Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Uproar in Parliament

‘Uproar in Parliament and a great demonstration in favour of the blockade. I have quite a rough passage - a most unaccustomed experience in these days - at Question Time.’ This is from the diary of Hugh Dalton, a Labour politician and economist born 130 years ago today, who served in Winston Churchill’s war cabinet. He kept a diary first during his WWI service, and used it to publish a book about his experiences on the Italian front. In later years, he published three volumes of autobiography each one underpinned by his diaries; and, after his death, the diary texts were edited for publication by Ben Pimlott.

Dalton was born in Neath, Wales, on 16 August 1887, to John Neale Dalton, a clergyman, and his wife Catherine Evan-Thomas. They had married the previous year, and the diarist A. C. Benson - see A C Benson’s inner life - had been John Dalton’s best man. John Dalton was later a chaplain and tutor in Queen Victoria’s royal household. Hugh Dalton was educated at Eton, King’s College, Cambridge, where he was president of the university’s Fabian Society, and the London School of Economics. He was called to the bar in 1914, and married Ruth Fox the same year. Their only child died aged but four in 1922.

During WWI, Dalton joined the Army Service Corps, but later transferred to the Royal Artillery, serving as a lieutenant on the French and Italian fronts. After the war, he returned to teach first at LSE then at the University of London, succeeding to Reader in Economics from 1925 to 1935. Earlier, though, in 1924, he had entered Parliament as member for Peckham (after having failed to be elected in three previous elections). In 1925, his wife, Ruth, was elected a member of the London County Council. She served briefly in Parliament, as MP for Bishop Auckland in County Durham, following a by-election, but then stood down - as planned - after only 90 days in favour of her husband at the 1929 general election (Dalton himself was not available to stand at the time of the by-election).

Dalton rose in the Labour ranks, becoming under-secretary at the Foreign Office in Ramsay MacDonald’s second government from 1929-1931, but then lost his seat in 1931, to be re-elected in 1935. The same year, he published an influential assessment of future options for the Labour Party - Practical Socialism for Britain. He was appointed spokesman on foreign affairs, and helped move the Labour Party away from pacifism towards a policy of armed deterrence. He strongly opposed Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement.

During Churchill’s coalition government, Dalton served as Minister of Economic Warfare from 1940, establishing the Special Operations Executive, and from 1942 as President of the Board of Trade (the future Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell acting as his principal private secretary). When Labour was unexpectedly returned to power in 1945, Dalton wished to become Foreign Secretary, but Prime Minister Clement Atlee made him Chancellor of the Exchequer. On mishandling the sterling crisis of 1947, Dalton resigned, but was later reinstated into the cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1950-1951, he was minister of town and country planning. He was created Baron Dalton of Forest and Frith in 1960; and he died in 1962.

Ben Pimlott gives this assessment of Dalton in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required): ‘Hugh Dalton’s legacy was diffuse and controversial. Though he had devoted friends, he made many enemies, often in his own party. [. . .]  His influence on British political history and Labour Party ideas bears comparison with that of any other Labour politician who did not become prime minister. As an intellectual he was important in developing Fabian thought, and in helping to give it a hard economic edge. As a politician he was both a powerful and determined advocate and a back-room expert, who was personally responsible for many of the key Labour Party documents of the 1930s and war period, setting the scene for the post-war Attlee government. As chancellor of the exchequer his policies helped to facilitate an ambitious domestic reform programme, in the most adverse conditions. Meanwhile, he talent-spotted and nurtured several generations of young political aspirants. The grouping later known as the Gaitskellites emerged from the circle of his younger friends. In addition to Hugh Gaitskell himself, Anthony Crosland, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, George Brown, and James Callaghan were among those who learned from him and benefited from his practical help. [. . .] More than many political leaders, he was consistent in his thinking. More than most, he took a close, professional interest both in political ideas and in the details of the policies he supported. A member of the second generation of Labour leaders, he played an important part in giving his party the intellectual confidence not only to make it electable, but also to make it effective.’ Further information can also be found at Wikipedia.

Dalton began keeping a diary during his WWI army days, and continued doing so for much of his life. On returning from the war, Methuen published With British Guns in Italy: A tribute to the Italian achievement. Dalton says in his preface: ‘This little book of mine is only an account, more or less in the form of a Diary, of what one British soldier saw and felt, who served for eighteen months on the Italian Front as a Subaltern officer in a Siege Battery. But it was my luck to see a good deal during that time. Mine had been the first British Battery to come into action and open fire on the Italian Front. And, as my story will show, it was either the first or among the first on most other important occasions, except in the Caporetto retreat, and then it was the last. I have camouflaged the names of all persons mentioned throughout the book, except those of Cabinet Ministers, Generals and a few other notabilities.’ Although Dalton refers to it as a diary, it is no such thing, since it reads as a continuous narrative and there are no dated entries. The full text is available at Internet Archive.

Much later in his life, Dalton used (and quoted from) his diaries extensively to write three volumes of autobiography, all published by Frederick Muller: Call Back Yesterday (1887-1931) in 1953, The Fateful Years (1931-1945) in 1957, and High Tide and After (1945-1960) in 1962. In the introduction to the first, he states, ‘I have quoted a good deal from my diaries’ and ‘much that is not direct quotation’ is based on the diaries. All three works are long out of print. More recently - well in 1986 - Jonathan Cape published two volumes of extracts from the diaries as edited by Ben Pimlott: The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45 and The Political Diary of Hugh Dalton 1918-40, 1945-60.

In an Editorial Note to the former, Pimlott provides background on the diary: ‘For most of his life, Dalton wrote his diary in longhand, using small notebooks or, later on, loose sheets. Between 1937 and 1947, however - including the whole period covered by this book - his habit was to dictate the diary to a secretary. Hence almost all of the original diary for the Second World War is in typescript. There was only one draft. Dalton would read through what had been typed, and make occasional corrections. What makes the diary for the Coalition years different from earlier and later material - and so requiring separate treatment - is partly its sheer bulk (during his years of wartime ministerial office. Dalton produced almost as much diary as for the rest of his life put together); partly the regularity of wartime entries, with a record for almost every day (the main exceptions are holidays and trips); and partly a difference of arrangement that is a product of size, regularity and the pace of the events described. Instead of occasional reflections, and episodes widely dispersed, there is a continuity of plot and subplot, with far more detail and, very often, a close examination of policy.

Why did he write so much? Dalton engaged in one form of writing or another throughout his career, and during this period of intense activity, the diary became his main literary outlet. It is likely that his first, war book was somewhere in his mind, and that he saw the diary as the basis for some future publication. A sense of history, and of history being made, pervades his record of the war years. On one occasion, Dalton discussed diary-keeping with another compulsive diarist Harold Nicolson, and both agreed that their proudest boast would be that they had served in Mr Churchill’s Government.’

Here are several extracts from the same volume.

25 March 1941
‘Uproar in Parliament and a great demonstration in favour of the blockade. I have quite a rough passage - a most unaccustomed experience in these days - at Question Time. Outcry from all sections of the House. They are shocked at recent press revelations of trade through Marseilles and at navicerting of American food ships. Really, of course, they should shout at the Admiralty, the Foreign Office and the P.M.! I have it put about that only a very simple-minded person would think that I ask the Admiralty not to stop these ships, or that I ask Halifax to persuade Roosevelt to send the food ships! There is some perturbation among my advisers over this demonstration, but on the whole I welcome it and it strengthens my hand for the Cabinet this week.’

29 March 1941
‘On top of the world! First news of naval battle in Eastern Mediterranean. In this phase the war goes fast our way. It may reverse a bit later, but never mind that.’ 

5 July 1941
‘In the small hours of this morning, both of us having returned and done some more work, Gladwyn suggests that I might explore with Eden the possibility of Leeper returning to the Foreign Office and Loxley taking his place at C.H.Q., the whole show being then coordinated under one head, as I had so often told him I wanted. I said this would be rather difficult to handle but I would see how things went. It would be an admirable solution, for almost every reason. . .

To C.H.Q. in time for lunch. I make a row about the Italian Prisoners of War in India and how they are to be approached. I say that I will exercise my own judgment on these drafts and clean them up. It is silly to say that there should be ‘no propaganda’. The practical question is, is it worth while to try to recruit a Free Italian force? Probably Martelli should be the conducting officer.’

6 July 1941
‘Return by way of Chingford, where I speak in P.M.’s constituency. I make a good speech and get off most successfully with the lady Mayor of Chingford and, even more important, Sir James Hawkey, Chairman of the P.M.’s constituency organisation, who hated Neville Chamberlain and the old Tory machine and with whom I exchange various political reminiscences, designed to bring out the undoubted fact that it was the Labour Party which determined the change of Government leading to Churchill becoming P.M., and also that I played some personal role in this.’

13 February 1944
‘Address a public meeting at Battersea. This has been well advertised and is reasonably well attended. But I dislike very much addressing public meetings now. One feels held upon a chain with a row of reporters sitting waiting to pounce upon unguarded phrases. Hinley Atkinson is there and we walk back together, after tea with Douglas and his wife. Atkinson quite understands my feelings. The audience, he says, are always waiting for “those few reckless words” which would warm them up but would make most disastrous headlines. He is a very strong supporter of Maurice Webb for the secretaryship of the Party. I still feel, however, that he can’t get it.’

24 February 1944
‘Lunch with Mrs Phillimore and two Frenchmen. One, recently arrived from France, says that ‘the resistance’ is not divided into political parties but is more prepared, probably, than we in England for large changes after the war, both in the direction of European ‘federation’ - in loose form, e.g. unification of currency, transport services, etc. - and internally in Socialist direction, especially through public ownership of heavy industry. He thinks Germany should be admitted from the start to any new international organisation, but with very low status, this only being raised to that of other members gradually and in accord with German good behaviour. He thinks countries on the Atlantic seaboard will be much more stable and closely bound to England than anything to the east. He is not hopeful about south-east Europe.

Afterwards I go back with Attlee, who says that he and others today protested to the P.M. about last night’s pandemonium in Cabinet and the impossible position in which our officials were now placed. P.M. said he thought we were really all agreed on three things: (1) no return to the gold standard, (2) no abolition, or even reduction, of Imperial Preference, except in return for sufficient tariff concessions by Americans, and (3) no increase in the price of food by taxation. He inveighed again, with great emphasis, on this third point. Anderson said that these three points would suit him and the P.M. said he would issue a short Minute.’

6 June 1944
‘The Invasion of France began today at first light. It is very hard to think or speak of anything else. But I have, very unwillingly, to give my mind to preparing my speech for the House of Commons tomorrow on Location of Industry, which is being raised on the Board of Trade vote. I spend all day on this. As usual, the trouble is that one has, not too little material, but much too much.’

23 June 1944
‘Awakened at 2 a.m. by flying bombs and one comes fairly close when I am in my bath at 9 a.m.!

Lunch at Soviet Embassy, with Sir Thomas Barlow, in celebration of his services in providing clothing for the Soviet civilians. Gusev still very slow and tongue-tied, but it is not true to say that he won’t speak English.

Leave for West Leaze with Bob Fraser. Train is very crowded and the morale of some of the passengers is not high. It is sensible that any one not now working in London should, if they conveniently can, get out and stay out.’

4 July 1944
‘Answering P.Q.s. I get the House entirely on my side and dissolved in laughter by saying in reply to a Supplementary, that ‘I understand that a “physiotherapist” is what we used, in old-days, to call a masseuse.’ Then follows a discussion whether there is not some equally good simple English word for both. I invite suggestions and there are cries of ‘rubbers’.’

29 October 1944
‘Today we hold one of our ‘Secret Meetings’ of the National Executive and the Labour War Cabinet Ministers at Howard’s Hotel. As usual most are quite sensible. Our Declaration that we shall fight the next election as an independent Party has had soothing effects everywhere. Bevin coming in, as usual, very late, says that he can hardly believe his ears. He thought ministers were all supposed to be chained to the Coalition ‘and captives of the Tories’, but here today everyone is saying we must not hurry the election or the break-up of the Government and everyone, except Shinwell, says that we ought to get the Social Insurance Bill through before the Parliament ends. And this, indeed, is the general mood. I say I also want to get a Location of Industry Bill through. Unless we get Social Insurance through, the Tories will use it as bait for the electors; if we do get it through we can say that, but for us, nothing nearly so good would have been put forward; and in any case it is right to get it through, regardless of party politics.’

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