Richard Crossman

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The Right Honourable
Richard Crossman
OBE
Secretary of State for Health and Social Services
In office
1 November 1968 – 19 June 1970
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Office Created
Succeeded by Sir Keith Joseph, Bt
Lord President of the Council
Leader of the House of Commons
In office
11 August 1966 – 18 October 1968
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Herbert Bowden
Succeeded by Fred Peart
Personal details
Born Richard Howard Stafford Crossman
(1907-12-15)15 December 1907
Cropredy, Oxfordshire
Died 5 April 1974(1974-04-05) (aged 66)
Banbury, Oxfordshire, England
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Alma mater New College, Oxford
Occupation Politician, author

Richard Howard Stafford (Dick) Crossman OBE (15 December 1907 – 5 April 1974) was a British author and Labour Party politician who was a Cabinet Minister under Harold Wilson, and was the editor of the New Statesman. A prominent socialist intellectual, he became one of the Labour Party's leading Zionists and anti-communists. Crossman is noted for his colourful if highly subjective three-volume Diaries of a Cabinet Minister.

Early life[edit]

The son of a judge, Crossman was born in either Cropredy, Oxfordshire,[1] or Bayswater, London,[2] and grew up in Buckhurst Hill, Essex. He was educated at Twyford School, and at Winchester College, where he became head boy. He excelled academically and on the football field. He studied Classics at New College, Oxford, receiving a double first and becoming a Fellow in 1931. He taught philosophy at the university before becoming a lecturer for the Workers' Educational Association. He was a councillor on Oxford City Council, and became head of the Labour group in 1935.

War service[edit]

At the outbreak of World War II Crossman joined the Political Warfare Executive under Robert Bruce Lockhart, where he headed the German Section.[3] He produced anti-Nazi propaganda broadcasts for Radio of the European Revolution, set up by the Special Operations Executive. He eventually became Assistant Chief of the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF and was awarded an OBE for his wartime service.[4] In the spring of 1945 he was one of the first British officers to enter the Dachau concentration camp.

Political career[edit]

Crossman entered the House of Commons in 1945, as Member of Parliament (MP) for Coventry East, a seat he held until shortly before his death in 1974. During 1945–46 he served, on the nomination of the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, as a member of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry into the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine. The committee's report, submitted in April 1946, included a recommendation for 100,000 Jewish "displaced persons" to be permitted to enter Palestine. The recommendation was rejected by the British government, after which Crossman led the socialist opposition to the official British policy for Palestine. That incurred Bevin's enmity, and may have been the primary factor which prevented Crossman from achieving ministerial rank during the 1945–51 government.

He was a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party from 1952 until 1967, and Chairman of the Labour Party in 1960–61. Crossman cemented his role as a leader of the left wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1947 by co-authoring the Keep Left pamphlet, and later became one of the more prominent Bevanites.

In 1957, Crossman joined Aneurin Bevan and Morgan Phillips in a controversial lawsuit for libel against The Spectator magazine, which had described the men as drinking heavily during a socialist conference in Italy. Having sworn that the charges were untrue, the three collected damages from the magazine. Many years later, Crossman's posthumously published diaries confirmed the truth of The Spectator's charges.

Crossman was Labour's spokesman on Education before the 1964 general election, but upon forming the new Government Harold Wilson appointed Crossman Minister of Housing and Local Government. In 1966 he became Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons.

He was Secretary of State for Health and Social Services from 1968 to 1970, in which position he worked on an ambitious proposal to supplement Britain's flat state pension with an earnings-related element. The proposal had not, however, been passed into law at the time the Labour Party lost the 1970 general election. During the months of political turmoil that led up to the election loss, Crossman had been considered, however briefly, as a last-minute option to replace Wilson as Prime Minister.

Books and journalism[edit]

After the general election defeat, Crossman resigned from the Labour front bench in 1970 to become editor of the New Statesman, where he had been a frequent contributor and assistant editor from 1938 until 1955. He left the New Statesman in 1972.

Crossman was a prolific writer and editor. In Plato Today (1937) he imagines Plato visiting Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Plato criticizes Nazi and communist politicians for misusing the ideas Plato set forth in the Republic.[5] He is perhaps best known for his colourful and highly subjective three-volume Diaries of a Cabinet Minister. Covering his time in government from 1964 to 1970, they appeared despite a legal battle by the government to block publication. One of Crossman's legal executors was Michael Foot, then a cabinet minister, who opposed his own government's attempts to suppress the diaries.[6] Crossman's backbench diaries later appeared in book form. Much earlier, he had edited The God That Failed, a collection of anti-communist essays published in 1949.

Crossman's diaries were an acknowledged source for the highly successful TV comedy series Yes Minister.[7] [8] They describe his battles with "the Dame", his Permanent Secretary, the formidable Evelyn Sharp, Baroness Sharp, GBE (1903–1985) and the first woman in Britain to hold the position.

Death[edit]

Crossman died of liver cancer in April 1974 at his home in Oxfordshire.

Quotation[edit]

The Civil Service is profoundly deferential – 'Yes, Minister! No, Minister! If you wish it, Minister!'

Bibliography[edit]

  • Government and the Governed (A History of Political Ideas and Political Practice) London: Cristophers (1939)
  • Plato Today New York: Oxford University Press (1939)
  • Palestine Mission: A Personal Record New York: Harper (1947)
  • The God That Failed New York: Harper (1950) (editor)
  • The Politics of Socialism New York: Atheneum (1965)
  • The Myths of Cabinet Government Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1972)

Biographies[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Dalyell, 2002
  2. ^ Howard, 2008
  3. ^ Mayne, Richard (1 April 2003). In Victory, Magnanimity, in Peace, Goodwill. p. 6. ISBN 0-7146-5433-7. 
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37308. p. 5067. 12 October 1945. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  5. ^ Goldhill, Simon, Love, Sex and Tragedy, U. Chicago Press, 2004, p. 202
  6. ^ Anthony Howard Michael Foot: The last of a dying breed The Telegraph, 5 March 2010
  7. ^ "Yes Minister Questions & Answers". Jonathan Lynn Official Website. Retrieved 6 September 2007. 
  8. ^ Crossman, Richard (1979). Diaries of a Cabinet Minister: Selections, 1964–70. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd. ISBN 0-241-10142-5. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Coventry East
1945–1974
Constituency abolished
Party political offices
Preceded by
George Brinham
Chairman of the Labour Party
1960–1961
Succeeded by
Harold Wilson
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Keith Joseph, Bt
Minister of Housing and Local Government
1964–1966
Succeeded by
Anthony Greenwood
Preceded by
Herbert Bowden
Lord President of the Council
1966–1968
Succeeded by
Fred Peart
Leader of the House of Commons
1966–1968
Preceded by
Kenneth Robinson
as Minister of Health
Secretary of State for Social Services
1968–1970
Succeeded by
Sir Keith Joseph, Bt
Preceded by
Judith Hart
as Minister of Social Security
Media offices
Preceded by
Paul Johnson
Editor of the New Statesman
1970–1972
Succeeded by
Anthony Howard