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A Healthier Stafford Cripps and Bevan


I came across an interesting thread by David T over at the Other Place which didn't get much of a response when it was posted. Hopefully no-one will mind my quoting it here.
David T said:
During the 1930's, Stafford Cripps was considered to be on the extreme left wing of the Labour Party. (Incidentally, he illustrated one of the great dilemmas of the Left in those years: the tension between anti-war and anti-fascist sentiments. In 1935 he had to resign from the national executive of the Labour Party because he objected to its support for League of Nations sanctions against Italy; yet later he became an opponent of appeasement and was actually expelled from the Labour Party in 1939 for advocating an anti-fascist Popular Front that would include the Communist Party as well as anti-appeasement Liberals and Conservatives. He was not readmitted until 1945.) However, under Attlee, Cripps–who was Chancellor of the Exchequer after 1947–became known as a stern advocate of austerity to boost exports and stabilize the pound, even though some of this austerity had to be at the expense of the working class.

Anyway, ill health compelled Cripps to resign from office and retire from public life in October 1950, and he was to die in Switzerland in 1952. His successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer was Hugh Gaitskell. My what-if is: Suppose Cripps had been somewhat healthier in 1950 (his health had not really been good for a long time) and was able to stay in office? In OTL, the Korean War and the necessity of additional defense spending required Gaitskell in early 1951 to introduce a budget demanding additional sacrifices–including having National Health Service patients pay half the cost of eyeglasses and false teeth (hitherto supplied without charge). This led to the Bevanite revolt that split the Labour Party–Bevan had declared that he would never be a member of a Government that would impose any charge on those who used the NHS. He followed through on this threat in April 1951, resigning and taking with him two other Cabinet ministers–John Freeman and future Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Harold Macmillan in Tides of Fortune 1945-1955, p. 339, argues that if Cripps had still been Chancellor, Labour might have remained much more united:

"Yet he [Attlee] must have felt deeply the loss of Cripps. Gaitskell certainly followed Cripps's strict theories, and invited the same sense of duty and sacrifice amongst all classes to which Cripps had appealed. It was evident that Cripps would have introduced these or similar limitations in social expenditure. Even in the Health Service, then and now the Sacred Cow of Socialism, his authority with the Left of the party was so great that Bevan's revolt would have carried little weight or might never have taken place. Bevan was a genial, impulsive and not wholly unworldly revolutionary. But Cripps, with his odour of sanctity and his fine record of violent agitation, was the 'sea-green incorruptible'–the Robespierre, not the Danton. To this pre-eminence in his party Gaitskell could not yet aspire, although his courage and determination never failed..."

A few questions:

(1) Is Macmillan right that Cripps could have prevented the Bevanite revolt or at least minimized its importance? Maybe Bevan himself feels obligated to resign rather than to approve the imposition of costs for any NHS services. But he might not take Wilson or any other influential Labour figure with him.

(2) If so, would that have enabled Labour to win in 1951 (remember that it was a closely-contested general election, and that Labour actually got more votes–though fewer constituencies–than the victorious Tories)?

(3) Suppose Labour still loses in 1951. When it is time for Attlee to retire as Leader of the Labour Party, will Gaitskell (who in this ATL will never have been Chancellor of the Exchequer or presumably Shadow Chancellor either, assuming Cripps is healthy enough to fill this job after 1951) still be elected to succeed him? And if not, who is chosen? (I assume that in December 1955 Cripps himself is not a plausible candidate for health and other reasons–but who will he support?) Maybe Bevan's chances would be greater than in OTL, precisely because his revolt will have been more isolated; it will be seen as an individual's conscientious decision, not a splitting of Labour's ranks.

The main question has to be do people think that if it had been Cripps rather than Gaitskell who as Chancellor presented the budget introducing charges that it would have been enough to dissuade Bevan or minimise the impact of any walkout?

Time Enough

"Enthusiastic Cis Male Partner"
The main question has to be do people think that if it had been Cripps rather than Gaitskell who as Chancellor presented the budget introducing charges that it would have been enough to dissuade Bevan or minimise the impact of any walkout?
I think Bevan would have walked out, the anger was over cuts occurring to his ‘baby’ so that wouldn’t surprise me. But I could see Wilson, Freeman and the other ‘Bevanites’ in the cabinet staying, not wanting to betray a major figure of the Left.
With a healthier Bevan, he would hopefully still be around in politics at the General Election in 1964 - I can't see him standing for the leadership after Gaitskell died given he'd be 67/8 and would still be 18 months off a general election, more likely he'd act as 'kingmaker' for his protege Wilson. There'd be a degree of nervousness of giving the Tories an open goal for the 1964 election by electing Bevan as leader, as then their opponents could dredge up all sorts of sensational stories about Bevan's past left-wing speeches to scare off the voters and that way they would lose again as they'd done in 1959. At this point in early 1963 Macmillan was still in power and had the ability to resume his act as the unflappable and skilful 'Supermac' , the guarantor of prosperity, to win over floating voters - the Profumo crisis hadn't shown him up as old and out of touch. So a younger man who could be presented as the meritocrat voice of the future and had less of a left-wing firebrand reputation would be a safer bet for Labour to elect as leader and make sure it won in 1964, and Wilson was a former sidekick to Bevan who'd shown his principles by resigning with him in 1951 - though a lot of people didn't trust him even by 1963.

But Bevan as Wilson's mentor would be a shoo-in to keep his role as shadow Foreign Secretary in 1963-4 then serve as Foreign Secretary in 1964 to 1966 or 1967, past his best perhaps but no more so than Morrison in 1950-1. His move to the right on the issue of keeping nuclear weapons around 1957 would reassure the moderates and the US, though he'd be even clearer than Wilson on staying out of Vietnam and would probably be tougher on Rhodesia. Also he could get more proteges into the Cabinet in Oct 1964 as he was the 'big beast' (in 1990s terminology) who the PM needed to keep on side - possibly finding another Commons seat for Michael Foot (who inherited his Ebbw Vale in OTL) and coaxing him into electoral politics earlier, to be a minister c. 1966, and having some ideological influence on the then young Postmaster-General technocrat Tony Benn?

Would there be more left-wing women ministers at an earlier date, with his wife Jennie Lee joined by Alice Bacon and an earlier top job for Barbara Castle? And more of a solid left-wing Cabinet bloc opposed to the pro-EU group around Roy Jenkins after 1967? With no vacancy at the FO until possibly 1967, this would affect the rise of OTL foreign secretary Michael Stewart; and there would also be more of a Bevanite bloc siphoning off potential support from the maverick George Brown as the potential 'independent left' rival to Wilson, unless Bevan and co. thought that the Dept of Economic Affairs was a useful way to rein in the 'laissez- faire' -capitalist-run Treasury mandarins and helped that to be more successful. Possibly the Wilson govt would run into the sand less easily, if the PM was pushed into an earlier devaluation in 1965 or 1966 by reassurance from powerful figures who he respected (or feared ) and avoided the Nov 1967 cliff-edge crisis - or would the wily Wilson keep promising to do a devaluation but kick the issue into the long grass?


With a healthier Bevan...
Ha! I was wondering where this had all come from for a moment until I realised that the thread title as written is a bit unclear – I meant how would a healthier Cripps affect things, such as Bevan's walkout, as opposed to both he and Bevan being healthier. Still interesting though. :)