|The Right Honourable
The Lord Butler of Saffron Walden
KG CH PC DL
|Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|
13 July 1962 – 18 October 1963
|Prime Minister||Harold Macmillan|
|Preceded by||Anthony Eden[a]|
|Succeeded by||William Whitelaw[b]|
|First Secretary of State|
13 July 1962 – 18 October 1963
|Prime Minister||Harold Macmillan|
|Preceded by||Office Created|
|Succeeded by||George Brown[c]|
|Shadow Foreign Secretary|
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|
20 October 1963 – 16 October 1964
|Prime Minister||Sir Alec Douglas-Home|
|Preceded by||Sir Alec Douglas-Home|
|Succeeded by||Patrick Gordon Walker|
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|
20 December 1955 – 9 October 1961
|Prime Minister||Anthony Eden
|Preceded by||Harry Crookshank|
|Succeeded by||Iain Macleod|
|Chancellor of the Exchequer|
28 October 1951 – 20 December 1955
|Prime Minister||Winston Churchill
|Preceded by||Hugh Gaitskell|
|Succeeded by||Harold Macmillan|
|Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer|
10 December 1950 – 28 October 1951
|Preceded by||Oliver Stanley|
|Succeeded by||Hugh Gaitskell|
|Minister of Labour and National Service|
25 May 1945 – 26 July 1945
|Preceded by||Ernest Bevin|
|Succeeded by||George Isaacs|
|President of the Board of Education|
20 July 1941 – 25 May 1945
|Preceded by||Herwald Ramsbotham|
|Succeeded by||Richard Law|
|Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
with Ivor Windsor-Clive (1938–1940)
15 May 1940 – 20 July 1941
|Preceded by||Ivor Windsor-Clive|
|Succeeded by||Richard Law|
25 February 1938 – 10 May 1940
|Preceded by||Ivor Windsor-Clive|
|Succeeded by||Ivor Windsor-Clive|
|Member of Parliament
for Saffron Walden
30 May 1929 – 15 October 1965
|Preceded by||William Foot Mitchell|
|Succeeded by||Peter Kirk|
|Born||Richard Austen Butler
9 December 1902
Attock Serai, British India
|Died||8 March 1982
Great Yeldham, Essex
|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.|
During a long ministerial career, Butler served as Education Minister (1941–45, overseeing the Education Act 1944), Chancellor of the Exchequer (1951–55), Home Secretary (1957–62), Deputy Prime Minister (1962–63) and Foreign Secretary (1963–64).
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, but never to have been Prime Minister, for which he was passed over in 1957 and 1963.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Cambridge
- 3 Private and family life
- 4 Early political career
- 5 Education Minister
- 6 Post-war
- 7 Chancellor of the Exchequer
- 8 Under Eden
- 9 Under Macmillan
- 10 Succession to Macmillan
- 11 Under Douglas-Home
- 12 Master of Trinity
- 13 Assessments
- 14 In fiction
- 15 Styles and honours
- 16 Further reading
- 17 References
- 18 External links
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). Butler belonged to a distinguished upper-middle-class family that had produced a succession of public servants and educators. His maternal uncles were Charles Aitchison Smith, Sir George Adam Smith and Sir James Dunlop Smith. His paternal uncles were Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler and Sir Geoffrey Butler, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and MP for Cambridge University 1923-9.
As a child his right arm was broken in three places in a riding accident, the injury being aggravated by a burn from a hot water bottle, leaving his hand not fully functional. His limp handshake and lack of military experience (and stooping donnish manner at a time when many politicians were former officers) were political handicaps in later life.
After attending preparatory schools at Brockhurst, Church Stretton, and Wick, Hove. Having refused to attend Harrow, where many of his family had been educated, and having been unsuccessful in winning a scholarship to Eton, he attended Marlborough College. He left Marlborough at the end of 1920, a week after his 18th birthday. He spent five months in France with a Protestant pastor in Abbeville, and later that summer was tutor to the son of Robert de Rothschild. His plan at this stage was to enter the Diplomatic Service.
As a child of Empire, from his late teens onwards Butler was expected to look after his younger siblings, arranging for them to stay with relatives during school holidays and sending them Christmas presents which he pretended had been sent by their parents. 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, the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Butler’s younger brother Jock, a Home Office civil servant and Pilot Officer, was killed in a plane crash at the end of 1942.
Butler studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge, starting in October 1921, and initially reading Medieval and Modern Languages. At the end of his second year (June 1923) he achieved a First in French Part I and was awarded an £80 scholarship to supplement his £300 parental allowance (approximately £4,000 and £15,000 at 2014 prices). He was also active in student politics, being elected to the Committee of the Cambridge Union Society by the end of his first year. At the end of his second year he was elected Secretary for Michaelmas (autumn term) 1923 at his second attempt, by the narrow margin of 10 votes out of 500. At that time Secretary was the only office normally contested, putting him on track to be Vice-President for Lent 1924 and President for Easter (summer term) 1924. He suffered a nervous breakdown that summer and had to postpone his plans to study History to a fourth year, taking a less strenuous course in German in the meantime. He spent part of the summer of 1923 abroad learning German.
In Michaelmas 1923, as Secretary, he persuaded the Cambridge Union to affiliate to the National Union of Students, of which he became a Vice-President. On 11 March 1924, after taking office as President, he entertained the Leader of the Opposition, Stanley Baldwin, at the Change of Officers Debate to oppose the motion that "This House has the Highest Regard for Rhetoric". Winston Churchill (then out of Parliament and an independent "Constitutionalist") had been invited to speak in favour but had withdrawn. The following morning Rab had to escort Baldwin back to the railway station where, according to one version of the story, Baldwin bought him a copy of "Something Fresh" by P.G.Wodehouse with an admonition not to take life too seriously. At the end of his third year (1924) he received a Second in German, to his father’s ill-disguised disappointment. He graduated as a BA in 1924. In the summer of 1924 Butler took part in the ESU USA Tour, a debating tour of the United States run by the English-Speaking Union. They debated two motions: democracy versus personal liberty and closer relations with the USSR (then a virtual international pariah state).
During his fourth year at Cambridge he concentrated on study, reading for Part II in History and International Law. In his international law exam he was dissatisfied with his essays, and at half time tore up his answers, and wrote six fresh ones on six sheets of foolscap. In History he took the Peel special subject, at one point knowing by name which way every Conservative MP voted in the split over the Irish Coercion Bill of 1846. He received one of the highest firsts in the University across all subjects, known at the time as a "I:I".
Private and family life
Butler married Sydney Elizabeth Courtauld on 20 April 1926, less than a year after his graduation from Cambridge. She was the daughter of Samuel Courtauld and heiress to part of the Courtauld textile fortune. His father-in-law awarded him a private income of £5,000 a year after tax for life, the equivalent of a Cabinet Minister’s salary, and equivalent to almost £260,000 per annum at 2014 prices.
The Butlers lived at Stanstead Hall (also known as Stansted Hall) in Essex, where they entertained both Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill in the 1930s, and in 1938 moved into 3, Smith Square which remained Butler's London base throughout his career. During the Second World War Butler was bombed out of Smith Square and had to stay with his Parliamentary Private Secretary Chips Channon in Belgrave Square.
The Butlers' 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 (1936–2015) and Sarah Teresa Butler (born 1944).
Following the death of his wife from jaw cancer in 1954, Butler married Mollie Courtauld (née Montgomerie) on 21 October 1959. She had been married to Augustine Courtauld (Sydney's cousin), who had died in March 1959. They had dwellings at Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire (inherited from Samuel Courtauld, Sydney's father). They also lived at the Master's Lodge at Trinity College, Cambridge during Rab's tenure as Master. The Butlers also had a home on the Isle of Mull and, in later years, a flat in Whitehall Court.
In 1976 Gatcombe Park was sold to the Queen for more than £500,000 as a home for Princess Anne. The Butlers 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.
Early political career
Member of Parliament
In his autobiography, The Art of the Possible, Butler attributed his political gifts to his grandmother Mary Kendall of Pelyn, Lostwithiel, Cornwall. He wrote a lengthy paragraph on the Kendall family, who had served in Parliament since 1368 and had been active in politics for many generations. 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.
Butler spent a brief period as a don at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge teaching French history since 1870. Courtauld connections then arranged for him to be selected unopposed as candidate for Saffron Walden whilst he and his new wife were away on a honeymoon tour of the world. He was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Saffron Walden in the 1929 general election. Butler held this seat until his retirement in 1965. His father advised him that he lacked facility for executive decision-making and that he should aim for the Speakership. He also warned him (1926) not to acquire a reputation as a bore by specialising in Indian affairs in Parliament. He advised him in 1929 that he should either devote his life to India as he had done, or else aim to come out later as a provincial governor or even as Viceroy.
Before being elected to Parliament he became private secretary to Samuel Hoare. Butler was one of a number of young MPs who had a sharp exchange of letters in The Times (27–8 May 1930) with Harold Macmillan, then out of Parliament, over the Mosley Memorandum. Macmillan had suggested that the “game” of politics was worth “hardly worth bothering to play at all” if governments were not willing to adopt radical solutions to reduce unemployment; Butler replied that if that was his view he should seek a “pastime more suited to his talents”. Butler recorded that the whips had "chuckled" at the letter, but it may have contributed the enmity which Macmillan, who was to be a backbench rebel in the 1930s whilst Butler was a rising ministerial star, felt towards him in later years.
In 1930 he referred to the rebels against Stanley Baldwin’s leadership, led by the Press Barons Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook, as the “Forty Thieves”. He wrote of “Brigadier-General this and Colonel that” amongst Conservative backbenchers and thought Beaverbrook “green and apeish”.
India Office Minister
In 1931, when the National Government was formed, he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary (personal assistant) to the India Secretary, Samuel Hoare. The Tory India Committee, one of whose leading lights was Winston Churchill, had been formed to resist plans for greater Indian self-government after the Irwin Declaration. Sydney had written to Butler’s mother that she would “pray for snow and sleet” if Gandhi visited London in his loincloth. As PPS Butler was Hoare’s eyes and ears at the Second Round Table Conference then in progress. He was soon impressed by Gandhi. He was sent to India on Lord Lothian’s Franchise Committee, one of three committees set up as part of the Round Table Conference. He left in January 1932 and returned on 21 May. The Committee recommended an increase in the Indian electorate from 7 million to 36 million.
Butler returned to find himself now a joint PPS with Micky Knatchbull, MP for Ashford in Kent. Butler soon reestablished himself as Hoare's main adviser and persuaded him to attend the Conservative Conference at Blackpool that October, where Churchill was planning to move a motion critical of the government’s Indian policy. He was given his first ministerial job as Under-Secretary of State for India (29 September 1932) when Lord Lothian resigned along with the rest of Herbert Samuel's Official Liberals over the National Government’s abandonment of free trade. At twenty-nine, he was the youngest member of the government.
At the end of March 1933 Butler had to open for the government on the last day of the debate on the Government's proposals for Indian Home Rule. He called for a Joint Select Committee of Both Houses to examine the recent White Paper and make proposals for a bill. Expecting a fierce response from Churchill he compared himself to “a bullock calf tied to a tree, awaiting the arrival of the Lord of the Forest”, adding that the tiger would be shot by riflemen when tempted out.
Butler was active speaking in the country on behalf of the Union of Britain and India, a front organisation funded by Conservative Central Office. Butler faced significant opposition from Conservative activists in his constituency, including some who deplored the granting of independence to Ireland over a decade earlier and one woman who thought it wrong to give the vote to Indians as they were savages who were still fighting with bows and arrows. After the India Act passed, Churchill praised Butler in the House of Commons (5 June 1935), but not Hoare.
Foreign Office Minister: Appeasement
In February 1938 Butler was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the reshuffle caused by the resignation of Anthony Eden as Foreign Secretary and Lord Cranborne as Under-Secretary. With the new Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax in the House of Lords, Butler was the main Foreign Office spokesman in the House of Commons. In practice the Prime Minister often spoke in the House of Commons on foreign policy, and initially when Butler spoke on sensitive issues such as the Anschluss of Austria (March 1938) or the ongoing Spanish Civil War, he was greeted with cries of "Where's the Prime Minister? Fetch him in!". Butler's PPS was the diarist "Chips" Channon, who described Butler (28 February 1938) as “a scholarly dry-stick, but an extremely able, cautious, canny man of great ambition” and (12 March 1938) as having “the brains and ability of a super clever civil servant, but completely unprejudiced. He seems to have no bias on any subject and looks on the whole human race as mental.”
Although Butler later claimed in his memoirs that appeasement had aimed to buy time for Britain to re-arm and that he had little input into the direction of foreign policy, at the time he strongly supported reaching agreement with Hitler. After the Munich Agreement (5 October 1938) Butler had to wind up a debate after Churchill had spoken. He said that war solved nothing, and that it was better to “settle our differences with Germany by consultation”. When Duff Cooper resigned in protest (12 October), Butler wrote of his speech "Duff's veins stood out and he was very rude".
Butler joined the Privy Council in the 1939 New Years Honours. He was the youngest person to join the Privy Council since Churchill in 1907. Butler thought Mussolini’s seizure of Albania in April 1939 would destabilise the Balkans; Neville Chamberlain told him not to be so silly and to go home to bed. With German invasion of Poland looming, and two days after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, he opposed Chamberlain's promise of military assistance (25 August 1939) as he thought it would have “a bad psychological effect on Hitler”.
His close association to the government's policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany was later instrumental in limiting his political career. Macmillan later recalled Butler as having been “the most cringing of the Munichites”. Appeasement was held against him more than against Lords Home or Hailsham, who were more junior. However, his biographer concedes that he was right to argue that public opinion in Britain and the Dominions was more willing to accept war in autumn 1939 than was the case a year earlier.
Foreign Office Minister: Phoney War
Butler disapproved of Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. After he made a confident war speech on 12 November 1939, not vetted by the Foreign Office and saying that it was “absolutely for certain” that the war must end in the utter defeat either of Britain and France or of Nazi Germany, Butler had to tell the Italian Ambassador (Italy was still neutral, and government policy was still open to the option of a compromise peace) that Churchill was speaking only for himself not for the government. He told Jock Colville that he "thought it beyond words vulgar".
Butler was quicker than many to realize the social change which war would bring. He spoke to Robert Barrington-Ward of "The Times" (12 February 1940) of “the new social revolution that is making its way, and how to anticipate and meet it.”
Colville recorded in his diary on 10 May 1940, when Churchill was replacing Chamberlain as Prime Minister, that Butler, Lord Dunglass (as Lord Home was then called), and two others drank the health of the “King over the Water”:
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.
Foreign Office Minister: under Churchill
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". In May 1940 Churchill retained him at the Foreign Office, saying: “I wish you to go on with your delicate manner of answering parliamentary questions without giving anything away”.
On 17 June 1940, just after the Fall of Paris, Butler had a mysterious meeting in St James's Park with the Swede Dr Bjorn Prytz. The meeting continued for a few minutes in the Foreign Office, during which Butler conferred briefly with Lord Halifax in his office (peace proposals had been made through Swedish channels in autumn 1939, whilst in late May Halifax had suggested approaching Italy, then on the verge of entering the war, to see if a compromise peace could be brokered, a suggestion vehemently resisted by Churchill). Prytz reported back to Stockholm that Butler had declared that British policy must be determined by "common sense not bravado" (the phrase was repeated in English) and that he had “assured me that no opportunity for reaching a compromise (peace) would be neglected if the possibility were offered on reasonable conditions.” Churchill was furious when he found out, probably through intelligence intercepts of Swedish diplomatic cables, complaining of Butler’s “odd language” which hinted at a lukewarm or even defeatist attitude, and he was lucky not to be sacked. Butler wrote Halifax a four-page handwritten letter, claiming that he had kept to the official British line and offering to resign. He later gave an unconvincing explanation in his memoirs, claiming that by “common sense not bravado” he had been pushing the official line that there could be no peace until Germany had disgorged her conquests.
Halifax's biographer Andrew Roberts describes Butler's later explanation as “risible”, and believes that Butler – who did not get on with Halifax and was never invited to his home – was unaware of Cabinet-level policy changes and was putting words into Halifax's mouth. He had to have another meeting with Prytz on 20 June to try to prevent any message being passed on to Berlin. Roberts argues that Halifax, who on 17 June was wishing in his diary that a single bomb would kill Hitler and Mussolini, had already moved away from his earlier openness to a compromise peace. On 22 July Halifax delivered a speech rejecting Hitler's public "peace offer" of 19 July, and he rejected further tentative German peace feelers throughout the year.
Butler had little respect for Eden but reluctantly agreed to remain at the Foreign Office when the latter once again became Foreign Secretary in December 1940. By this time Butler was responsible for "routine drudgery" such as negotiating safe passage for diplomats, repatriation of neutral seamen and, on one occasion, arranging extra clothing coupons for foreign diplomats so that the Duke of Alba could buy more socks. Butler and Geoffrey Lloyd attempted to register for military service in May 1941, but their application was referred to Ernest Bevin (Minister of Labour), who in turn referred it to Churchill. He vetoed it on the grounds that their work as Government Ministers was more important.
In July 1941 Butler received his first Cabinet post when he was appointed President of the Board of Education. Some writers, e.g. Addison, suggest that Education was a backwater and Churchill offered him that or a diplomatic post to remove him from the more sensitive Foreign Office. However, he had been keen to leave the Foreign Office and press stories that he had previously declined Cabinet positions were misinformed. His biographer argues that the promotion was not, contrary to Butler’s own later insinuations (e.g. that Churchill had talked of “wiping babies’ bottoms”), intended as an insult. At the time Butler recorded that Churchill had demanded more patriotic history teaching: “Tell the children that Wolfe won Quebec”.
Butler was also the chair of the War Cabinet Committee for the Control of Official Histories. Butler became Chairman of the Conservatives' PostWar Problems Central Committee on 24 July 1941. This had subcommittees to deal with demobilisation, agriculture, industry & finance, education & social services, constitutional & administrative affairs, and national security.
Butler proved to be one of the most radical reforming ministers on the home front. The main problem standing in the way of education reform was the question of integrating church schools into the state system, which had bedevilled Balfour’s Act in 1902. H. A. L. Fisher had failed to integrate the church schools in his 1918 Act. Butler wrote to Churchill (12 September 1941) to suggest a Joint Select Committee. Churchill did not want a new bill and replied (13 September) “we cannot have party politics in wartime”. Churchill warned him not to “raise the 1902 controversy during the war”. Butler later wrote that having seen the Promised Land “I was damned if I was going to die in the Land of Moab. Basing myself on long experience of Churchill over the India Bill, I decided to disregard what he said and go straight ahead.”
Negotiation with the Churches
More than half the schools in the country were church schools. However, Church of England schools now educated 20% of children, down from 40% in 1902 (Roman Catholic schools educated 8% of children). Many church schools were in a poor state of repair. The previous President of the Board of Education had produced a “Green Book” of proposals, which had been overtaken by the Five Points demanded by the Protestant Churches (both Anglican and Nonconformist), concerning Christian worship in schools. Butler received a deputation, including the two Anglican Archbishops, on 15 August 1941. There was a five-day debate on education in February 1942. Cosmo Lang, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke in the House of Lords, demanding the Five Points. Chuter Ede, Butler’s junior minister, dissuaded him from bringing in a draft bill to satisfy the Church's demands as this would prevent a general settlement with other denominations. Temple succeeded the elderly Lang on 1 April 1942. The Church of England had been sympathetic to the “Green Book”, but Chuter Ede's new “White Memorandum” aimed to end “single school areas”, most of which were in rural districts. Butler had a meeting on 5 June with the National Society (the body of Church of England schools). He proposed that Church schools could choose either to be 50% aided, or else fully funded with an LEA majority on the school governing body. Temple agreed to persuade his flock to accept the deal, and later obtained the concession that denominational teachers could be allowed in fully controlled schools if parents so wished. In the end 3,000 of the 9,000 Anglican schools accepted 50% aided status, not the 500 anticipated. In early October 1942 Butler sold his scheme to the Nonconformist leaders of England and Wales.
Butler had less success in his dealings with the Roman Catholic Church. He was not able to have talks with the elderly Cardinal Hinsley until September 1942. Butler was told that his plans for aided status were not acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church (15 September 1942). He thought it better to present the Catholic Church with a fait accompli. Plans for 1943 were scuppered by a letter to “The Times” from Hinsley, stressing President Roosevelt’s commitment to freedom of conscience and arguing that Catholic schools should not be bullied by the state as they often provided for the poorest inner-city communities. Churchill telephoned Butler to tell him: “you are landing me in the biggest political row of the generation”. (Butler later embellished the story to claim that Churchill had sent him a mounted copy of the letter, with “There you are, fixed, old cock” scrawled across it). Butler once presented himself at Southwark for talks, only to be asked what he had come for. On another occasion Butler and Chuter Ede drove to the Northern Bishops’ conference at Ushaw College, near Hexham, but were given dinner but no concessions.
Serious thought was given to integrating public (i.e. fee-paying) schools into the state system. Butler was supportive, believing that standards would be raised in state schools if affluent and articulate parents were involved in the system. The Fleming Commission, assembled by Butler, recommended in July 1944 that a quarter of public school places be given to scholarships. However, nothing came of it, not least as the idea of spending ratepayers’ money on a few bright pupils often did not meet with local authority approval.
With Churchill's leadership being questioned after recent reverses in the Far East and North Africa, Ivor Thomas (14 August 1942) commented that some Conservative MPs saw Butler rather than Eden as a potential successor. Late in November 1942 Butler toyed with the idea of allowing himself to be considered for the job of Viceroy of India (in succession to Lord Linlithgow; Eden had been offered the job by Churchill and was seriously considering accepting it). In the end Field Marshal Wavell was appointed. Butler helped to write King George VI’s Christmas broadcast at the end of 1942.
Butler lobbied John Anderson, Kingsley Wood and Ernest Bevin for an education bill in 1943. By the end of 1942 proposals for a White Paper were proceeding through the Lord President’s Committee. In March 1943 Butler was invited to Chequers to help draft a Churchill speech. Churchill was now open to the idea of an education bill in 1944, not least as it was now likely that the Allies were (sooner or later) going to win the war, and it would be cheaper than implementing the Beveridge Report. When the White Paper was published on 16 July 1943, Church-State relations received the least attention, whilst Anderson and Wood were happy that the White Paper helped to distract from the Beveridge Report. The resulting bill was produced to a civil service blueprint. In November 1943 Butler joined the Government Reconstruction Committee. James Stuart (Chief Whip) welcomed the publication of the bill in December 1943 as a way of keeping MPs happy without too much party strife.
The bill became the Butler Education Act, which brought in free secondary education (until then many grammar schools had charged for entry, albeit with local authority assistance for poorer pupils in recent years), and institutionalised the Tripartite System, with children graded in the Eleven plus exam. The Act also expanded nursery provision and raised the school leaving age to 15, with a commitment to raise it further to 16 (this would not happen until 1972). He thought Conservative backbenchers who resisted his plans “a stupid lot”.
At the Second Reading in March 1944, Thelma Cazalet, part of Quintin Hogg’s Tory Reform Committee, proposed two amendments, one to raise the school leaving age to 16 by 1951, and one demanding equal pay for women teachers. The latter passed by one vote on 28 March 1944. This was the only time the Coalition suffered significant defeat in a division. Churchill made the amendment a matter of confidence, and ensured its defeat on 30 March. This was one of the events which made Churchill and the Conservatives appear reactionary, contributing to their election defeat in 1945. The Butler Act became law in August 1944.
With party politics restarting, Butler opposed the nationalisation of iron and steel on 9 April 1945. After the end of the European War in May, Butler was Minister of Labour for two months in the Churchill caretaker ministry. In the Labour landslide of July 1945 he held Saffron Walden narrowly, his majority falling to 1,158. His rival was the wartime mayor of Saffron Walden. He would probably not have held the seat had not the Liberal candidate polled over 3,000 votes.
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 became Chairman of the Conservative Research Department, assisted by David Clarke and Michael Fraser. He was opposed to detailed policy-making, not least as he felt the party was not yet pointing in the ideological direction he wanted. In 1946 he became chairman of the Industrial Policy Committee. In 1947 the Industrial Charter was produced, advocating full employment and acceptance of the welfare state (Butler himself said that those who advocated “creating pools of unemployment should be thrown into them and made to swim”). In 1950 he welcomed the “One Nation” pamphlet produced by new MPs including Iain Macleod, Angus Maude, Edward Heath and Enoch Powell.
Chancellor of the Exchequer
When the Conservative Party returned to power in 1951 Butler was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. He became Chancellor because Oliver Stanley was dead and Oliver Lyttleton was seen as too linked to business and the City of London.
Butler inherited a balance of payments crisis caused in part by Labour defence spending around the time of the Korean War. Butler correctly predicted a doubling of living standards by 1970. Butler initially planned to let the pound float (i.e. sink) and become partially convertible ("Operation ROBOT"). ROBOT was struck down by Lord Cherwell and his adviser Donald MacDougall, who prepared a paper for Churchill. The counterargument was that the balance of payments would have worsened, as any reduction in demand for imports would have been swamped by the rise in prices of imported goods. Furthermore, 90% of other countries' sterling balances, kept in London, were to be frozen: they too would have been devalued, which would have angered Commonwealth countries and broken the rules for the IMF and would not have been allowed under the new European Payments Union. Butler’s junior minister Arthur Salter was also opposed. Lord Woolton insisted that Eden have a say on ROBOT, as it affected relations with other countries. Eden opposed it in a rare intervention in domestic politics. It was finally buried at two Cabinets on 28 and 29 February 1952.
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. In 1954 The Economist published an editorial headed "Mr Butskell's Dilemma", which referred to the "already .. well-known figure" Mr Butskell as "a composite of the present Chancellor and the previous one". The term Butskellism was subsequently coined to refer to the generally similar economic policies pursued by both Conservative and Labour governments in the 1950s. However, Butler had more interest in monetary policy and in convertibility, whereas Gaitskell was more inclined to exchange controls, investment and planning.
Butler maintained import controls and began a more active monetary policy. In his March 1952 budget Butler raised bank rate to 4% and cut food subsidies by 40%, but also cut taxes and increased pensions and welfare payments. Foreign exchange reserves began to increase. In September 1952 Butler was left in charge when Churchill and Eden were both abroad.
The 1953 budget cut income tax and purchase tax, and promised an end to the excess profits levy. In the summer of 1953 Butler acted as head of the Government when Churchill suffered a stroke while his presumed successor Eden was undergoing an operation overseas. He did not strive to seize the premiership. Between 29 June and 18 August 1953 Butler chaired sixteen Cabinet meetings. In July Macmillan recorded a conversation with Walter Monckton, who was willing to serve under Eden but not Butler, whom he thought “a slab of cold fish”. Britain's economic problems at this time were worsened by Monckton’s appeasement of the trade unions (e.g. the 1954 rail strike, settled on the union's terms with Churchill’s backing) and by Macmillan’s drive to build 300,000 houses a year.
Butler was appointed CH in 1954. He supported Churchill’s proposal that Eden take “command of the Home Front” in summer 1954, not least as he hoped to succeed Eden as Foreign Secretary. Butler was one of those ministers who demanded to Churchill’s face (22 December 1954) that he set a date for his retirement.
Move from the Exchequer
Butler's political judgement was affected by the painful illness and death (9 December 1954) of his wife Sydney. In February 1955 he hiked bank rate and restored hire purchase restrictions. The 1955 budget cut 6d off income tax, allegedly based on faulty Treasury statistics. immediately before Anthony Eden succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister in April 1955. After the Conservatives won the May 1955 general election, Butler declined Eden’s request to move from the Exchequer, although he later admitted that he should have accepted. In an unfortunate speech on 18 October he commented that the country must not sink into “easy evenings with port wine and over-ripe pheasant”. The “Daily Mirror” commented that he had “dropped his silver spoon upon the polished floor”. By now it was apparent that the economy was "overheating" (inflation and the balance of payments deficit were rising sharply). The Cabinet refused to agree to cut bread subsidies and there was a run on the pound. His final budget (26 October 1955) reversed several of the measures from the spring budget, leading to charges of electoral opportunism. Hugh Gaitskell accused him of having deliberately misled the electorate, which amused Macmillan, who wrote in his diary of how Butler was always talking of “honour” in Cabinet. The introduction of purchase tax on kitchen utensils caused it to be labelled the “Pots and Pans” budget. Macmillan was already negotiating with Eden for Butler’s job.
In December 1955 Butler was moved to the post of Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons. Although he 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, insisted on an assurance from Eden that Butler was not senior to him. Harry Crookshank warned him that he was committing “sheer political suicide” by giving up a big department. He recorded that after December 1955 “it was never again said of me, or for that matter of the British economy either, that we had “la puissance d’une idee en marche”.
Butler suffered from what his biographer calls an "inability to take Eden wholly seriously". A number of his sardonic witticisms about Eden, who was already subject to press criticism, surfaced. “The People” claimed on 8 January 1956 that Eden was to resign and hand over the premiership to Butler. When this was officially denied, on 9 January Butler expressed to the “Manchester Guardian” his “determination to support the Prime Minister in all his difficulties” and agreed with the journalist that Eden was “the best Prime Minister we have”.
Butler threatened resignation in March 1956 over Macmillan's plans to reverse his 6d cut in income tax. Macmillan himself then threatened resignation if he were not allowed to make spending cuts instead.
Butler was ill when Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal and was not formally a member of the Cabinet Egypt Committee, and later claimed that he had tried to keep Eden “in a political straitjacket”. He advocated an open invasion of Egypt, which would, in Gilmour’s view, have attracted even more international opprobrium than Eden’s pretence of enforcing international law.
Butler seemed to be doubtful of Eden’s Suez policy but never said so openly. Macmillan recorded (24 August) that Butler was “uncertain” and “wanted more time” before resorting to force. On 13 September he recorded that Butler preferred to refer the matter the United Nations (as Labour and the Churches wanted to do). After the UN voted for an emergency force and an Israeli-Egyptian ceasefire seemed imminent, Butler tried to have the Anglo-French invasion halted. He ended up pleasing neither those who were opposed to the invasion nor those who supported it. “Butler’s … indiscretions … gave the impression that he was not playing the game. Others were playing a deeper one.”
On the evening of 6 November 1956, after the British ceasefire had been announced, Butler was observed to be “smiling broadly” on the front bench and astonished some Conservatives by saying that he “would not hesitate to convey” the concerns of Labour Leader Hugh Gaitskell to the absent Prime Minister. Eden’s press secretary William Clark, an opponent of the policy who along with Edward Boyle (Economic Secretary to the Treasury) resigned as soon as the fighting was over, complained: “God how power corrupts. The way RAB has turned and trimmed.” Butler was seen as disloyal because he aired his doubts freely in private whilst supporting the government in public, and later admitted that he should have resigned. On 14 November Butler blurted out all that had happened to twenty Conservative MPs of the Progress Trust in a Commons Dining Room (his speech was described by Gilmour as “almost suicidally imprudent”).
It fell to Butler to announce British withdrawal from the Canal Zone (22 November), making him once again appear an "appeaser" to Conservative supporters up and down the country. That evening Butler addressed the 1922 Committee (Conservative backbenchers), where his pedestrian defence of government policy was upstaged by a bravura speech by Macmillan. Butler was seen to be an indecisive leader who was not up to Macmillan's stature. However, the Press Association were briefed that Rab was “in effective charge” during Eden’s absence in Jamaica from 23 November. Eden was not in telephone contact and did not return to Britain until 14 December.
Butler spent most of his Christmas break shooting. He later recorded that during his period as acting Head of Government at Number Ten, he had noticed constant comings and goings of ministers to Macmillan’s study in Number 11 next door – and that those who attended all later received promotion when Macmillan became Prime Minister. Butler, unlike Macmillan, preferred the assessments of the Chief Whip (Edward Heath) and Chairman of the Party (Oliver Poole) that Eden could survive as Prime Minister until the summer recess provided his health held up. However, there is circumstantial evidence that Butler may have colluded with Eden's doctor Sir Horace Evans to exaggerate the state of Eden's health in order to encourage him to resign. Evans wrote Rab an ambiguous letter about “your help and guidance over my difficult problems with AE” and added “Here we have made, I have no doubt, the right decision”. Anthony Howard observes that any interpretation of this letter is “purely speculative” and that there is “no concrete evidence” of what actually occurred.
Succession to Eden
Eden resigned as Prime Minister on Wednesday 9 January 1957. At the time the Conservative Party had no formal mechanism for determining a new leader, but the Queen received overwhelming advice to appoint Macmillan as Prime Minister instead of Butler rather than wait for a Party Meeting to decide. Churchill had reservations about both candidates but later admitted that he had advised her to appoint “the older man”, i.e. Macmillan. In the presence of Lord Chancellor Kilmuir, Lord Salisbury interviewed the Cabinet one by one and with his famous speech impediment asked each one whether he was for "Wab or Hawold". Kilmuir recalled that three ministers were for Butler: Walter Monckton, Patrick Buchan-Hepburn and James Stuart, all of whom left the government thereafter. Salisbury himself later recorded that all the Cabinet were for Macmillan except for Patrick Buchan-Hepburn who was for Butler and Selwyn Lloyd who abstained. Salisbury may not have been an entirely impartial returning officer: Butler had replaced Salisbury (Lord Cranborne as he had been at the time) as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in 1938 when the latter resigned over appeasement. Julian Amery, who was not a member of the Cabinet at the time, alleged that Salisbury interviewed ministers in the order of their loyalty to Macmillan, and kept the tally in plain view on the table so that waverers would be more inclined to plump for the winning candidate.
Heath (Chief Whip) and John Morrison (Chairman of the 1922 Committee) advised that the Suez group of right-wing Conservative backbenchers would be reluctant to follow Rab. The Whips rang Boothby (pro-Macmillan) in Strasbourg to obtain his views, but there is no evidence that they were very assiduous in canvassing known pro-Butler MPs.
Butler later claimed to have been “not surprised” not to be chosen in 1957. In fact he appears to have fully expected to be appointed Prime Minister and aroused his sister's misgivings by asking “what shall I say in my broadcast to the nation tomorrow”? Heath, who brought him the news that he had not been chosen, later wrote that he appeared "dumbfounded" and that for years afterwards was known to ask colleagues why he had been passed over, and suggests that this caused a loss of confidence which prevented him from gaining the premiership in 1963. The media were taken by surprise by the 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. Butler spoke bitterly the next day about “our beloved Monarch”.
Butler attributed his defeat to Macmillan’s “ “ambience” and connections”. He said “savage” things to Derek Marks of the “Daily Express” who protected his reputation by not printing them, and years later told Alistair Horne, Macmillan’s biographer, that he “could not understand” why he had been passed over after “picking up the pieces” after Suez. Nigel Nicolson, who had conceded that “in the circumstances” Macmillan was the right choice, wrote of the “melancholy that right had not triumphed” with which Butler proposed Macmillan as leader at the party meeting on 22 January.
In Gilmour’s view Butler did not organise a leadership campaign in 1957 because he had expected Eden to hang on until Easter or summer. Campbell writes that “The succession was sewn up before Rab even realised there was a contest”. Richard Crossman wrote in his diary (11 January) “This whole operation has been conducted from the top by a very few people with great speed and skill, so that Butler was outflanked and compelled to surrender almost as quickly as the Egyptians at Sinai”. Brendan Bracken wrote that, besides his perceived stance of pursuing Labour policies, the “audience (was) tired of” Butler who been the heir apparent for too long, an analysis echoed by Campbell, who likens Macmillan’s sudden emergence after a quick succession of major jobs to that of John Major in 1989-90 and points out that Macmillan pretended to be "right wing" to win the leadership despite having views similar to Butler's.
Butler had to accept the Home Office under Macmillan, not the Foreign Office which 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". Edward Heath corroborates Butler’s claim that he had wanted the Foreign Office, and suggested that with his “quiet charm” he could have won over the Americans. Butler also remained Leader of the House of Commons. Early in 1958 he was left “holding the baby”, as he put it, after Macmillan departed on a Commonwealth tour after the resignation of Chancellor Thorneycroft and the Treasury team.
Butler held the Home Office for five years, but his liberal views on hanging and flogging did little to endear him to rank-and-file Conservative members; he later wrote of “Colonel Blimps of both sexes – and the female of the species was more deadly, politically, than the male”. Butler later wrote that Macmillan had given him “a completely free hand” which may well be, in Gilmour’s view, because reform was likely to blacken Butler in the eyes of Conservative activists. Macmillan's official biographer believes that he simply had no interest in Home Affairs. Butler later said “I couldn’t deal with Eden, but I could deal with Mac”.
Butler inherited a Homicide Bill which introduced different degrees of murder. He had privately come to favour abolition of hanging but signed off on the execution of James Hanratty (thought at the time to be a miscarriage of justice). He declined to reintroduce corporal punishment, according to the recommendation of the prewar Cadogan Report. Butler gave a very successful speech at the Conservative Conference in 1959. Despite the recommendations of the Wolfenden report he was not able to decriminalise homosexual acts between consenting adults (this did not happen until 1967), although Conservatives were happier to implement Wolfenden’s recommended crackdown on street prostitution. He passed the Licensing Act 1961 and reformed the law on obscene publications. The Betting and Gaming Act legalised betting. Annual immigration from the Indian subcontinent had risen from 21,000 in 1959 to 136,000 in 1961; Butler introduced the first curbs on immigration (although the Eden Cabinet had contemplated measures in 1955), initially opposed by Labour, who were to bring in stricter curbs when they were in office later in the 1960s.
Enoch Powell praised Butler’s performance as a great reforming Home Secretary. He recalled that if Butler was absent from his post as Chairman of the Cabinet Home Affairs Committee, it was if the government itself “came to a standstill”.
Other Cabinet positions
Besides the Home Office, Butler held other senior government jobs in these years; he likened himself to the Gilbert and Sullivan character "Pooh Bah". In October 1959, after the 1959 General Election, he was appointed Conservative Party chairman, a job which required him to attack Labour in the country while as Leader of the House he had to cooperate with Labour in the Commons. His new job prompted an analogy (described as "ludicrous" by Anthony Howard) in "The Economist" with Nikita Khrushchev's rise to power through control of the Soviet Communist Party.
In 1960 Macmillan moved Selwyn Lloyd from the Foreign Office to the Exchequer (telling him that it would put him in a good position to challenge Butler for the succession). He appointed Lord Home as Foreign Secretary, refusing again to appoint Butler and telling him that it would be “like Herbert Morrison” if he took the job (“fantastically insulting” in Campbell’s view, as Morrison was then regarded as “the worst Foreign Secretary in living memory”). Butler disagreed with the analysis, but accepted it, enabling Macmillan to claim once again that he had declined the Foreign Office (Butler declined to accept Home’s old place as Commonwealth Secretary).
In the October 1961 reshuffle Butler lost the party chairmanship to Iain Macleod, who also insisted on getting the job of Leader of the House, which Butler had held since 1955. Butler retained the Home Office, and declined Macmillan's suggestion that he accept a peerage. Butler gave an excellent party conference speech in October 1961. In March 1962 Butler was made head of the newly created Central African Department. Butler was, however, given oversight of the EEC entry negotiations, which he strongly supported, despite worries about the agricultural vote in his constituency. A cartoon showed Macmillan and Butler as the miserable emigrating couple in Ford Madox Brown's painting The Last of England.
Butler helped to precipitate Macmillan's brutal "Night of the Long Knives" reshuffle by leaking to the “Daily Mail” on 11 July 1962 that a major reshuffle was imminent. He himself referred to it as the “Massacre of Glencoe”. Macmillan later told Selwyn Lloyd (1 August) that he thought Butler had been planning to split the party over EEC entry. In the reshuffle Butler lost the Home Office (although he kept the Central Africa Department) but at last received the formal titles of Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State. At this point Macmillan told him that he was still his most likely successor as Prime Minister.
However, Macmillan used the occasion to promote younger men such as Lord Hailsham (in charge of negotiating the Test Ban Treaty), Reginald Maudling (Chancellor of the Exchequer, with a remit to reinflate the economy going into the next General Election) and Edward Heath (in charge of the EEC entry negotiations), from amongst whom he hoped to groom an alternative successor. By 1962, Howard writes, "Macmillan had come to regard Rab as a trout that he could tickle and play with at will".
Succession to Macmillan
Profumo, Peerages and Africa
Butler told Tony Benn in February 1963 that he expected Macmillan to stay on and fight the next General Election.
During the Profumo affair, in which Macmillan's government almost fell, Butler received a visit from Martin Redmayne (Chief Whip) and Lord Poole (Party Chairman) asking whether he would, in principle, be willing to serve in a Maudling government. Butler received a visit from Maudling in which the latter obtained a mutual promise that they would, if necessary, agree to serve under one another – Maudling believed that he had gained an advantage in obtaining the agreement of Butler, his senior, to serve under him if necessary. However, William Rees-Mogg claimed in “The Times” on 28 July that Butler led Maudling by 2:1 in the Cabinet, although Maudling had more support amongst backbench MPs.
On 16 July the Lords amended the Peerage Bill then passing through Parliament, so that any existing peer could disclaim his peerage within twelve months of the bill becoming law, not after the next general election as originally planned. The Bill received Royal Assent on 31 July, thus allowing Lords Hailsham and Home to become potential candidates for the succession.
By summer 1963 Butler had largely accepted that the leadership would pass to a younger man, or so he later claimed in a 1966 interview. In the summer of 1963 Macmillan told Lord Hailsham that “Rab simply doesn’t have it in him to be Prime Minister”. Just before Butler departed for the Victoria Falls Conference in July 1963 John Morrison, Chairman of the 1922 Committee, told him “The chaps won’t have you”. Labour Leader Harold Wilson thought at this time that he had “the look of a born loser”.
At the Victoria Falls Conference Butler dissolved the Central African Federation. The following year the Nyasaland Protectorate became independent as Malawi and North Rhodesia as Zambia; South Rhodesia declared unilateral independence from Britain in 1965.
Conference and Customary Processes
In October 1963 Macmillan, having just decided to stay on and lead the party into the next general election, was taken ill on the eve of the Conservative Party Conference. Butler insisted on occupying the leader’s suite at the Imperial Hotel and on delivering the leader’s speech on the final day (12 October). During the conference Lord Home announced that Macmillan was to resign as Prime Minister. In the confusion of the next few days, Hailsham campaigned openly for the job in a manner considered vulgar. Butler's speech, when he delivered it, was an attempt to update the postwar Charters to modern politics, and he reprinted some of the speech verbatim in his memoirs. However, his delivery was, in Heath's later description, “monotonous and ineffective and did him no good whatever”. Howard described it as “flat and uninspiring” whilst Peregrine Worsthorne wrote at the time that he spoke in a “limp and faltering voice”. Butler later called the Imperial “that awful hotel” and refused ever to visit Blackpool again.
Back in London, Macmillan from his hospital bed proposed (14 October) a four-track consultation to "take soundings" (of the opinions of Cabinet, MPs, peers and leading members of the party organisation in the country) and select a consensus leader through the "customary processes". The Cabinet met, chaired by Butler, on Tuesday 15 October, and approved the plan, which was to be completed by 17 October. Howard argues that Butler should also have insisted that the Cabinet meet again on 17 October to approve the results of the soundings.
Selwyn Lloyd visited Macmillan in hospital on Wednesday 16 October, and argued against Butler, whom he said was much disliked in the constituency associations “particularly the Women. Why that is, no one seems to know”. Amongst current ministers who visited Macmillan in hospital, Duncan Sandys advised for Home not as a compromise but on his own merits, whilst Edward Heath felt that Butler would be uninspiring, and had not emerged as a natural and undisputed successor in the way he should have done. Other ministers thought either Butler or Home would be suitable. Edward Boyle later felt he had been too favourable to the idea of a Home leadership, leading to his being wrongly recorded as a Home supporter. Sitting at the Cabinet table on 16 October, whilst the soundings were under way, Butler said “I don’t know what’s happening” before adding “but I do really”. When asked what he would do if once again not appointed Prime Minister he replied “I shall behave with dignity”.
Results of the Consultations
Much ink has been spilled on how badly the consultation process was rigged, but Macmillan recommended outside candidate Lord Home for the premiership.
Lord Chancellor Dilhorne polled the Cabinet and claimed that, not counting Macmillan or Home, 10 were for Home (including Boyle and Macleod, both of whom later insisted that they supported Butler), 4 for Maudling (originally 3, amended to 5, then down to 4), 3 for Butler and 2 for Hailsham. Ian Gilmour alleged (in his review of Volume II of Horne's official Life of Macmillan in the "London Review of Books", 27 July 1989) that Dilhorne had falsified the figures and repeated his scorn in 2004. Dilhorne recorded Hailsham as saying that he could not serve under Butler; Hailsham in fact claimed that he had offered to serve under Butler if necessary. Frederick Errol, President of the Board of Trade, was told by Chief Whip Martin Redmayne that the succession was already arranged for Home.
Redmayne's whips polled MPs and junior ministers, and claimed that 87 supported Home and 86 Butler, another claim ridiculed by Ian Gilmour. 65 MPs were found to be for Hailsham, 48 for Maudling, 12 for Macleod and 10 for Edward Heath, with Home being well ahead on second preferences. Despite denials by the whips, Redmayne let slip in a radio interview (19 December 1963, subsequently published in “The Listener”) about the four questions which they asked, namely their first and second preferences as leader, whether or not there was any candidate they especially opposed and whether they would in principle accept Home as leader. Humphry Berkeley refused to answer the “hypothetical question” of whether he would support Home as compromise between Butler and Hailsham. Jim Prior (then a backbencher) and Willie Whitelaw (then a junior minister) later recalled how they felt the whips were pushing Home's candidacy. Prior's first choice was Maudling and second Butler, and he opposed Hailsham, but suspected he had been recorded as pro-Home after repeated pushing on the fourth question; Whitelaw thought the fourth question “improper”.
Amongst Conservative peers, Home led Butler by 2:1.
The constituency parties, in so far as their views could be ascertained, were reported as being 60% for Hailsham and 40% for Butler, with strong opposition to both. They had not really been offered Home as a candidate, but it was reported that they would “rally round him”.
The "Quad" Rebel
The results of the consultation became known to the rest of the Cabinet around lunchtime on 17 October. Powell, Macleod, Hailsham and Maudling (known as "the Quad" in some accounts of the following days) were outraged and sought to persuade Butler to refuse to serve in the belief that this would make a Home premiership impossible and result in Butler taking office. Macleod and Maudling demanded that Dilhorne lay the results of his consultations before the Cabinet, but he refused to do so. Butler was not present at the meetings (17 October) at 5pm at Macleod’s flat and that night at Powell’s house, at which Hailsham and Maudling agreed to serve under Butler. Hailsham telephoned Butler from Powell's house, and repeated his answers aloud to the meeting as if he were a barrister "leading" a slow witness (Butler said had been “dozing off” and ended the conversation by repeating that he was off to do so), before telling him “you must put on your armour, dear Rab”. The "Quad" summoned Martin Redmayne, who stood firm against their demands. They demanded that he pass on their concerns to the Palace, then Lord Aldington, who had also been at the meeting, drove Redmayne back, then telephoned Sir Michael Adeane, the Queen’s Private Secretary, to make sure the message was passed on.
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. Macleod commented that they had put the “golden ball in his lap, if he drops it now it’s his own fault”.
Macmillan finally resigned on Friday morning (18 October), the Queen calling on him in hospital shortly afterwards to receive his written "advice". He had likened the “Quad” to the Fox-North Coalition and had to urge Home, who had only agreed to stand as a compromise candidate, not to withdraw. Butler did call Dilhorne that morning to demand a meeting of the three main candidates (himself, Home and Maudling) before the succession was resolved; “no reply was vouchsafed” as Butler put it. Butler, Macleod, Hailsham and Maudling met at the Treasury on 18 October as Home was at the Palace, accepting the Queen’s invitation to try to form a government.
At this stage Butler was pushing for a two-way meeting with Home when he should, in Howard’s view, have insisted on Home confronting the “Quad”. Home immediately moved into Number Ten, and interviewed Butler then Maudling early in the afternoon. Butler did not at first agree to serve as he had reservations about whether Home, a peer and not a moderniser, was a suitable Prime Minister.  Hailsham, Butler and Maudling finally met Home that evening after dinner, by which time Hailsham was already wavering and expressing a willingness to serve under Home. Butler’s old friend Geoffrey Lloyd sat up with him until 3am on the morning of Saturday 19 October, telling him “if you’re not prepared to put everything to the touch, you don’t deserve to be Prime Minister”.
Butler agrees to serve
The next morning (Saturday 19 October) Butler then Maudling agreed to serve under Home. Home was able to return to the Palace to report that he could “form a government” and to “kiss hands”, i.e. formally accept appointment as Prime Minister. The Queen is thought to have privately preferred Home, whom she knew well socially, to Butler, although this did not influence the decision. The Palace were aware that Home could not form a government without Butler serving, although Home himself later said that he could have formed a government without Butler, but not without Maudling.
Some, including Macmillan, argued that Butler’s vacillation was further proof of his unfitness to be Prime Minister. Lord Poole commented “if you had seen him yesterday morning, dithering about in a gutless sort of way, you would not want him to be Prime Minister of this country. I was quite appalled, quite disgusted”.
Butler later alleged in a letter to The Times that not to have served might have led to a Labour government (this suggestion was later dismissed as absurd by Harold Wilson, then Opposition leader). Butler later described Home as an “amiable enough creature”. He was motivated by his knowledge of Peel and the split over the Corn Laws, later telling Elizabeth Longford that this was “the supremely unforgettable political lesson of history … I could never do the same thing in the twentieth century, under any circumstances whatever”.
Powell and Macleod (who later claimed in "The Spectator", 17 January 1964, that the leadership had been stitched up by a "Magic Circle" of Old Etonians) both refused to serve under Home. In “The Art of Memory” (April 1982) Butler wrote that “every word” of Macleod's “Spectator” article “is true”. Butler had planned to make Macleod Chancellor of the Exchequer and had discussed the names of economists who could be asked to advise.
Butler was less devastated than in 1957, as this time it was largely a voluntary abnegation. In a BBC radio interview in 1978 he discussed that in 1963 he had been passed over in favour of a “terrific gent” not a “most ghastly walrus”. Home, and even Macmillan himself in the 1980s, later conceded that it might have been better if Butler had become leader. 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, but he lost the title of Deputy Prime Minister. Macmillan, trying to control events from his sickbed, had urged Home to appoint Heath as Foreign Secretary, but conceded that allowing Butler to have the job he had always coveted might be a necessary price for his agreeing to serve.
He played only a small part in the 1964 general election campaign, showing his lack of stomach for the fight by agreeing with the journalist George Gale that the very close campaign “might yet slip away” in the “last few days”. Randolph Churchill wrote that he had “uttered his own death-wish and death warrant”. He would not have retained the Foreign Office if the Conservatives had won. Many, including Harold Wilson, said that Butler would have won the 1964 General Election.
At the comparatively early age of 62, Butler left office with one of the longest records of ministerial experience amongst contemporary politicians. After the election he lost the chairmanship of the Conservative Research Department, which he had headed for twenty years, and refused an earldom.
Master of Trinity
Butler remained on the Conservative front bench for the next year until he accepted Harold Wilson's offer of the job of Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, where his great uncle Henry Montagu Butler had previously been Master. 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. At the time of his retirement from the House of Commons he was the longest continuously serving member of the Commons and Father of the House.
Butler was the first master in 250 years not himself to have been educated at the college; in 1971 the fellows voted to recommend (successfully) that he be given a second six-year term. 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". Butler was active as the first Chancellor of the University of Essex 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. Butler House at Trinity is named after him.
Butler was appointed a Knight of the Garter in 1971. 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.
Butler died of colon cancer in 1982 at Great Yeldham, Essex. He is buried in the churchyard of the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Saffron Walden. His will was probated at £748,789 (21 October 1982) (over £2.3m at 2014 prices).
Butler's memoirs, The Art of the Possible, appeared in 1971. He wrote that he had decided to “eschew the current autobiographical fashion for multi-volume histories” (Macmillan was bringing out an autobiography which would eventually run to six large volumes). The work, largely ghosted by Peter Goldman, was described as the best single-volume autobiography since Duff Cooper’s “Old Men Forget” in 1953. He also published The Conservatives in 1977. A further volume of memoirs, The Art of Memory, appeared posthumously in 1982. The latter was modelled on Churchill’s “Great Contemporaries” but in Howard’s view matches it “neither in verve nor anecdote”.
As he grew older, Butler acquired an increasingly disheveled appearance: as early as 1938 Chips Channon called his clothes “truly tragic”. He ate and drank too much as Master of Trinity, causing him to put on weight and begin to suffer from heart problems. On a visit to Cambridge in 1975, the first time the two men had met in a decade, Macmillan commented on how fat Butler had become. Butler also suffered from a skin complaint from the 1950s, which grew progressively worse, to the point towards the end of his life that he would sometimes appear unshaven in public.
Butler opened his memoirs by writing - using a metaphor based on the Tripos, the three-legged stool after which Cambridge examinations are named - that his career had been split between academia, politics and India, and that his main regret was never having been Viceroy of India. He regarded the 1935 India Act and the 1944 Education Act as his “principal legislative achievements”. He also wrote that the way to the top was through rebellion and resignation, whereas he had gone for “the long haul” and “steady influence”. In an obvious dig at Home, he said in retirement “I may never have known much about fishing or flower-arranging, but one thing I did know was how to govern the people of this country”.
John Campbell sees Butler’s “redefine(ing of) the meaning of Conservatism” in Opposition as his greatest achievement, encouraging the careers of talented younger men at the Research Department (Heath, Powell, Maudling, Macleod, Angus Maude, all of whom entered Parliament in 1950) ensuring Conservative acceptance of the welfare state and a commitment to keeping unemployment low. Macmillan acknowledged Butler’s role in his memoirs, whilst stressing that these were the very policies he had promoted in vain in the 1930s. Butler enjoyed 26.5 years in office, equalled only by Churchill in the twentieth century.
Ian Gilmour argues that Butler was always more popular in the country than in his own party, and that he acquired an unjust reputation for deviousness but was in fact less so than a number of his colleagues.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Styles and honours
- 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)
- Addison, Paul (1994). The Road to 1945. London: Pimlico. ISBN 978-0712659321.
- Butler, Rab (1971). The Art of the Possible. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 978-0241020074.
- Campbell, John (2010). Pistols at Dawn: Two Hundred Years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown. London: Vintage. ISBN 978-1-845-95091-0. (contains an essay on Macmillan and Butler)
- Cosgrave, Patrick (1981). R.A.Butler: An English Life. London: Quartet Books. ISBN 978-0704322585.
- Jago, Michael Rab Butler: The Best Prime Minister We Never Had?, Biteback Publishing 2015 ISBN 978-1849549202
- Heath, Edward (1998). The Course of my Life: The Autobiography of Edward Heath. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0340708521.
- Hennessy, Peter., Having It So Good: Britain In The Fifties, Penguin Books, 2006, ISBN 978-0-14-100409-9
- Horne, Alistair (1989). Macmillan Volume II: 1957-1986 (Original ed.). London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-333-49621-3.
- Howard, Anthony RAB: The Life of R. A. Butler, Jonathan Cape 1987 ISBN 978-0-224-01862-3
- Jeffereys, Kevin. "R. A. Butler, the Board of Education and the 1944 Education Act," History (1984) 69#227 pp 415–431.
- Matthew (editor), Colin (2004). Dictionary of National Biography 9. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198614111.(essay on Butler written by Ian Gilmour)
- Middleton, Nigel. "Lord Butler and the Education Act of 1944," British Journal of Educational Studies (1972) 20#2 pp 178–191
- Pearce, Edward The Lost Leaders (essays on Butler, Iain Macleod and Denis Healey), Little, Brown & Company 1997 ISBN 978-0316641784
- Pepper, F. S. (ed.). Handbook of 20th Century Quotations, Sphere Study Aids, 1984, p. 105, ISBN 0-7221-6770-9
- Roberts, Andrew (2004). Holy Fox: Biography of Lord Halifax. London: Phoenix. ISBN 978-1-857-99472-8. (originally published 1991)
- Sandbrook, Dominic (2005). Never Had It So Good. London: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-349-11530-6.
- Shepherd, Robert (1994). Iain Macleod. Hutchinson. ISBN 978-0-091-78567-3.
- Thorpe, D. R. (2010). Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-1844135417.
- Howard, p.3
- Matthew 2004, p199
- Howard (p.7) states that this made “any form of military service out of the question”. However, despite his partial disability Butler had trained in his school cadet corps, and was a competent recreational shot. He attempted to register for military service in May 1941
- Howard 1987, p.7
- "Too Obviously Cleverer". London Review of Books. 8 September 2011.
- Crowe, Raynour, Tony, Barrie (2011). Church Stretton through the ages. Greengates, Church Stretton. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-9568018-0-7.This school is not mentioned in his ODNB article (published 2004).
- Howard 1987, p.14
- Howard 1987, p.16
- Howard 1987, p. 132
- Howard 1987 p16
- Compute the Relative Value of a U.K. Pound
- Howard 1987 p16, 19
- Howard 1987 p23
- Butler 1971, p.14
- Howard 1987 p22
- Butler 1971, p.16 Baldwin's career at Harrow and Trinity, Cambridge had suffered from a poor relationship with one of Butler's relatives, Montagu Butler.
- Howard 1987 p24
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 9. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 199. ISBN 0-19-861359-8.
- Howard 1987 p25 The book quotes a letter from his father and is clear that he was awarded his BA that summer, presumably as it was three years after matriculating, despite his being about to stay on for a further year of undergraduate study
- Butler 1971, p.17
- Howard 1987, pp.26-7
- Butler 1971, p.18
- Howard 1987 p28
- Howard 1987 p30-1. Although backbench MPs were then paid less than today in real terms, Cabinet ministers were paid more than nowadays.
- Matthew 2004, p200
- Matthew 2004, p204
- Howard 1987, p.356-7
- "Lady Butler of Saffron Walden: widow of Rab Butler". The Times (London). 19 February 2002. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- "Lady Butler of Saffron Walden". The Guardian (London). 24 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- "Lady Butler of Saffron Walden". The Telegraph (London). 18 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- "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.
- Butler 1971, p.2
- Evelyn Philip Shirley (1866). The Noble and Gentle Men of England. John Bowyer Nichols & Sons. p. 37.
- Howard 1987, p.31
- Howard 1987, p. 47-8
- Butler 1971, p.27
- Howard 1987, p.43 Beaverbrook, a short man with relatively long arms and faintly simian appearance, was often likened to a chimpanzee by contemporaries
- Howard 1987, p.46
- Howard 1987, p. 49-50
- Howard 1987, p. 52-3
- Howard 1987, p. 55
- Howard 1987, p. 55-6
- Howard 1987, p.57 Butler's sister rebuked him for the metaphor, pointing out that for religious reasons Indians were more likely to employ a goat for this purpose.
- Howard 1987, p.58
- Howard 1987, p. 60-1
- Howard 1987, p. 63
- Howard 1987, p.74
- Campbell 2009, p. 250
- Howard 1987, p. 77-8
- Howard, P.77
- Matthew 2004, p206
- Howard 1987, p.81
- Howard, p.85
- Campbell 2009, p. 251
- Home was the Prime Minister's PPS, whilst Hailsham was elected to Parliament at the famous Oxford by-election after Munich.
- Addison 1994, pp. 82
- John Colville, The Fringes of Power. Downing Street Diaries. 1939–1955 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. 51.
- Addison 1994, pp. 72
- Graham Stewart, Burying Caesar. Churchill, Chamberlain and the Battle for the Tory Party (Phoenix, 1999), p. 425.
- Colville, p. 122.
- Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy, 1933–1940 (Chicago University Press, 1977), p. 403.
- Howard 1987, p. 96-100
- Roberts 1991, pp. 231-2
- Roberts 1991, pp.248-50
- Matthew 2004, p201
- Howard 1987, p.108
- Howard, p.88
- Addison 1994, pp. 172
- Howard 1987, p. 107
- Howard 1987, p. 109-10
- Howard 1987, p. 141
- Addison 1994, pp. 182
- Howard 1987, p. 114
- Addison 1994, pp. 173
- Howard 1987, p. 115
- Butler 1971, p. 95
- Addison 1994, pp. 173 many of them were small schools, and many were in rural areas
- Howard 1987, p. 112
- Howard 1987, p. 113
- Howard 1987, p. 123
- Howard 1987, p. 125-6
- Howard 1987, p. 127
- Howard 1987, p. 124-6
- Howard 1987, p. 128-9
- Howard 1987, p. 130
- Addison 1994, pp. 239
- Howard 1987, p. 119-22
- Addison 1994, pp208-9 Many of Britain's Far Eastern possessions, including Malaya, Burma and the Fortress of Singapore, had fallen to Japan early in 1942, whilst in the desert Rommel had won the Battle of Gazala and captured Tobruk
- Howard 1987, p. 130-1
- Howard 1987, p. 131
- Howard 1987, p. 128
- Addison 1994, pp. 174
- Howard 1987, p. 133
- Howard 1987, p. 134
- Addison 1994, pp. 237-9
- Butler 1971, p.93-4
- Howard 1987, p. 136 -7
- Addison 1994, pp. 256
- Kevin Jeffereys, "R. A. Butler, the Board of Education and the 1944 Education Act," History (1984) 69#227 pp 415–431
- Howard 1987, p. 51
- Howard 1987, p. 140
- Matthew 2004, p202
- Howard 1987, p. 178-9
- Campbell 2009, p. 257
- Matthew 2004, p201-2
- Howard 1987, p. 187
- Hennessy, p. 199
- The Economist, "Mr. Butskell's Dilemma", 13 February 1954, p. 439.
- Roger Eatwell, "European Political Cultures", Routledge, 2002, p. 58.
- Matthew 2004, p202 Other things being equal, raising interest rates depresses domestic demand (so people buy fewer imports) and makes the country more attractive to foreign capital. Under a fixed exchange rate system, a country with a balance of payments deficit needs to keep stocks of gold or foreign currency to facilitate the purchase of imports. Otherwise, more money would need to be printed to buy foreign currency, with likely inflationary consequences.
- Campbell 2009, p. 259
- Howard 1987, p. 210
- Howard 1987, p. 214
- Campbell 2009, p. 260
- Howard 1987, p. 217
- Matthew 2004, p203
- Howard 1987, p. 218
- Howard 1987, p.221
- Butler 1971, p.148 Perceptions that Britain was sinking behind other European countries, the so-called "British disease", began when German GDP per head overtook Britain in the late 1950s
- Howard 1987, Photo 25 opposite page 240
- Howard 1987, p.222
- Thorpe 2010, p367
- Campbell 2009, p. 264-5
- Thorpe 2010, p365
- Campbell 2009, p. 266
- Matthew 2004, p206 The quote refers to Macmillan, who had initially supported the invasion, but was now intriguing to become Prime Minister
- Howard 1987 237
- Campbell 2009, p. 267
- Howard 1987 p238
- Thorpe 2010, p353-4
- Howard 1987 p240-1
- Keith Kyle (2011). Suez: Britain's End of Empire in the Middle East. I.B.Tauris. p. 534.
- Howard 1987 p241
- Howard 1987 p243
- Howard 1987 p244
- Howard 1987 p245
- the quote appears on p285 of "Political Adventure", Kilmuir's memoirs.
- Howard 1987 p246-7
- Thorpe 2010, p361-2
- Campbell 2009, p. 270
- Butler 1971, p.195-6
- Heath, p.179
- Howard 1987 p249-50
- Campbell 2009, p. 271
- Campbell 2009, p. 269
- Campbell 2009, p. 269, 272
- Campbell 2009, p. 273
- Heath 1998, p.180
- Matthew 2004, p205
- Horne 1989, p.80-1
- A person sentenced to hang was entitled to appeal to the Monarch for mercy. In practice this meant that the Home Secretary, to whom the task was delegated, had the final say on whether any execution should proceed
- the young Margaret Thatcher, just elected to the House of Commons at the 1959 General Election, voted in favour of corporal punishment, the only time she ever defied the party line
- Horne 1989, p.80
- Campbell 2009, p. 292
- Howard 1987, p.269
- Campbell 2009, p. 276-7
- Howard 1987, pp.288-9
- Howard, p214
- Thorpe 2010, p. 520
- Thorpe 2010, p. 519
- Thorpe 2010, p. 524
- Thorpe 2010, p. 551-2
- Howard 1987, p210
- Campbell 2009, p. 283
- Howard 1987, p. 300
- Howard 1987, p. 302
- Howard 1987, p. 303
- Horne 1989, p.550
- Howard 1987, p. 310-1
- Heath 1998, p.255
- Howard 1987, p. 313
- Howard 1987, p. 314
- Thorpe 2010, p. 561
- Howard 1987, p. 316-7
- Thorpe 2010, p. 572
- Horne 1989, p.558
- Thorpe 2010, p. 580
- Thorpe 2010, p. 573
- Thorpe 2010, p. 574
- Sandford 2005, pp.701-5
- Shepherd 1994, p. 324
- Shepherd 1994, p. 323
- Horne 1989, p.559
- Howard 1987, p. 318-19
- Shepherd 1994, p. 334
- Howard 1987, p. 320
- Campbell 2009, p. 288
- Howard 1987, p. 319
- Howard 1987, p. 321
- Howard 1987, p. 320-1
- Campbell 2009, p. 287
- Campbell 2009, p. 290
- Campbell 2009, p. 287
- Williams, Charles Harold Macmillan (2009) p. 448
- Shepherd 1994, p. 360
- Shepherd 1994, p. 317
- Howard 1987, p. 322
- Howard 1987, p. 330
- Thorpe 2010, p. 577
- Howard 1987, p.334
- Williams, Charles Harold Macmillan (2009) p. 453
- Howard 1987, p.336
- Howard 1987, p.351 This proposal came to nothing, and in the event the Prince studied "normal" courses in Archaeology and Anthropology then History, obtaining a II.1 and II.2 respectively
- "University of Essex Calendar".
- Tributes to the late Lord Butler, Hansard, House of Lords, 10 Mar 1982, vol 428, col 199
- Howard 1987, p.357
- Debate in Parliament about the case (Hansard, HC Deb 29 June 1972 vol 839 cc1673-85).
- Howard 1987, p. 361-2
- Matthew 2004, p207
- Matthew 2004, p206-7
- Thorpe 2010, p. 588
- Howard 1987, p.353
- Howard 1987, p.406
- Howard 1987, p.355
- Thorpe 2010, p.800
- Butler 1971, p.1
- Butler 1971, p.31
- Howard 1987, p.45
- Campbell 2009, p. 255
- Campbell 2009, p. 293
- Pearce 1997, p.14
- Matthew 2004, p203, 207
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