Richard Stafford Cripps was born in London on 24th April, 1889. His mother, Theresa Cripps, was the sister of Beatrice Webb. After an education at Winchester and New College, one of the 39 constituent colleges of Oxford University, he became a research chemist. He also carried on studying law and was called to the bar in 1913.
Cripps was a pacifist and during the First World War served with the Red Cross in France. In 1918 Cripps returned to his work as a barrister. Specializing in company law, Cripps made a fortune in patent and compensation cases.
A Christian Socialist and member of the Labour Party, Cripps was elected to the House of Commons in 1931 at a by-election in East Bristol. The following year Ramsay MacDonald appointed Cripps as his solicitor-general. However, like most members of the party, Cripps refused to serve in MacDonald's National Government formed in 1931.
Stafford Cripps was converted to Marxism and became the leader of the left-wing of the Labour Party. Other members of this group included Aneurin Bevan, William Mellor, Ellen Wilkinson, Barbara Betts, Frank Wise, Jennie Lee, Harold Laski, Frank Horrabin, Barbara Betts and G. D. H. Cole. In 1932 the group established the Socialist League. Other members included Charles Trevelyan, Stafford Cripps, D. N. Pritt, R. H. Tawney, David Kirkwood, Clement Attlee, Neil Maclean, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Alfred Salter, Jennie Lee, Gilbert Mitchison, Ellen Wilkinson, Ernest Bevin, Arthur Pugh and Michael Foot. Margaret Cole admitted that they got some of the members from the Guild Socialism movement: "Douglas and I recruited personally its first list drawing upon comrades from all stages of our political lives." The first pamphlet published by the SSIP was The Crisis (1931) was written by Cole and Bevin.
According to Ben Pimlott, the author of Labour and the Left (1977): "The Socialist League... set up branches, undertook to promote and carry out research, propaganda and discussion, issue pamphlets, reports and books, and organise conferences, meetings, lectures and schools. To this extent it was strongly in the Fabian tradition, and it worked in close conjunction with Cole's other group, the New Fabian Research Bureau." The main objective was to persuade a future Labour government to implement socialist policies.
G.D.H. Cole arranged for Ernest Bevin to be elected chairman of the Socialist League. However, the following year, the Independent Labour Party members insisted on Frank Wise becoming chairman. Cole wrote later, "as the outstanding Trade Union figure capable of rallying Trade Union opinion behind it I voted against... but I was outvoted and agreed to go with the majority". Cole attempted to persuade Bevin to join the Socialist League Executive, but he refused: "I do not believe the Socialist League will change very much from the old ILP attitude, whoever is in the Executive."
In April 1933 G.D.H. Cole, R. H. Tawney and Frank Wise, signed a letter urging the Labour Party to form a United Front against fascism, with political groups such as the Communist Party of Great Britain. However, the idea was rejected at that year's party conference.
With the rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, Stafford Cripps became convinced that the Labour Party should establish a United Front against fascism with the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Independent Labour Party. In April 1934 William Mellor had a meeting with Fenner Brockway and Jimmy Maxton, two leaders of the ILP, "to talk over ways and means of securing working-class unity". He also had meetings with Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
In 1936 the Conservative government in Britain feared the spread of communism from the Soviet Union to the rest of Europe. Stanley Baldwin, the British prime minister, shared this concern and was fairly sympathetic to the military uprising in Spain against the left-wing Popular Front government. Leon Blum, the prime minister of the Popular Front government in France, initially agreed to send aircraft and artillery to help the Republican Army in Spain. However, after coming under pressure from Baldwin and Anthony Eden in Britain, and more right-wing members of his own cabinet, he changed his mind.
In the House of Commons on 29th October 1936, Clement Attlee, Philip Noel-Baker and Arthur Greenwood argued against the government policy of Non-Intervention. As Noel-Baker pointed out: "We protest with all our power against the sham, the hypocritical sham, that it now appears to be." Cole and Jack Murphy, the General Secretary of the Socialist League also called for help to be given to the Popular Front government.
Stafford Cripps was another advocate for an United Front: "Up till recent times it was the avowed object of the Communist Party to discredit and destroy the social democratic parties such as the British Labour Party, and so long as that policy remained in force, it was impossible to contemplate any real unity... The Communists had... disavowed any intention, for the present, of acting in opposition to the Labour Movement in the country, and certainly their action in many constituences during the last election gives earnest of their disavowal." Aneurin Bevan added: "It is of paramount importance that our immediate efforts and energies should be directed to organising a United Front and a definite programme of action."
In 1936 the Socialist League joined forces with the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Independent Labour Party and various trades councils and trade union brances to organize a large-scale Hunger March. Aneurin Bevan argued: "Why should a first-class piece of work like the Hunger March have been left to the initiative of unofficial members of the Party, and to the Communists and the ILP... Consider what a mighty response the workers would have made if the whole machinery of the Labour Movement had been mobilised for the Hunger March and its attendant activities."
On 31st October, 1936 the Socialist League called an anti-fascist conference in Whitechapel and discussed the best ways of dealing with Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. Over the next few months meetings were held. The Socialist League was represented by Stafford Cripps and William Mellor, the Communist Party of Great Britain by Harry Pollitt and Palme Dutt and the Independent Labour Party by James Maxton and Fenner Brockway.
Stafford Cripps was the main supporter of a United Front in the Socialist League: "The Communist Party and the ILP may not represent very large numbers, but all of us who have knowledge of militant working-class activities throughout the country are bound to admit that Communists and ILPers have played and are playing a very fine part in such activities... Just as unity has wrought wonders in Spain, inspiring and encouraging the Spanish workers with a heroism past all praise, so in our, as yet, less arduous struggle it can give new life and vitality."
Richard Crossman disagreed with Cripps and his followers: "The Socialist League... dilate on the need for Communist affiliation and a strong policy with regard to Spain, as though these items were of the slightest interest to any save the minority of politically conscious electors. Such critics frame their propaganda to satisfy their own tastes and neglect the simple fact that it is not they but the Tory voters who must be converted. Their busy activity is self-intoxicating, but millions of people still read the racing page, because, on the whole, conditions are not bad enough to drive them to politics, and they have not seen a Labour canvasser for five years, far less seen any signs of practical activity by the local Labour Party."
After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Cripps campaigned for the formation of a Popular Front with other left-wing groups in Europe to prevent the spread of fascism. In January 1937 Stafford Cripps and George Strauss decided to launch a radical weekly, The Tribune, to "advocate a vigorous socialism and demand active resistance to Fascism at home and abroad." William Mellor was appointed editor and others such as Barbara Betts, Aneurin Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson, Barbara Castle, Harold Laski, Michael Foot and Noel Brailsford agreed to write for the paper.
William Mellor wrote in the first issue: "It is capitalism that has caused the world depression. It is capitalism that has created the vast army of the unemployed. It is capitalism that has created the distressed areas... It is capitalism that divides our people into the two nations of rich and poor. Either we must defeat capitalism or we shall be destroyed by it." Stafford Cripps wrote encouragingly after the first issue: "I have read the Tribune, every line of it (including the advertisements!) as objectively as I can and I must congratulate you upon a very first-rate production.''
Stafford Cripps declared that the mission of the Socialist League and The Tribune was to recreate the Labour Party as a truly socialist organization. This soon brought them into conflict with Clement Attlee and the leadership of the party. Hugh Dalton declared that "Cripps Chronicle" was "a rich man's toy".
The United Front agreement won only narrow majority at a Socialist League delegate conference in January, 1937 - 56 in favour, 38 against, with 23 abstentions. The United Front campaign opened officially with a large meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 24th January. Three days later the Executive of the Labour Party decided to disaffiliated the Socialist League. They also began considering expelling members of the League. Cole and George Lansbury responded by urging the party not to start a "heresy hunt".
Arthur Greenwood was one of those who argued that Stafford Cripps should be immediately expelled. Ernest Bevin agreed: "I saw Mosley come into the Labour Movement and I see no difference in the tactics of Mosley and Cripps." On 24th March, 1937, the National Executive Committee declared that members of the Socialist League would be ineligible for Labour Party membership from 1st June. Over the next few weeks membership fell from 3,000 to 1,600. In May, G.D.H. Cole and other leading members decided to dissolve the Socialist League.
By 1938 Stafford Cripps and George Strauss had lost £20,000 in publishing The Tribune. The successful publisher, Victor Gollancz, agreed to help support the newspaper as long as it dropped the United Front campaign. When William Mellor refused to change the editorial line, Cripps sacked him and invited Michael Foot to take his place. However, as Mervyn Jones has pointed out: "It was a tempting opportunity for a 25-year-old, but Foot declined to succeed an editor who had been treated unfairly."
Cripps and Aneurin Bevan were also involved in the campaign against appeasement. This included speaking on the same platform with members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In his autobiography, Very Little Luggage, his friend, Kenneth Sinclair Loutit, explained what happened: "The result was that Cripps, Bevan and myself (midget though I was beside such men) received a letter of anathema from the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. We were told that we would be expelled from the Labour Party if we continued to appear on platforms that included Communists.... So I found myself sitting in an office in Chancery Lane with Cripps and Bevan while Cripps held up the letter to re-read the National Executive's terms for our rehabilitation. Cripps treated it as though it were a document replete with indecent details in a carnal knowledge case. Bevan said something about preferring to be out than in. The way things were going, so he said, it was no time to be mealy-mouthed. So they refused to assure the National Executive that they would in future keep more right-wing company."
Iin March 1939 Cripps, Aneurin Bevan, and Charles Trevelyan were expelled from the Labour Party. However, they were readmitted in November 1939 after agreeing "to refrain from conducting or taking part in campaigns in opposition to the declared policy of the Party."
For the first two years of the Second World War Cripps and Bevan provided the main opposition to Britain's coalition government. In a survey carried out in 1941, the public was asked who should be prime minister if anything should happen to Winston Churchill. Of those who replied, 37% said Anthony Eden and a surprising 34% selected Cripps.
Churchill now became concerned about having one of his main critics so high in the polls. In 1942 Churchill appointed Cripps as Lord Privy Seal in his government and put him in the War Cabinet. However, Cripps continued to question Churchill's war strategy and in October 1942 he was removed from the War Cabinet. He remained in the government and now became Minister of Aircraft Production.
On Cripps removal from the War Cabinet, Hugh Dalton recorded in his diary: "He has, I think, been very skilfully played by the P.M. He may, of course, be quite good at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, but seldom has anyone's political stock, having been so outrageously and unjustifiably overvalued, fallen so fast and so far."
In 1945 Cripps published his book Towards a Christian Democracy and his readmittance to the Labour Party. Following the 1945 General Election, the new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, appointed Cripps as Minister of Trade. Two years later Cripps replaced Hugh Dalton as Chancellor of the Exchequer. His policy of high taxation, tight public spending and a voluntary wage freeze, helped to keep inflation in Britain under control.
In October 1950 poor health forced him to resign from the government. The following year was elected as President of the Fabian Society. Richard Stafford Cripps died in 1952.