Rab Butler

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Conservatives were planning before the word entered the vocabulary of political jargon.

Richard Austen Butler, Baron Butler of Saffron Walden, KG, CH, DL, PC (9 December 19028 March 1982), who invariably signed his name R. A. Butler and was familiarly known as Rab, was a British Conservative politician. 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 (Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary) but never to have achieved the Premiership, for which he was twice passed over.


  • Many a time I have sat in the jungle in Central India watching a bait, in the form of a bullock or calf tied to a tree, awaiting the arrival of the lord of the forest, and put there as a trap to entice him to his doom. On this occasion, I have exactly the same feelings as those of the miserable animal whom I have so often looked upon in that position, and, if I compare myself to that bait, I may compare my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to the tiger. I hope that hon. Members and the right hon. Gentleman himself will remember, however, that there is waiting for the tiger a pair of lynx eyes and a sure and safe rifle to ensure his ultimate fate.
  • What struck me at the League was the prestige in which our Government and our Prime Minister are held. What has struck hon. Members who have listened to this Debate is the fact that public opinion in the dictator countries has conceived a profound admiration for our Prime Minister and our country. Our country, therefore, is the country which is in a priceless position for securing the future of peace...It seems to me that we have two choices either to settle our differences with Germany by consultation, or to face the inevitability of a clash between the two systems of democracy and dictatorship. In considering this, I must emphatically give my opinion as one of the younger generation. War settles nothing, and I see no alternative to the policy upon which the Prime Minister has so courageously set himself—the construction of peace, with the aid which I have described. There is no other country which can achieve this, and I ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite sincerely to believe that in our efforts to understand, to consult with and, if possible, to get friendship with Germany, we do not abandon by one jot or tittle the democratic beliefs which are the very core of our whole being and system. In conclusion, I must gratify the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield by quoting Shakespeare. The right hon. Gentleman will remember the little poem "Under the Greenwood Tree"—"Here shall he see" "No enemy," "But winter and rough weather". We have the winter before us, and we have a great deal of political rough weather, but in that rough weather, do not let us forget the joint idea of peace which animates us all.
  • 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[hamberlain], 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.
    • John Colville's diary entry for 10 May 1940, The Fringes of Power. Downing Street Diaries. 1939-1955 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. 122.
  • We must recognise that the absolutely free working of such a system cannot now be accepted. We are living too closely knit a structure of society in which the very complication of our immense programme of social reform and industrial development necessitates strong powers being retained at the centre. It will be necessary to use the organising power and majesty of the State in a variety of ways. The State will have to be the grand arbiter between competing interests.
    • Fundamental Issues (Conservative Political Centre, 1946), p. 7.
  • Tories and others set about the task of dealing with the social consequences of the Industrial Revolution by calling upon the power of Government to redress injustice...[The State] assumed the functions of protecting the common interest and safeguarding the interests of the weaker members of society.
    • About the Industrial Charter (Conservative Political Centre, 1947), pp. 4-5.
  • The term "planning" is a new word for coherent and positive policy. The conception of strong Government policy in economic matters is, I believe, the very centre of the Conservative tradition. We have never been a party of laissez-faire.
    • About the Industrial Charter (Conservative Political Centre, 1947), p. 6.
  • Conservatives were planning before the word entered the vocabulary of political jargon.
    • About the Industrial Charter (Conservative Political Centre, 1947), pp. 6-7.
  • We should emerge from the rearmament period with inadequate reserves, with no assurance of further U.S. aid, with our export markets reduced, with a continuous and possibly increased claim on our resources for defence, with German and Japanese competition at full blast and finally, with industrial efficiency in a relatively worse position compared with the United States than it is now.
    • Butler as Chancellor of the Exchequer (30 November 1951), quoted in Correlli Barnett, The Verdict of Peace. Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future (Pan, 2002), p. 1.
  • There are great economic opportunities ahead of us. If we are sensible, we can have rising production and rising standards of living without constantly rising prices. Why should we not aim to double our standard of living in the next 20 years, and still have our money as valuable then as now? The faster we modernize and expand our productive capacity, the more we shall be able to increase the national wealth.
    • Speech to the quarterly meeting of the National Production Advisory Council on Industry (28 May 1954), quoted in The Times (29 May 1954), p. 3
  • We want to keep prices stable for two reasons—to hold on to our share of world markets, and to avoid strains and dislocations at home. We are probably entering a period when it will be more difficult to keep prices from rising. It is a matter for both sides of industry to see that increased money returns, either dividends or wages, are matched by increased output.
    • Speech to the quarterly meeting of the National Production Advisory Council on Industry (28 May 1954), quoted in The Times (29 May 1954), p. 3
  • In the past three years we have burned our identity cards, torn up our ration books, halved the number of snoopers, decimated the number of forms and said good riddance to nearly two-thirds of the remaining wartime regulations. This is the march to freedom on which we are bound. And the pace must quicken as we go forward...Within the limits of law and social justice, our aim is freedom for every man and woman to live their own lives in their own way and not have their lives lived for them by an overweening State.
    • Speech in Gloucester (10 July 1954), quoted in R. A. Butler, The Art of the Possible (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1971), p. 173.
  • Truly Conservative policies [are] freeing markets, freeing the economy, giving the economy buoyancy, moving to liberty and the desirable goal of freeing payments and trade.
    • Speech at the Conservative Party conference of 1954, quoted in Ralph Harris, Politics Without Prejudice. A Political Appreciation of The Rt. Hon. Richard Austen Butler C.H., M.P. (London: Staples Press, 1956), p. 159.
  • Conservatives have always been ready to use the power of the State.
    • Our Way Ahead (Conservative Political Centre, 1956), p. 10.

About Rab Butler[edit]

  • Nigel Ronald...who represents one very definite section of opinion in the F[oreign] O[ffice], told me he thought Rab Butler a public danger, flabby in person and morally and mentally as well; a young man whose whole influence was that of an old one, whose inclination was to put a break on all initiative.
    • John Colville's diary entry for 11 May 1940, The Fringes of Power. Downing Street Diaries. 1939-1955 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. 124.
  • Butler, of course, is sub-human.
    • Evelyn Waugh to Ann Fleming (18 July 1963), Mark Amory (ed.), The Letters of Evelyn Waugh (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980), p. 610.

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