Herbert Morrison, the son of a policeman, was born in Lambeth, London on 3rd January, 1888. As a child he lost the sight of his right eye. Educated at a local elementary school, he left at fourteen be become an errand boy.
Morrison became active in politics and joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1906. He eventually came to the conclusion that the ILP was not radical enough and the following year joined the Social Democratic Federation. Morrison eventually became disillusioned with the leadership of H. D. Hyndman and returned to the ILP.
When the First World War was declared two pacifists, Clifford Allen and Fenner Brockway, formed the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF), an organisation that encouraged men to refuse war service. The NCF required its members to "refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms because they consider human life to be sacred." As Martin Ceadel, the author of Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945 (1980) has pointed out: "Though limiting itself to campaigning against conscription, the N.C.F.'s basis was explicitly pacifist rather than merely voluntarist.... In particular, it proved an efficient information and welfare service for all objectors; although its unresolved internal division over whether its function was to ensure respect for the pacifist conscience or to combat conscription by any means"
Morrison joined the No-Conscription Fellowship. As he was later to point out that this was an unpopular position to take: "The overwhelming majority of the people supported the Liberal Government in its declaration of war after Germany's invasion of Belgium. Every possible influence was brought to bear to create that attitude. The Conservatives were for the war. All the newspapers were in support, and there was no difficulty in whipping up public opinion to near fever pitch."
Alfred Salter formed a Bermondsey branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship. Morrison joined the group. As he was later to point out that this was an unpopular position to take: "The overwhelming majority of the people supported the Liberal Government in its declaration of war after Germany's invasion of Belgium. Every possible influence was brought to bear to create that attitude. The Conservatives were for the war. All the newspapers were in support, and there was no difficulty in whipping up public opinion to near fever pitch."
Morrison became very close to Salter who, after making several anti-war speeches, the local newspaper asked: "Is Dr. Salter Pro-German?" Several of his patients sent letters to the newspaper defending their doctor. One wrote: "When my father and I were both so ill that we thought there was no hope for either of us. Dr. Salter attended us night and day, although he knew his chances of being paid were very small. There are many other poor people in Bermondsey who have cause to be grateful to him." This general affection for the doctor among the people led local editors and political opponents to refrain from the viciousness which they voiced towards other opponents of the war.. As the author of Bermondsey Story: The Life of Alfred Salter (1949) pointed out: "The truth was that the main feeling in Bermondsey was respect for Salter as a man and a doctor rather than as a pacifist... This general affection for the doctor among the people led local editors and political opponents to refrain from the viciousness which they voiced towards other opponents of the war."
By July 1916, nineteen members of the Bermondsey group were in prison as conscientious objectors. Others agreed to work as farm labourers. This included Herbert Morrison, who became a land worker at Norton, near Letchworth. When he was asked by the Wandsworth Tribunal if he belonged to any religious denomination, he replied, "I belong to the ILP and Socialism is my religion."
Ben Pimlott, the author of Labour and the Left (1977) has argued: "Despite blindness in one eye, which would have exempted him on medical grounds, Morrison declared himself a conscientious objector in 1914. In 1915 came the opportunity which soon established him as a major political force - he became part-time secretary of the London Labour Party at £1 per week, and within a few years had established himself as a figure of national importance in the Movement."
A founder member of the London Labour Party, Morrison became Mayor of Hackney from 1920-21. Morrison was also elected to the London County Council (LCC) in 1922 and the following year he became MP for South Hackney in the 1923 General Election.
His close friend, Alfred Salter, commented: He (Morrison) is a born administrator, and this tends to make him bureaucratic and opinionated. He knows his own abilities and he values a first-class brain. He wants centralisation staffed with permanent officers of first rank, all working at high pressure. He cannot tolerate inefficiency or slackness. Everything must be up to parade-ground standard... With all his innate strength and force he is far too much in the hands of his permanent officials, as is the way with dictators, though he would doubtless deny this most strenuously."
In October 1924 the MI5 intercepted a letter written by Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern in the Soviet Union. In the letter Zinoviev urged British communists to promote revolution through acts of sedition. Vernon Kell, head of MI5 and Sir Basil Thomson head of Special Branch, were convinced that the letter was genuine. Kell showed the letter to Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Prime Minister. It was agreed that the letter should be kept secret but someone leaked news of the letter to the Times and the Daily Mail.
The Zinoviev Letter was published in these newspapers four days before the 1924 General Election and contributed to the defeat of Morrison at South Hackney. He returned to the House of Commons following the 1929 General Election. The Labour Party won the election and Ramsay MacDonald became prime minister and appointed Morrison as his Minister of Transport.
In an article published in 1930 Alfred Salter argued that: "Herbert Morrison is one of the coming men. He has risen to his present position as a national figure by sheer native ability and grit. He has had no advantages of any kind, no external assistance, and no family or other influence to help him make his way in life. He owes his fortune to character and capacity... It is not too much to say that he has built up the London movement from practically nothing to its proud position as one of the most important and influential elements in the British Labour Party. In my judgment Morrison is one of the ablest fighting debaters in the House of Commons. It is a pity that the Government does not use his talent more in the big full-dress flare-ups, though I suppose his time will come. He has a gift of crisp, sharp, pungent phrasing, and he can condense into a five- or ten-minute reply more direct, relevant, hard-hitting argument than almost anyone I know."
The election of the Labour Government in 1929 coincided with an economic depression and Ramsay MacDonald was faced with the problem of growing unemployment. MacDonald asked Sir George May, to form a committee to look into Britain's economic problem. When the May Committee produced its report in July, 1931, it suggested that the government should reduce its expenditure by £97,000,000, including a £67,000,000 cut in unemployment benefits. MacDonald, and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, accepted the report but when the matter was discussed by the Cabinet, the majority voted against the measures suggested by Sir George May.
MacDonald was angry that his Cabinet had voted against him and decided to resign. When he saw George V that night, he was persuaded to head a new coalition government that would include Conservative and Liberal leaders as well as Labour ministers. Most of the Labour Cabinet totally rejected the idea and only three, Philip Snowden, Jimmy Thomas and John Sankey agreed to join the new government. MacDonald was determined to continue and his National Government introduced the measures that had been rejected by the previous Labour Cabinet. Morrison was furious with MacDonald for making this decision and pointed out that he had never been given a mandate from the cabinet to create a National Government. Morrison later controversially attacked George V for acting unconstitutionally in order to split the Labour Party.
In 1933 Morrison explained his socialist beliefs: "I am a Socialist and my general socialist views certainly influence my mind in examining particular economic problems. Most public-spirited people, whether Socialists or non-Socialists, have their ideals and their visions. It so happens that for me socialism provides the ethical and moral framework of my ideals and visions as well as what I believe to be a sound, practical and urgently necessary economic policy for today. The high moral purpose of socialism does not and must not prevent the Socialist in public affairs from carrying a sound business head on his shoulders, nor must he feel it in any way a treachery to his ideals if he must elaborate in a realistic spirit the organization and management of socialized industries."
Morrison continued to sit on the London County Council and in 1934 became its leader. In this post he oversaw the development of London's housing, health, education and transport services. Morrison's main achievements in London included the unification of the transport system and creating a 'green belt' around the suburbs. In 1935 Morrison was once again elected to the House of Commons and soon afterwards was defeated by Clement Attlee for the leadership of the Labour Party.
During the Spanish Civil War Morrison was one of the leading opponents of the government's non-intervention policy in Spain. He explained his position in his memoirs: "Baldwin's retirement in May, 1937, had accentuated the appeasement policy with the arrival of Neville Chamberlain as Premier. My own view was that the chances of avoiding war were nearly over but there was still time with a definite policy of standing up to the Fascists over Spain. I opposed nonintervention in Spain and was speaking for a minority within the Labour Party. As much as feeling that it was in the interests of peace to do so I felt that this was a question of principle. It was the elementary duty of all socialists to back up the legally elected Republican Government of Spain."
In 1940 Winston Churchill appointed Morrison as Minister of Supply in his wartime coalition government. Later that year he replaced John Anderson as Home Secretary. In this post he had responsibility for Air Raid Precautions and the organisation of the National Fire Service.
On 5th March, 1942, the Daily Mirror published a cartoon by Philip Zec on the government's decision to increase the price of petrol. The cartoon showed a torpedoed sailor with an oil-smeared face lying on a raft. Zec's message was "Don't waste petrol. It costs lives."
Winston Churchill and Morrison believed that the cartoon suggested that the sailor's life had been put at stake to enhance the profits of the petrol companies. Morrison arranged for MI5 to investigate Zec's background, and although they reported back that he held left-wing opinions, there was no evidence of him being involved in subversive activities.
H. G. Bartholomew, editorial director and Cecil Thomas, the editor of the Daily Mirror, were ordered to appear before Morrison at the Home Office. Zec's cartoon was described as "worthy of Goebbels at his best" and turning on Thomas, Morrison told him that "only a very unpatriotic editor could pass it for publication". Morrison informed Bartholomew that "only a fool or someone with a diseased mind could be responsible" for allowing the Daily Mirror to publish such material.
When Anueurin Bevan heard that the government was considering closing down the Daily Mirror he forced a debate on the issue in the House of Commons. Some MPs were appalled when Morrison suggested that the newspaper might be part of a fascist plot to undermine the British Government. Several pointed out that the Daily Mirror had been campaigning against fascism in Europe since the early 1930s. Bevan argued in the debate that: "The Government are seeking to suppress their critics. The only way for the Government to meet their critics is to redress the wrongs from which the people are suffering and to put their policy right."
During the Second World War several leading fascists, including Oswald Mosley, were imprisoned without trial. In November, 1943 Morrison controversially decided to order Mosley's release from prison. There were large-scale protests and even his sister-in-law, Jessica Mitford, described the decision as "a slap in the face of anti-fascists in every country and a direct betrayal of those who have died for the cause of anti-fascism."
During the Second World War some some MPs believed that Herbert Morrison should replace Clement Attlee as leader of the Labour Party. The leader of the plot was his mistress, Ellen Wilkinson. A fellow Cabinet Minister, Hugh Dalton wrote in his diary on 28th October, 1942. "Ellen Wilkinson came to dine with me.... She is still a most devoted worshipper of Herbert Morrison, and puts me second. What she would like would be Morrison to lead the Party and me to be his deputy. She would like us two to go into the War Cabinet, putting out Attlee and Cripps. The difficulty about all such plans is that the right moment never arrives to put them into execution!" Emanuel Shinwell warned Attlee about this plot when he promoted Wilkinson to the post of Minister of Education: " I mentioned to Attlee that a number of plotters had been given jobs. He laughed, perfectly well aware of what had been going on. It is not bad tactics to make one's enemies one's servants."
In 1945 Morrison was given responsibility for drafting the Labour Party manifesto that included the blueprints for the nationalization and welfare programmes. "The Labour Party is a socialist party and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose at home is the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain - free, democratic, efficient, progressive, public-spirited, its material resources organized in the service of the British people." Morrison explained in An Autobiography (1960): "We had not been afraid to be frank about our plans. There would be public ownership of fuel and power, transport, the Bank of England, civil aviation, and iron and steel. We proposed a housing programme dealt with in relation to good town planning. We promised to put the 1944 Education Act into practical operation. We said that wealth would no longer be the passport to the best health treatment. We promised that a Labour Government would extend social insurance over the widest field."
After the 1945 General Election Labour victory, Morrison became deputy Prime Minister and leader of the House of Commons. Morrison made several enemies during this period. This included Ernest Bevin. A fellow minister, Harold Wilson, explained: "Ernie Bevin could not stand Herbert Morrison, who had been a City boss when Bevin had been head of one of the biggest unions and the two had clashed. I would think that Bevin declared war on Morrison in the 1930s and that they were never going to come together. You could see his hackles rise every time, especially if Morrison tried to encroach on foreign affairs." A fellow MP, Robert Boothby tells the story of how the two men loathed each other. When a MP said to Bevin that "Morrison was his own worst enemy", he replied, "Not while I'm alive he ain't"
When ill-health forced Ernest Bevin to resign in March 1951, Morrison became Foreign Secretary. George Brown commented: "When Bevin retired, the best job going, next to the Prime Ministership, was that of Foreign Secretary, which he (Morrison) wanted partly for this reason and partly because of the possibility of it going to Aneurin Bevan whom he simply could not abide. This, alas, was the one job that Herbert Morrison was not fitted to do.... Morrison simply was not cut out for foreign affairs, and his period at the Foreign Office was a disaster that clouded everything that had gone before." Morrison held the post until Labour's defeat at the 1951 General Election.
Clement Attlee finally retired as Labour Party leader after losing the 1955 General Election. The problem for Morrison was that he was now sixty-seven year old Herbert Morrison. His main rivals were Hugh Gaitskell and Aneurin Bevan. In the ensuing leadership election, held in December 1955, Gaitskell won an easy victory at the first ballot, gaining 157 votes against 70 for Bevan and 40 for Morrison.
Morrison was created a life peer in 1959 and as well as being active in the House of Lords served as president of the British Board of Film Censors. Lord Morrison remained active in politics until his death on 6th March 1965.
Life in my childhood followed a more or less precise routine There was the annual week's holiday at Ramsgate, always in humble lodgings and always at the same time of year. The joys of a seaside holiday were, of course, eagerly anticipated and long remembered. Paddling castle building, following the black-faced minstrels along the sands and hearing their sketches and songs over and over again; these were the glamorous breaks in a rhythm of life which prevailed in the remaining fifty-one weeks of the year.
The time was coming when my education was to be regarded as completed, so far as full-time schooling was concerned. Secondary education was hardly thought of by parents of my class and time. As far back as 1840 the Taunton Commission had recommended the establishment of rate-aided secondary schools in towns which had no ancient grammar school, endowed, as was usual, to provide free or cheap education for a few local boys. The recommendation was rejected and secondary education remained a privilege of the wealthy or aristocratic boy until the Balfour Act of 1902 authorized local authorities to provide secondary education. This Act came into force after my fourteenth birthday, some months before which avid discussion was taking place about how I should earn my living.
By day I watched the ordinary people as they came to the shop. By night I read voraciously the ideas of those who wanted to create a new society.
This literature was without doubt the basic reason why my thoughts began to turn towards socialism. My father was a stern though kindly man, but the sort of fatalistic attitude which he and many of his generation had in the essential inevitability of things remaining as they were naturally rankled in my youthful mind. For my parents' generation the long reign of Victoria seemed a symbol of stability and even if there were many evils of poverty, squalor and disease constantly at hand these probably appeared to be in the divine order of things rather than the defects of a man-made society.
My generation in its youth was as restless as any youthful generation always is. If our parents never thought of questioning the established order of things we young socialists were equally convinced that every facet of it demanded criticism and probably change. Fortunately for us this desire to create a better world and to get rid of the bad old one did not exhibit itself in some anti-social activities which so aggravate the situation today. Thanks to the flood of books and pamphlets by wise and far-seeing writers, both in fiction and in fact, we had our thoughts harnessed to purposeful and feasible ambitions.
I cannot therefore claim that a faith in the socialist way of life was a sudden revelation, but it certainly was born very early. Its growth into a practical contribution was natural and inevitable despite, and perhaps because of, the environment in my home where criticism of the established order of things was regarded as futile, unjustified, and even wicked.
My own view - as of the Independent Labour Party with which I was associated - remained one of opposition to the war, and there were a number of Liberals who shared this view in general. There would be no point in denying the considerable public enthusiasm for hostilities. The overwhelming majority of the people supported the Liberal Government in its declaration of war after Germany's invasion of Belgium. Every possible influence was brought to bear to create that attitude. The Conservatives were for the war. All the newspapers were in support, and there was no difficulty in whipping up public opinion to near fever pitch.
I remember an open-air I.L.P. meeting I addressed on Hampstead Heath one Sunday morning. I had given my audience our views as to the cause of the war, and expressed the conviction that the involvement of Britain in it had been wrong. My audience was very hostile. I spoke amid a great deal of violent and angry heckling. Ultimately I was dragged off the platform and taken by force to the nearby pond. There was some dispute at the edge of the pond, however, when the police intervened, and although my pince-nez glasses were flung into the water, I was not. This was a common experience among the anti-war speakers, except that some of them did get a ducking.
The letter presumably existed a month before the press reproduced its text on the Saturday before polling day, which was a Wednesday. Ramsay MacDonald, who was Foreign Minister as well as Prime Minister, must have been aware of the letter at least ten days prior to the press revelations. He had said nothing at his election meetings nor to his colleagues in the cabinet.
With reason Jimmy Thomas commented to Philip Snowden after they had read the scare headlines: "We're sunk!" MacDonald may have thought so too, but he effectively disguised the feeling. On that Saturday afternoon he was due to address a mass meeting at Swansea. The public packed the hall to hear what he had to say about the letter, and the press were there in droves. We candidates anxiously awaited the evening papers so that we could study what we expected would be a clear lead on what to say at our meetings that Saturday evening.
There was not a single word in the MacDonald speech about it. Not until he spoke at Cardiff on Monday did he refer to it, and then he merely recited the known facts. He did not take a clear hue.
Forty-eight hours later the nation went to the polls. The Tories achieved a big victory with 419 seats. Labour members dropped from 191 to 151, and I was among the defeated.
Herbert Morrison is one of the coming men. He has risen to his present position as a national figure by sheer native ability and grit. He has had no advantages of any kind, no external assistance, and no family or other influence to help him make his way in life. He owes his fortune to character and capacity... It is not too much to say that he has built up the London movement from practically nothing to its proud position as one of the most important and influential elements in the British Labour Party.
In my judgment Morrison is one of the ablest fighting debaters in the House of Commons. It is a pity that the Government does not use his talent more in the big full-dress flare-ups, though I suppose his time will come. He has a gift of crisp, sharp, pungent phrasing, and he can condense into a five- or ten-minute reply more direct, relevant, hard-hitting argument than almost anyone I know...
He is a born administrator, and this tends to make him bureaucratic and opinionated. He knows his own abilities and he values a first-class brain. He wants centralisation staffed with permanent officers of first rank, all working at high pressure. He cannot tolerate inefficiency or slackness. Everything must be up to parade-ground standard. He thus tends to eliminate the "human touch" from government...
With all his innate strength and force he is far too much in the hands of his permanent officials, as is the way with dictators, though he would doubtless deny this most strenuously...
He has no aesthetic sense and in his heart cares nothing for the beautiful. He is primarily and all the time utilitarian... He would pull it down, and build a new structure - any structure that would carry trams and six lines of motor traffic. Whv should a meaningless succession of arches interfere with the needs of modern traffic?
He is a strong man and a man who is going to do things and make his name in British politics. He has ambition, he has character, and he has the flair for attracting public notice and attention... He is a Socialist from intellectual conviction, and he knows his Marx... He has an instinct for catching the tide... His abilities are such that there is no position under the Constitution to which he may not attain in time.
In the first place the Prime Minister, who it must be remembered was also leader of the Labour Party, had gone to the Palace with the cabinet's mandate for all of us, including himself, to resign office. Secondly, he had not consulted his colleagues about the proposal which the King had made to him, with the support of Baldwin for the Conservatives and Sir Herbert Samuel for the Liberals. In this context his colleagues to be consulted were not only members of the cabinet, but members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and indeed the National Executive of the Labour Party and, in my view, the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. Thirdly, his decision meant that the Labour Party would be in opposition and, therefore, find itself opposing those former Labour colleagues who entered the new government, as well as the Conservatives and Liberals who were to be part of it. Clearly the Labour Party would be injured in the country as a result of these events, although I think many of my colleagues did not appreciate this at the time but thought that the Party would be in an advantageous position politically if the new government, as was almost certain, was to cut unemployment benefit and make other economies which would prove to be unpopular.
On MacDonald's sudden and - to his colleagues - unannounced decision to desert the Labour Party I thought, and still think, that King George V was mistaken in taking the course he did by inviting - or did he urge? - MacDonald to become prime minister in a coalition. The natural constitutional course for him to have taken was to ask Baldwin as the leader of the Conservative Party to form a government with Liberal support, which would almost certainly have been forthcoming. As it was, the action of the King was conducive to a split in the Labour Party even though the numbers that went with MacDonald were very few.
At the subsequent general election many Labour supporters were naturally confused when they found Labour leaders like MacDonald, Snowden and Thomas, making speeches in which they advised the electors to vote against the Labour Party. In all this controversy the name of the King became involved. None of us wished to speak up too pointedly on that matter in view of the general desire to keep the Crown out of politics, but the King's action had in a way drawn the monarchy into politics, and pretty dangerous politics at that.
I am a Socialist and my general socialist views certainly influence my mind in examining particular economic problems. Most public-spirited people, whether Socialists or non-Socialists, have their ideals and their visions. It so happens that for me socialism provides the ethical and moral framework of my ideals and visions as well as what I believe to be a sound, practical and urgently necessary economic policy for today. The high moral purpose of socialism does not and must not prevent the Socialist in public affairs from carrying a sound business head on his shoulders, nor must he feel it in any way a treachery to his ideals if he must elaborate in a realistic spirit the organization and management of socialized industries.
Herbert Morrison is an able administrator and a bit of a brute - the rudest man I know - he will invite you to his table and then read a detective novel but he is giving London almost exclusively gifts needed by the nation.
During his detention under the 18B regulation, moves to have him released came from all sorts of people and organizations. Some were undoubtedly genuine efforts by those who put the basic principles of British freedom first even if the matter concerned a man with an avowed policy of destroying that freedom, but the majority, I had no doubt, were the efforts of Mosley's class friends and political sympathizers.
And a few of the complaints were doubtless meant to embarrass me personally or to put a spanner in the works of a smoothly- running coalition by rousing political controversy. I noticed with amusement that some critics, who had been vociferous about the ruthless injustice of interning aliens and keeping them interned, now, showed an equally large amount of indignation about my tender-heartedness when the possibility of releasing Mosley from prison was known. It was impossible to please everyone, and in any case placating my critics was of no importance as compared with observing the law and safeguarding the nation.
The crux of the matter was Mosley's health. He had become ill with phlebitis. His doctor was allowed to examine him and he reported that continued imprisonment would jeopardize his life. I did not consider it advisable to accept this without a second opinion. The prison doctors confirmed it. The quandary was whether to free this leading fascist, a sympathizer with Hitler and Mussolini, or whether to risk having a British citizen die in prison without trial. Apart from such a blot on history going back to Magna Charta, martyrdom is a very profound source of strength. I had little doubt that some of the near-fascists in the country would have liked nothing better than that their leader should become a dead martyr. However, my task was to decide what was the right thing to do.
One of the most difficult problems in war is to maintain civil liberty while ensuring the safety of the country. Herbert Morrison, as Home Secretary, had to carry this burden. Although there was some criticism of the operation of Defence Regulations there is no doubt in my mind that the balance was well and truly held, and that Morrison did an outstanding service in a very difficult office.
Supposing a secret Fascist organization wished to conduct propaganda for the purpose of undermining morale. If it had sense, it would not go about it by openly opposing the war. Not at all. It would set about vigorously supporting the war and then it would paint the picture that the House of Commons is rotten or corrupt or incompetent or something like that, that the Government is the same, that the chiefs of the Armed Forces are the same, in that way effecting a steady undermining of public confidence and a spread of the belief that defeat is inevitable and why should the needless spilling of blood and suffering continue. That would be a perfectly understandable Fascist technique.
I do not like the Daily Mirror and I have never liked it. I do not see it very often. I do not like that form of journalism. I do not like the striptease artists. If the Daily Mirror depended upon my purchasing it, it would never be sold. But the Daily Mirror has not been warned because people do not like that kind of journalism. It is not because the Home Secretary is aesthetically repelled by it that he warns it. I have heard a number of honourable members say that it is a hateful paper, a tabloid paper, a hysterical paper, a sensational paper, and that they do not like it. I am sure the Home Secretary does not take that view. He likes the paper. He is taking its money (waves cuttings of articles written by Morrison for the Daily Mirror).
He (Morrison) is the wrong man to be Home Secretary. He has for many years the witch-finder of the Labour Party. He has been the smeller-out of evil spirits in the Labour Party for years. He built up his reputation by selecting people in the Labour Party for expulsion and suppression. He is not a man to be entrusted with these powers because, however suave his utterance, his spirit is really intolerant. I say with all seriousness and earnestness that I am deeply ashamed that a member of the Labour Party should be an instrument of this sort of thing.
How can we call on the people of this country and speak about liberty if the Government are doing all they can to undermine it? The Government are seeking to suppress their critics. The only way for the Government to meet their critics is to redress the wrongs from which the people are suffering and to put their policy right.
Of the Labour leaders, Arthur Greenwood was the nicest, but apt to be tight. Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison loathed each other. The story that when someone remarked that Morrison was his own worst enemy, Bevin said, "Not while I'm alive he ain't", is true.
On Sunday night Cabinet changes are announced on the air. Morrison succeeds Cripps in the War Cabinet and the latter drops down to Minister of Aircraft Production, thus becoming a lodger downstairs in my own building. This hole is made by the appointment of Llewellin to Washington. Cranborne is to be Lord Privy Seal, and Oliver Stanley returns to the Government as Colonial Secretary. Eden is to lead the House of Commons.
I write at once to Morrison, "Congratulations! The War Cabinet is strengthened." Next morning the Daily Herald begins its leader with these same last five words. It is, indeed, a great improvement. Nearly all Cripps's 'mystique' is now gone, and he has missed all his chances - never really good - of resigning with credit. 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. I add in my letter to Morrison that I would like soon to have a meeting and a talk, and I write also to Ellen Wilkinson summarizing my letter to Morrison.
Ellen Wilkinson to dine with me. This has been on the cards for some time, but always put off. She is still a most devoted worshipper of Herbert Morrison, and puts me second. What she would like would be Morrison to lead the Party and me to be his deputy. She would like us two to go into the War Cabinet, putting out Attlee and Cripps. The difficulty about all such plans is that the right moment never arrives to put them into execution! She says that Morrison, having been deeply absorbed with his job until recently, is now feeling that he has got it into running order, and is taking much more interest in wider questions, including post-war problems and the future of the Labour Party. Bevin, she says - though I think she puts him third in order of merit among Labour leaders - is quite grotesque in his garrulity.
The very honesty and simplicity of the (1945) campaign helped enormously. We had not been afraid to be frank about our plans. There would be public ownership of fuel and power, transport, the Bank of England, civil aviation, and iron and steel. We proposed a housing programme dealt with in relation to good town planning.
We promised to put the 1944 Education Act into practical operation. We said that wealth would no longer be the passport to the best health treatment. We promised that a Labour Government would extend social insurance over the widest field.
There was no temporizing over our political policy. "The Labour Party is a socialist party and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose at home is the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain - free, democratic, efficient, progressive, public-spirited, its material resources organized in the service of the British people."
At the meetings I subsequently addressed I saw the large numbers of servicemen and women in the audiences, representatives, who happened to be on leave, of thousands of their comrades. They were old in the art of war but had been children at the time of the previous election. I told myself and I told my colleagues that these people were making up their minds whatever we said, and that therefore what we said must match their intelligence.
Ernie Bevin could not stand Herbert Morrison, who had been a City boss when Bevin had been head of one of the biggest unions and the two had clashed. I would think that Bevin declared war on Morrison in the 1930s and that they were never going to come together. You could see his hackles rise every time, especially if Morrison tried to encroach on foreign affairs.
Morrison had emerged from the war with a good reputation as Home Secretary in the Coalition Government and he was a figure of sufficient seniority in the Party not to be denied. Attlee kept him at arm's length, did not trust him and was particularly averse to the strong rumours during one period that Morrison was maintaining a liaison with a woman MP, with whom he subsequently broke.
Herbert Morrison, Cabinet Minister and Party boss, I know better than most of the other Cabinet Ministers. Political strategy is Herbert's trump card. I do not believe his answer to the Communists will do other than help them - indirectly. A brilliant administrator, but a politician with no real answer to the world's present needs. He hates being opposed and, in fact, tends to be intolerant of opposition. Herbert has yet to learn that democracy gives to all - opponents as well as friends - the same freedoms. It seems to me that he fails to realise that Communism will be beaten only by those who have a sounder, more progressive, ideology, passion and faith, and certainly not by purges, which, being contrary to true freedom, make martyrs. Herbert hates the Communists so much that he can't see the wood for the trees. The Communist Party knows how to exploit the martyrs to their cause.
I told Morrison that in my opinion the Federal Republic, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries had not enough inner strength firmly to resist communist pressure from the East in the long run, unless the internal structure of Europe was consolidated once more and strengthened by the accession of Great Britain. If one day Soviet Russia called the tune in Western Europe it would also mean that England's strength had been weakened so much as to be no longer sufficient for commitments in the Commonwealth. It might be somewhat daring to say such a thing to a British Foreign Minister, but I felt that Great Britain had to stand on two legs, in Western Europe and in the rest of the world, and that if she was not firmly rooted in Western Europe she would in the long run be unable to fulfil her tasks in the rest of the world.
Morrison thought that it should be noted that Britain's present attitude to Europe represented an enormous step forward compared with past centuries, perhaps as great as that taken by the United States in its cooperation with other countries and continents. In the nineteenth century Great Britain did not feel herself a part of Europe. She had pursued a policy of the European balance of power, but had reserved the right to keep out of military conflicts or to intervene on either of two sides in a war that broke out in Europe, guided by the British interest and not that of the well-being of Europe. It was one of the consequences of this policy that in 1914 the Kaiser did not know until the last moment how Britain would behave in a conflict.
Today on the other hand Great Britain was in the Western Union, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a member of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation and of numerous other organizations. The defence contribution made by Great Britain at very great cost, not only for her own sake or for the defence of the Commonwealth but above all for the defence of Europe, could certainly stand comparison with that of any other Western European country. Great Britain was committed to the defence of Western Europe and had the full intention of meeting her obligations. On the other hand, it was a fact that Britain was an island and that was not the fault of the British; that was the way God had arranged things and the British had to make the best of it. Beyond this there were certain constitutional traditions in Great Britain that perhaps were not always understood on the continent of Europe.
In the end Herbert Morrison went down, partly because he grew old like all of us and partly because he fell victim to the politicians' disease of insisting upon having the best job going in terms of prestige. When Bevin retired, the best job going, next to the Prime Ministership, was that of Foreign Secretary, which he wanted partly for this reason and partly because of the possibility of it going to Aneurin Bevan whom he simply could not abide. This, alas, was the one job that Herbert Morrison was not fitted to do. He had bad luck of course - among other things he had the miserable business of Dr Mussadeq and the Persian nationalization of the Anglo-lranian Oil Company where, to put it mildly, neither he nor Britain were outstandingly helped by the Americans. However, everybody has varying kinds of luck, but I think it must be accounted here, even by one as indebted to him as I am, that Herbert Morrison simply was not cut out for foreign affairs, and his period at the Foreign Office was a disaster that clouded everything that had gone before. Looking back beyond these clouds that fell on Morrison at the end of his long political life, one can see him in his true stature. Of all those in the Labour movement whom I have known, I rate him as second only to Bevin in terms of political and human greatness.
Attlee's retirement and acceptance of an earldom on 7 December, 1955, came as quite a sudden surprise to all but his family and possibly one or two journalistic friends so far as I know.
I have been asked more than once if I feel that it is true that Attlee deferred retirement until it was over-late for me to succeed him. My answer has always been, regretfully but inevitably in view of the evidence, that this in my view is a correct interpretation. Quite apart from any considerations of my own future, both Attlee and the Party would probably have found it a wiser policy if he had retired after our defeat in 1951 - assuming that retirement from the House of Commons appealed to him. There were influential Labour M.P.s who talked to him on this line, and I was told by them that their point of view had found a receptive ear. They were presumably misled into believing taciturnity meant agreement.
Following Attlee's announcement of 8 December, 1955, the three candidates were nominated for the leadership - Bevan, Gaitskell and myself. Bevan later agreed to stand down in order to allow the unopposed election of myself if Gaitskell would also do so. This proposal was not accepted. The ballot result was announced on 14 December. Of the 267 votes cast, Gaitskell received 157, Bevan 70, and myself 40. The wishes of the Party were clear. After offering Gaitskell my congratulations I tendered my resignation as Deputy Leader.
Dalton and Morrison guided the National Executive during the 1930s. Of the two, Morrison was more powerful. His influence had a very solid basis. He had built up the London Labour Party to the point at which in 1934 it captured the LCC for the first time ever, an enormous boost to battered Labour morale. Thereafter, as Leader of the LCC majority, he was the exception among Labour's national leaders in that he was in a position of major executive power, and was able to prove his effectiveness in the day-to-day running of the metropolis.
For most of his life Morrison had been, in a literal sense, a professional politician. Born in Brixton in 1888, the son of a Tory policeman and a former housemaid, he left school at 14 to work as a Pimlico grocer's errand boy. An early interest in history and economics led him, via the ILP and the SDF, to Fabianism.
Despite blindness in one eye, which would have exempted him on medical grounds, Morrison declared himself a conscientious objector in 1914. In 1915 came the opportunity which soon established him as a major political force - he became part-time secretary of the London Labour Party at £1 per week, and within a few years had established himself as a figure of national importance in the Movement. After a term as mayor of Hackney he became MP for South Hackney in 1923. In Parliament, he gained a reputation as a vigorous debater of pragmatic views, a keen admirer of MacDonald, and a hammer of the ILP.
In 1929 MacDonald made him Minister of Transport. It was a successful appointment and one of great long-term significance. As Minister Morrison was responsible for drafting plans for a unified, publicly-owned London Transport. In the process he became firmly committed to the public corporation principle for nationalised industries, and the exclusion of direct labour representation on public boards. After the Government's fall, Morrison used all his influence on the NEC to ensure that this view became integral to Labour Party policy. His views on nationalisation reflected his attitude to party organisation - efficiency must take precedence over abstract theory. "We shall have to beware of the men who think that machinery and meetings do things of themselves," he wrote in 1933, "and we must remember at all times that industries cannot be run by committees, meetings and prolonged argument, but they must be managed and run by men of all grades with individual responsibilities which cannot await the convincing of a meeting and the conduct of lengthy arguments and negotiations.
Such a position was anathema to the TGWU, and Morrison prevailed only after some bitter clashes with Bevin and other leaders of the Transport workers. Bevin never forgave him, and the antagonism between the two continued into the post-war Labour Cabinet. This conflict with the most powerful figure in the trade union movement seriously undermined his claim to the leadership in the 1930s.
Yet he was regarded by many in all parties as Labour's most able leader. "He wants results", wrote one of his admirers. "He prods his lieutenants all the time for output ... Faced with something wrong, his immediate concern is to find the quickest way of getting it put right. Where another would postpone action to indulge in a moving exhortation to the people on the theme of injustice, Morrison would be at once immersed in a practical examination of the circumstances and the definition of remedies." (Maurice Webb MP)
When the possibility of broadening the National Government was raised during the thirties, Morrison's name was often mentioned as a possible recruit. This was partly because of his abilities; but also because of his frequently voiced intolerance of utopian approaches to socialism, which endeared him to politicians of the centre. "Socialism in our time is romantic rot", he allegedly told an East End audience in 1932. Deeply ambitious, he never came to terms with his defeat by Attlee in the Leadership contest of 1935, and continued to feel that the Leadership should, by rights, be his.