Richard Crossman

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Richard Crossman in 1936

Richard Howard Stafford Crossman (15 December 1907 – 5 April 1974), was a British Labour Party politician. A university classics lecturer by profession, he was elected a Member of Parliament in 1945 and became a Bevanite on the left of the party, and a long-serving member of Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) from 1952. He was a Cabinet minister in Harold Wilson's governments of 1964–1970, first for Housing, then as Leader of the House of Commons, and then for Social Services. In the early 1970s he was editor of the New Statesman. Crossman was a significant figure among the party's advocates of Zionism.

Crossman is remembered for his highly revealing three-volume Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, published posthumously.


  • The spirit of the youth movement still inspires many of the young officers in the labour camps and fills many students with the belief that they are digging the foundation of a new German Socialism, not of the town and the machine but of the fields and the spade.
    • BBC radio broadcast after his visit to Germany (2 May 1934), quoted in Anthony Howard, Crossman: The Pursuit of Power (1990), p. 42
  • To realise that the socialist society is not the norm, evolved by material conditions, but the exception, imposed on immoral society by human will and social conscience, is not to emasculate our socialism, but to set ourselves a challenge.
    • "Introduction", New Fabian Essays (1952), p. 15
  • Profits, wages and salaries are still determined not by any conditions of national interest or social justice, but by the traditional methods of laisser-faire. Under conditions of full employment, this must result in a continuous inflationary pressure, which undermines the real value of social security and small savings, as well as making our products less competitive in foreign markets and so jeopardising our capacity to maintain the standard of living.
    • "Introduction", New Fabian Essays (1952), pp. 26–27
  • The main task of socialism to-day is to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of either industrial management or the state bureaucracy—in brief, to distribute responsibility and so to enlarge freedom of choice.
    • "Introduction", New Fabian Essays (1952), p. 27
  • After all, it is not the pursuit of happiness but the enlargement of freedom which is socialism's aim.
    • "Introduction", New Fabian Essays (1952), p. 29
  • Your proposals are in fact far more revolutionary in their effects than an electoral promise to nationalise ICI and most of engineering. If I was perverse, I would say that they are diabolically and cunningly left-wing and Nye [Bevan] should have been clever enough to think them up. But you put them forward as ways of ensuring a calm evolution towards higher living standards and more personal freedom.
    • Letter to Anthony Crosland on his book The Future of Socialism (23 October 1956), quoted in Martin Francis, ‘Mr Gaitskell's Ganymede? Re‐assessing Crosland's The Future of Socialism’, Contemporary British History, Volume 11, Issue 2 (1997), p. 62
  • The last ten years have proved that the most backward totalitarian form of Socialism is superior to the decadent type of Capitalism we have in the Western World.
    • Letter to The Guardian (1 December 1961), quoted in Bryan Magee, The New Radicalism (1963), p. 102, n.
  • I suppose that as the virtues of our new comprehensives gradually become more widely known, the middle classes will get over the guilt that makes them pay so heavily for private schooling long after they have given up paying for private hospitalization. But I have no doubt that an ever-increasing number of young parents would be happier if a wicked socialist government compelled them to give up freedom of educational choice and accept compulsory state schooling for their sons and daughters.
    • 'Good education and the high cost of guilt', The Times (25 April 1973), p. 18

Diaries of a Cabinet Minister[edit]

Volume 1[edit]

  • I was appointed Minister of Housing on Saturday, October 17th, 1964. Now it is only the 22nd but, oh dear, it seems a long, long time. It also seems as though I had transferred myself completely to this new life as a Cabinet Minister. In a way it's just the same as I had expected and predicted. The room in which I sit is the same in which I saw Nye Bevan for almost the first time when he was Minister of Health, and already I realize the tremendous effort it requires not to be taken over by the Civil Service. My Minister's room is like a padded cell, and in certain ways I am like a person who is suddenly certified a lunatic and put safely into this great, vast room, cut off from real life and surrounded by male and female trained nurses and attendants. When I am in a good mood they occasionally allow an ordinary human being to come and visit me; but they make sure that I behave right, and that the other person behaves right; and they know how to handle me. Of course, they don't behave quite like nurses because the Civil Service is profoundly deferential – "Yes, Minister! No, Minister! If you wish it, Minister!" and combined with this there is a constant preoccupation to ensure that the Minister does what is correct. The Private Secretary's job is to make sure that when the Minister comes into Whitehall he doesn't let the side or himself down and behaves in accordance with the requirements of the institution.
    It's also profoundly true that one has only to do absolutely nothing whatsoever in order to be floated forward on the stream. I have forgotten what day it was – indeed, the whole of my life in the last four days has merged into one, curious, single day – when I turned to my Private Secretary, George Moseley, and said, "Now, you must teach me how to handle all this correspondence." And he sat opposite me with his owlish eyes and said to me, "Well, Minister, you see there are three ways of handling it. A letter can either be answered by you personally, in your own handwriting; or we can draft a personal reply for you to sign; or, if the letter is not worth your answering personally, we can draft an official answer." "What’s an official answer?" I asked. "Well, it says the Minister has received your letter and then the Department replies. Anyway, we'll draft all three variants," said Mr Moseley, "and if you just tell us which you want…" "How do I do that?" I asked. "Well, you put all your in-tray into your out-tray," he said, "and if you put it in without a mark on it then we deal with it and you need never see it again."
  • I say to myself that I mustn't let myself be cut off in there, and yet the moment I enter my bag is taken out of my hand, I'm pushed in, shepherded, nursed and above all cut off, alone... Whitehall envelops me.

Quotes about Richard Crossman[edit]

  • His achievements were really astonishingly few. He was proudest of his part, at some cost to his own career, in helping to force the British government to recognise the state of Israel. Zionism was one cause to which he remained devoted all his life; the last project on which he was working at the time of his death was a life of Weizman. From the perspective of 1990, however, it looks much less obviously a good cause than it seemed in 1948.
    • John Campbell, 'When brilliance is not enough', The Times Saturday Review (3 November 1990), p. 27
  • In 1946 a little pamphlet was published under the provocative title A Palestine Munich?, and a true period piece it is. Its authors were R.H.S. Crossman and Michael Foot, two clever Oxford men who were newly elected Labour MPs. ... Foot and Crossman pronounced that curse upon the Attlee government, for betraying the Zionist cause as Chamberlain had betrayed the Czechs.
    What's so remarkable from today's vantage point is that Crossman and Foot were not only Labour men but very much on the left of the party. And yet that was unremarkable at the time.

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