 30 November he was succeeded as the MP for Bristol South East by Anthony Wedgwood Benn.

Personal life

Cripps was the sororal nephew of Beatrice Webb and Catherine Courtney. His mother died when he was four years old. His stepmother, Marian Ellis, had a profound influence on him. He was married to Isobel Swithinbank, who became the Honourable Lady Cripps, daughter of Harold William Swithinbank, better known as Dame Isobel Cripps (1891–1979), and had four children

Cripps was a vegetarian, certainly for health reasons and possibly also for ethical reasons. "Cripps suffered from recurring illness which was alleviated by nature cure and a vegetarian diet...".[28] His male-line descendants are in remainder to the barony Parmoor. In 1989, a Blue Plaque was unveiled at 32 Elm Park Gardens, Chelsea to mark the site of Cripps' birth.[29]


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Cripps died aged 62 of cancer on 21 April 1952 while in Zürich, Switzerland. He was cremated at Sihlfeld Crematorium in Zürich. His ashes are buried in the churchyard in Sapperton, Gloucestershire, and his wife is buried beside him.

See also


  1. ^ a b Schuster, George (1955). "Richard Stafford Cripps 1889–1952". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 1: 11–26. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1955.0003. JSTOR 769240.
  2. ^ a b Mitchell, Andrew (2002) "Cripps, (Richard) Stafford" in John Ramsden, ed., The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century British Politics. ISBN 0198601344. p. 176
  3. ^ Peter Clarke; Clive Trebilcock (1997). Understanding Decline: Perceptions and Realities of British Economic Performance. Cambridge University Press. p. 193. ISBN 9780521563178.
  4. ^ Catherine Hurley, ed. (2003). Could do Better. Simon & Schuster UK Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0743450256.
  5. ^ Busch, Noel F. (8 March 1948). "Sir Stafford Cripps". Life. p. 134.
  6. ^ a b Keesing's Contemporary Archives, Volume VIII-IX, (April 1952) p. 12158
  7. ^ Cowling, Maurice (2005) The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policies, 1933–1940. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 052101929X. p. 215
  8. ^ The Times (15 March 1937), p. 21.
  9. ^ David Marquand, "Sir Stafford Cripps" in Michael Sissons & Philip French, Age of Austerity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 157–175.
  10. ^ Horsley, David (2019). Billy Strachan 1921-1988 RAF Officer, Communist, Civil Rights Pioneer, Legal Administrator, Internationalist and Above All Caribbean Man. London: Caribbean Labour Solidarity. pp. 7–8. ISSN 2055-7035.
  11. ^ Cooke, Colin (1957). The Life of Richard Stafford Cripps. Hodder & Stoughton, London. pp. 270–279.
  12. ^ Paul Addison (2011). The Road To 1945: British Politics and the Second World War (2nd ed.). Random House. pp. 238–39. ISBN 9781446424216.
  13. ^ Addison, Paul (1975), The road to 1945: British politics and the Second World War, Cape, p. 201, ISBN 9780224011594
  14. ^ Louis, William Roger (2006). Ends of British Imperialism: The Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization. I.B.Tauris. pp. 387–400. ISBN 9781845113476.
  15. ^ a b Clarke, Peter (2002). The Cripps Version. Allen Lane. The Penguin Press, London. p. 373. ISBN 0-713-99390-1.
  16. ^ Richards, Lee (2007) Sir Stafford Cripps and the German Admiral's Orgy Archived 17 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine, PsyWar.Org
  17. ^ Estorick, Eric (1949). Stafford Cripps. A biography. William Heinemann, London. p. 326.
  18. ^ "Venue Cranfield Stafford Cripps Centre".
  19. ^ Gordon, Yefim (2001) Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG-15: The Soviet Union's Long-Lived Korean War Fighter. Midland Press. ISBN 1857801059
  20. ^ Cooke, Colin (1957). The Life of Richard Stafford Cripps. Hodder & Stoughton, London. pp. 350–365.
  21. ^ Morgan, Kenneth (1985) Labour in Power, 1945–51. OUP Oxford. ISBN 0192851500
  22. ^ Pelling, Henry (1984) The Labour Governments, 1945–51. Macmillan. ISBN 0333363566
  23. ^ Pritt, Denis Nowell (1963) The Labour Government 1945–51. Lawrence & Wishart
  24. ^ a b "Confirmed Swithinbank as maiden name of John S Cripps from
  25. ^ Hayes, Denis (1949), Challenge of Conscience, p 76
  26. ^ "Sir Tristram Ricketts, Bt". The Telegraph. 17 November 2007. Retrieved 6 June 2010.[dead link]
  27. ^ Brozan, Nadine (16 February 2006) "Peggy Appiah, 84, Author Who Bridged Two Cultures, Dies". The New York Times
  28. ^ Twigg, Julia (1981). The Vegetarian Movement in England, 1847–1981: A Study of the Structure of Its Ideology (Ph.D.). London School of Economics. pp. 247, 292.
  29. ^ "English Heritage Blue Plaques scheme". Retrieved 30 January 2019.

Further reading

Primary sources

Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byWalter Baker Member of Parliament for Bristol East 19311950 Constituency abolished New constituency Member of Parliament for Bristol South East 1950Oct. 1950 Succeeded byAnthony Wedgwood Benn Legal offices Preceded bySir James Melville Solicitor General for England and Wales 1931 Succeeded bySir Thomas Inskip Political offices Preceded byWinston Churchill Leader of the House of Commons 1942 Succeeded byAnthony Eden Preceded byClement Attlee Lord Privy Seal 1942 Succeeded byViscount Cranborne Preceded byJohn Llewellin Minister of Aircraft Production 1942–1945 Succeeded byErnest Brown Preceded byOliver Lyttleton President of the Board of Trade 1945–1947 Succeeded byHarold Wilson New office Minister for Economic Affairs 1947 office abolished Preceded byHugh Dalton Chancellor of the Exchequer 1947–1950 Succeeded byHugh Gaitskell Party political offices Preceded byFrank Wise Chairman of the Socialist League 1933–1936 Succeeded byWilliam Mellor Preceded byBeatrice Webb President of the Fabian Society 1951–1952 Succeeded byG. D. H. Cole Academic offices Preceded byEdward Evans Rector of the University of Aberdeen 1942–1945 Succeeded byEric Linklater