Rab Butler

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Butler of Saffron Walden
KG CH DL PC
RA Butler 1937.jpg
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
13 July 1962 – 18 October 1963
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Anthony Eden[a]
Succeeded by William Whitelaw[b]
First Secretary of State
In office
13 July 1962 – 18 October 1963
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Office Created
Succeeded by George Brown[c]
Shadow Foreign Secretary
In office
16 October 1964 – 27 July 1965
Leader Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded by Patrick Gordon Walker
Succeeded by Reginald Maudling
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
20 October 1963 – 16 October 1964
Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded by Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Succeeded by Patrick Gordon Walker
Home Secretary
In office
14 January 1957 – 13 July 1962
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Gwilym Lloyd George
Succeeded by Henry Brooke
Leader of the House of Commons
In office
20 December 1955 – 9 October 1961
Prime Minister Anthony Eden
Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Harry Crookshank
Succeeded by Iain Macleod
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
28 October 1951 – 20 December 1955
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Anthony Eden
Preceded by Hugh Gaitskell
Succeeded by Harold Macmillan
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
10 December 1950 – 28 October 1951
Leader Winston Churchill
Preceded by Oliver Stanley
Succeeded by Hugh Gaitskell
Minister of Labour and National Service
In office
25 May 1945 – 26 July 1945
Leader Winston Churchill
Preceded by Ernest Bevin
Succeeded by George Isaacs
Minister of Labour and National Service
In office
20 July 1941 – 25 May 1945
Leader Winston Churchill
Preceded by Herwald Ramsbotham
Succeeded by Richard Law
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
with Ivor Windsor-Clive (1938–1940)
In office
15 May 1940 – 20 July 1941
Preceded by Ivor Windsor-Clive
Succeeded by Richard Law
In office
25 February 1938 – 10 May 1940
Preceded by Ivor Windsor-Clive
Succeeded by Ivor Windsor-Clive
Member of Parliament
for Saffron Walden
In office
30 May 1929 – 15 October 1965
Preceded by William Foot Mitchell
Succeeded by Peter Kirk
Personal details
Born Richard Austen Butler
(1902-12-09)9 December 1902
Attock Serai, British India
Died 8 March 1982(1982-03-08) (aged 79)
Great Yeldham, Essex
Political party Conservative
Alma mater Marlborough College
Pembroke College, Cambridge
a. ^ Office vacant from 6 April 1955 to 13 July 1962. b. ^ Office vacant from 18 October 1963 to 4 May 1979. c. ^ Office vacant from 18 October 1963 to 16 October 1964.

Richard Austen Butler, Baron Butler of Saffron Walden, KG, CH, DL, PC (9 December 1902 – 8 March 1982), generally known as R. A. Butler and familiarly known as Rab, was a British Conservative politician. Butler was one of only two British politicians (the other being John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon) to have served in three of the four Great Offices of State (Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary) but never to have been the Prime Minister, for which he was twice passed over.

Early life[edit]

Butler was born in Attock Serai, Attock, in India (now in Punjab, Pakistan), to Sir Montagu Sherard Dawes Butler and his wife, Anne Gertrude (née Smith). His maternal uncles were Charles Aitchison Smith, Sir George Adam Smith and Sir James Dunlop Smith. His sister was Iris Mary Butler (was born in 1905), who became Iris Portal upon her marriage, and whose elder daughter is Jane Williams, Baroness Williams of Elvel, the mother of Justin Welby. His paternal uncle was Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler.[citation needed]

Butler belonged to a distinguished upper-middle-class family that had produced a succession of public servants and educators; as a child his right arm was injured in a riding accident, leaving his hand not fully functional. His limp handshake and inevitable lack of military experience (and stooping donnish manner at a time when many politicians were former officers) were political handicaps in later life.[1] He was educated at Marlborough College and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he was President of the Cambridge Union Society in the summer term of his third year; in March 1924, as newly elected President, he entertained the Leader of the Opposition, Stanley Baldwin, at a debate.

At Cambridge he read Medieval and Modern Languages (French and German). At the end of his second year he achieved a starred First. During his third and fourth years at Cambridge he read for Part II of the Historical Tripos also achieving a starred first. He graduated as a BA in 1924. He took the Peel special subject that some[who?] believe influenced his political career. Butler took part in the ESU USA Tour, a debating tour of the United States run by the English-Speaking Union.[citation needed]

After a brief period as a Cambridge don teaching nineteenth-century French history, he was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Saffron Walden in the 1929 general election. Butler held this seat until his retirement in 1965.

Member of Parliament[edit]

In his autobiography, The Art of the Possible, Butler attributes his political gifts to his grandmother Mary Kendall of Pelyn, Lostwithiel, Cornwall. He wrote a lengthy paragraph on the Kendall family, who for many generations had been active in the politics of Cornwall and England.[2] It has been remarked of this family that they have perhaps sent more members to the British parliament than any other in the United Kingdom.[3]

Butler held a series of junior Ministerial posts throughout the 1930s, often enacting controversial policy decisions.[citation needed] After a brief period as Parliamentary Private Secretary (personal assistant) to the India Secretary, Samuel Hoare, he was given his first ministerial job as Under-Secretary of State for India (1932–37) at the time the Indian Home Rule Act was being debated in Parliament amidst massive opposition, led by Winston Churchill, from rank-and-file Conservative supporters.[citation needed] In 1937–8 he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour.

In 1938 he was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Neville Chamberlain's government. Butler's close association to the government's policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany may have been instrumental in limiting his political career.[citation needed] Butler later claimed that appeasement had been aimed at buying time for Britain to rearm and that he had little input into the direction of foreign policy, and that power was really held by Chamberlain and Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, with the Prime Minister speaking in the House of Commons on foreign policy instead of Butler, who was the sole Foreign Office minister in the Commons (an arrangement devised to respond to criticism of appointing a peer as Foreign Secretary, rather than a reflection on Butler).[citation needed]

Butler disliked Churchill. After Churchill had made a confident war speech on 12 November 1939, Butler told Jock Colville that he "thought it beyond words vulgar".[4] Colville recorded in his diary on 10 May 1940, when Churchill was replacing Chamberlain as Prime Minister:

Rab said he thought that the good clean tradition of English politics, that of Pitt as opposed to Fox, had been sold to the greatest adventurer of modern political history. He had tried earnestly and long to persuade Halifax to accept the Premiership, but he had failed. He believed this sudden coup of Winston and his rabble was a serious disaster and an unnecessary one: the 'pass has been sold' by Mr. C., Lord Halifax and Oliver Stanley. They had weakly surrendered to a half-breed American whose main support was that of inefficient but talkative people of a similar type.[5][6]

David Lloyd George intended a compliment when describing Butler as "playing the part of the imperturbable dunce who says nothing with an air of conviction".[7]

Private and family life[edit]

Butler married Sydney Elizabeth Courtauld in 1926. She was the daughter of Samuel Courtauld and heiress to part of the Courtauld textile fortune. They lived at Stanstead Hall (also known as Stansted Hall) in Essex. Their children were the Hon. Sir Richard C Butler KT DL (1929–2012), Adam Courtauld Butler (1931–2008), who was also a politician, the Hon. Samuel James Butler (born 1936) and Sarah Teresa Butler (born 1944).

Following the death of his wife from jaw cancer in 1954, Butler married Mollie Courtauld (née Montgomerie) in September 1959. She had been married to Augustine Courtauld (Sydney's cousin), who had died in March 1959. They lived at their London house in Smith Square, the Master's Lodge at Trinity College, Cambridge, Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire (inherited from Samuel Courtauld, Sydney's father), and a holiday house on the Isle of Mull.

In 1976, Gatcombe Park was sold to the Queen as a home for Princess Anne and Mollie and Butler bought back Spencers, the old Courtauld family home in Essex where Mollie had previously lived with Augustine Courtauld. Mollie continued living at Spencers after Butler's death in 1982 until her death on 18 February 2009 at the age of 101.[8][9][10][11]

1944 Education Act[edit]

In summer 1941, Butler received his first Cabinet post when he was appointed President of the Board of Education by Churchill. He was also the chair of the War Cabinet Committee for the Control of Official Histories. The position was widely seen as a backwater in wartime, with Butler having been promoted to it to remove him from the more sensitive Foreign Office.[citation needed] Still, he proved to be one of the most radical reforming ministers on the home front, shaking up the education system in the Education Act 1944, often known as the Butler Education Act.[citation needed] At the end of World War II, Butler was Minister of Labour for two months in the caretaker administration of Winston Churchill.[12]

Resistance plans[edit]

Butler had been designated to be one of the regional representatives of King George VI, as part of the secret plan of resistance had Britain been occupied by the Nazis.[citation needed] Little even today is known about this proposed plan. 201, 202 and 203 Battalions of the British Home Guard would have been the foundation of this British resistance.[citation needed]

Post-war[edit]

After the Conservatives were defeated in the 1945 general election, Butler emerged as one of the most prominent figures in the rebuilding of the party. He served a record term as Chairman of the Conservative Research Department, from 1945 to 1964. When the Conservative Party returned to power in 1951, he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. Butler followed to a large extent the economic policies of his Labour predecessor, Hugh Gaitskell, pursuing a mixed economy and Keynesian economics as part of the post-war political consensus. The Economist commented on these similarities by referring to a hybrid Chancellor, "Mr Butskell", from which the term Butskellism derives.[citation needed]

Butler planned to move to system of floating the pound ("Operation ROBOT"), but it was scuppered by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden in a rare intervention in domestic politics.[13] Eden feared that the inflation and the unemployment would make the move political suicide.

In 1953, Butler acted as head of the Government when Winston Churchill suffered a stroke while his successor Anthony Eden was undergoing an operation overseas. Many have speculated that Butler could have become Prime Minister had he persuaded Churchill to retire at this point, but Butler lacked the ruthlessness that would have been necessary to accomplish this.[citation needed] He may have been concerned about opposition to a "Man of Munich" becoming Prime Minister.[citation needed] Churchill slowly recovered and retired in 1955, handing power to Eden with no controversy.

Butler's career did not prosper under Eden, about whom a number of Butler's sardonic witticisms surfaced. He described Eden as "half mad Baronet, half beautiful woman" and once agreed with a journalist that Eden was "the best Prime Minister we have".[citation needed] His penultimate budget slashed taxation immediately before the 1955 general election but soon afterwards it became apparent that the economy was "overheating" (inflation and the balance of payments deficit were rising sharply), and his final budget undid several of the tax cuts, leading to charges of electoral opportunism. In December 1955, Butler was moved to the post of Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons.

Although Butler continued to act as a deputy for Eden on a number of occasions, he was not officially recognised as such and his successor as Chancellor, Harold Macmillan, was assured by Eden that Butler was not senior to him.[1]

Butler chaired the Cabinet in Eden's absence, but his stock among party leaders fell during the Suez Crisis, particularly during Eden's absence in Jamaica, when Butler was seen to be an indecisive leader who was not up to Macmillan's stature.[14]

Butler and Macmillan[edit]

In January 1957, Eden resigned as Prime Minister. At the time the Conservative Party had no formal mechanism for determining a new leader, so the Queen had the choice as to who should succeed Eden as Prime Minister. The Queen took advice from senior Ministers and Churchill (who backed Macmillan), Edward Heath (who as Chief Whip was aware of backbench opinion) and from Lord Salisbury, who interviewed the Cabinet one by one and with his famous speech impediment asked each one whether he was for "Wab or Hawold" (it is thought that only between one and three were for "Wab").[citation needed] The advice was overwhelmingly to appoint Macmillan instead of Butler. The media were taken by surprise by this choice, but Butler confessed in his memoirs that while there was a sizeable anti-Butler faction on the backbenches, there was no such anti-Macmillan faction.[citation needed]

Macmillan sought to placate Butler by appointing him Home Secretary, rather than Foreign Secretary, the job he wanted. In his memoirs, Macmillan claimed that Butler "chose" the Home Office, an assertion of which Butler drily observed in his own memoirs that Macmillan's memory "played him false". Butler held the Home Office for five years, in which he once more demonstrated his radical reforming credentials through a number of pieces of legislation, but his liberal views on hanging and flogging did little to endear him to rank-and-file Conservative members.[citation needed] Butler held various additional posts on different occasions, including Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal, and Conservative Party chairman, the latter job prompting a newspaper analogy with Nikita Khrushchev's rise to power through control of the Soviet Communist Party.[citation needed]

The succession to Macmillan[edit]

In the "Night of the Long Knives" reshuffle in 1962, Butler at last received the formal titles of Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State. However, Macmillan used the occasion to promote younger men such as Reginald Maudling (Chancellor of the Exchequer) and Edward Heath (in charge of the EEC entry negotiations), from amongst whom he hoped to groom his successor. The following year, Macmillan was taken ill on the eve of the Conservative Party Conference and resigned as Prime Minister, asking the party bigwigs to "take soundings" of Cabinet Ministers and MPs, to select a consensus candidate as the leader through the "customary processes".[citation needed]

In the confusion of the next few days, Butler found himself sidelined after delivering a poor Conference speech.[citation needed] Lord Hailsham was rejected after using the Conference to campaign openly for the job in a manner considered vulgar.[citation needed] Support gathered around outside candidate Lord Home. Much ink has been spilled on how badly the consultation process was rigged, but Macmillan recommended Home for the premiership.[1]

Many[who?] were outraged over the way that Butler had been passed over yet again. Hailsham and Maudling were dissatisfied by the choice but agreed to serve under Home. Enoch Powell and Iain Macleod (who later claimed in print that the leadership had been stitched up by a "Magic Circle" of Old Etonians)[citation needed] both refused to serve under Home and sought to persuade Butler to do the same in the belief that this would make a Home premiership impossible and result in Butler taking office.[citation needed] However, Butler refused to join them; he even alleged in a letter to The Times that to have done so might have led to a Labour government (this suggestion was later dismissed as absurd by Harold Wilson, then Opposition leader).[citation needed]

Some[who?] have attributed Butler's actions to his university study of Conservatives and his resultant fear of splitting the Tory party. Powell, a wartime brigadier, observed that they had given Butler a loaded revolver which he had refused to use on the grounds that it might make a noise,[citation needed] a metaphor that speaks volumes about how Butler's lack of military experience affected his colleagues' image of him.[citation needed]

It is worth observing[who?] that despite Butler's immense experience, he was not an overwhelming choice as leader.[citation needed] In leadership elections a generation later, it has often been the case that the initial front runner (David Davis in 2005)[citation needed] or the "obvious" and publicly popular candidate (Michael Heseltine in 1990[citation needed] or Kenneth Clarke in 1997 and in 2001)[citation needed] loses at the final hurdle to a "second-best" candidate who enjoys a wider consensus of support. There is no doubt[citation needed] that the episode of Home's elevation was a public relations disaster for the Conservatives, who had to elect their next leader (Edward Heath in 1965) by a transparent ballot of MPs.

Home appointed Butler Foreign Secretary, and he held this post he served until his party narrowly lost the 1964 general election. Many[who?] believed that the Conservatives would have won under Butler's leadership, but during the election campaign he had shown his lack of stomach for the fight by remarking to a journalist that the campaign was "slipping away".[citation needed] Harold Wilson said that Butler would have won the 1964 General Election.[15]

Retirement from politics[edit]

At the comparatively early age of 62, Butler left office with one of the longest records of ministerial experience amongst contemporary politicians. Butler remained on the Conservative front bench for the next year, when he was appointed Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. The same year he was awarded a life peerage as Baron Butler of Saffron Walden, sitting as a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords. He had declined offers of an hereditary earldom, both by Alec Douglas-Home in his resignation honours list and by Harold Wilson.[citation needed]

At the time of his retirement from Parliament he was the longest continuously serving member of the Commons and Father of the House. As Master of Trinity, Butler was publicly promoted as a mentor and counsellor to Charles, Prince of Wales, when he was enrolled in university; a humorous cartoon of the time showed Butler telling the Prince that he was to study a specially-made-up History course "in which I become Prime Minister".[citation needed] Butler was active as the first Chancellor of the University of Essex[16] from 1966 until his death. He was High Steward of Cambridge University from 1958 to 1966, and High Steward of the City of Cambridge from 1963 until his death.[17]

From 1972 to 1975 he chaired the high profile Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders, widely referred to as the Butler Committee, which proposed major reforms to the law and psychiatric services, some of which have been implemented.[citation needed]

Butler died in 1982 at Great Yeldham, Essex, and is buried in the churchyard of the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Saffron Walden. His son, Adam Butler, was a member of parliament from 1970 to 1987 and a junior minister under Margaret Thatcher.

In fiction[edit]

In the alternative reality depicted in John Wyndham's short story Random Quest, where the Second World War did not happen, Butler is the prime minister. The story was written in 1954, when Butler acceding to the premiership was a serious possibility.[citation needed]

Butler becomes World War II prime minister in the 2007 alternative history novel Resistance by Owen Sheers. However, he leads a collaborationist puppet government after Germany has largely conquered the British Isles.[citation needed]

Butler and Lord Halifax engineer a June 1940 British surrender to Germany, and occupation, in the background to the alternative history novel The Big One, leading to his assassination by resistance forces.[citation needed]

In the alternative history novel Dominion by C. J. Sansom, World War II ended in June 1940 when the British government under Lord Halifax signed a peace treaty with Germany in Berlin. In November 1952, Butler was Foreign Secretary in the Cabinet of Lord Beaverbrook.[citation needed]

Styles and honours[edit]

  • Richard Butler (1902–1929)
  • Richard Butler, MP (1929–1939)
  • The Rt. Hon. Richard Butler, MP (1939–1954)
  • The Rt. Hon. Richard Butler, CH, MP (1954–1965)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, CH, PC (1965–1971)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, KG, CH, PC (1971–1982)

Butler was twice offered an hereditary earldom and would have been styled as the Earl of Saffron Walden if he had accepted,[citation needed] but he accepted a life peerage for reasons unknown.

Further reading[edit]

  • Howard, Anthony. Rab: R. A. Butler, Jonathan Cape, London, 1987
  • Jeffereys, Kevin. "R. A. Butler, the Board of Education and the 1944 Education Act," History (1984) 69#227 pp 415–431.
  • Middleton, Nigel. "Lord Butler and the Education Act of 1944," British Journal of Educational Studies (1972) 20#2 pp 178–191

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Too Obviously Cleverer". London Review of Books. 8 September 2011. 
  2. ^ http://acollins.customer.netspace.net.au/Kendall%20Butler%20Connections.htm
  3. ^ Evelyn Philip Shirley (1866). The Noble and Gentle Men of England. John Bowyer Nichols & Sons. p. 37. 
  4. ^ John Colville, The Fringes of Power. Downing Street Diaries. 1939–1955 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. 51.
  5. ^ Graham Stewart, Burying Caesar. Churchill, Chamberlain and the Battle for the Tory Party (Phoenix, 1999), p. 425.
  6. ^ Colville, p. 122.
  7. ^ Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy, 1933–1940 (Chicago University Press, 1977), p. 403.
  8. ^ "Lady Butler of Saffron Walden: widow of Rab Butler". The Times (London). 19 February 2002. Retrieved 6 February 2011. 
  9. ^ "Lady Butler of Saffron Walden". The Guardian (London). 24 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2011. 
  10. ^ "Lady Butler of Saffron Walden". The Telegraph (London). 18 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2011. 
  11. ^ "Lady Butler of Saffron Walden: Second wife of Rab Butler, 'the best Prime Minister we never had'". The Independent (London). 2 April 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2011. 
  12. ^ Kevin Jeffereys, "R. A. Butler, the Board of Education and the 1944 Education Act," History (1984) 69#227 pp 415–431
  13. ^ Hennessy, p. 199
  14. ^ Keith Kyle (2011). Suez: Britain's End of Empire in the Middle East. I.B.Tauris. p. 534. 
  15. ^ Williams, Charles Harold Macmillan (2009) p. 453
  16. ^ "University of Essex Calendar". 
  17. ^ Tributes to the late Lord Butler, Hansard, House of Lords, 10 Mar 1982, vol 428, col 199

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Foot Mitchell
Member of Parliament for Saffron Walden
19291965
Succeeded by
Peter Michael Kirk
Preceded by
Winston Churchill
Father of the House
1964–1965
Succeeded by
Robin Turton
Political offices
Preceded by
Lord Lothian
Under-Secretary of State for India
1932–1937
Succeeded by
Lord Stanley
Preceded by
?
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour
1937–1938
Succeeded by
Alan Lennox-Boyd
Preceded by
Viscount Cranborne
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
1938–1941
With: The Earl of Plymouth 1938–1939
Succeeded by
Richard Law
Preceded by
Herwald Ramsbotham
President of the Board of Education
1941–1945
Succeeded by
Richard Law
Preceded by
Ernest Bevin
Minister of Labour
1945
Succeeded by
George Isaacs
Preceded by
Hugh Gaitskell
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1951–1955
Succeeded by
Harold Macmillan
Preceded by
Harry Crookshank
Lord Privy Seal
1955–1959
Succeeded by
Viscount Hailsham
Leader of the House of Commons
1955–1961
Succeeded by
Iain Macleod
Preceded by
Gwilym Lloyd George
Home Secretary
1957–1962
Succeeded by
Henry Brooke
Vacant
Title last held by
Anthony Eden
Deputy Prime Minister
1962–1963
Vacant
Title next held by
William Whitelaw
New creation First Secretary of State
1962–1963
Vacant
Title next held by
George Brown
Preceded by
The Earl of Home
Foreign Secretary
1963–1964
Succeeded by
Patrick Gordon Walker
Preceded by
Patrick Gordon Walker
Shadow Foreign Secretary
1964–1965
Succeeded by
Reginald Maudling
Party political offices
Preceded by
Viscount Hailsham
Chairman of the Conservative Party
1959–1961
Succeeded by
Iain Macleod
Academic offices
Preceded by
Tom Honeyman
Rector of the University of Glasgow
1956–1959
Succeeded by
Viscount Hailsham
Preceded by
E. F. L. Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax
Chancellor of the University of Sheffield
1959–1977
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Frederick Dainton
Preceded by
The Lord Adrian
Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
1965–1978
Succeeded by
Sir Alan Hodgkin
Preceded by
New university
Chancellor of the University of Essex
1966–1982
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Sir Patrick Nairne