Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Cripps, Sir Richard Stafford (1889–1952)

British politician and diplomat, ambassador to the Soviet Union (1940–1942), and chancellor of the exchequer (1947–1950). Born in London on 24 April 1889, Richard Stafford Cripps was the son of a barrister, Conservative politician, and eventual Labour peer. Educated at Winchester College and University College, London, he was called to the bar in 1913.

During World War I Cripps drove an ambulance and later ran a munitions factory, suffering a physical breakdown that permanently affected his health. Cripps, who eventually became a vegetarian teetotaler, had an austere reputation. He had a successful legal career and in 1927 became Britain's youngest king's counsel.

Originally a Christian Socialist, in 1929 Cripps joined the Labour Party, and in January 1931 he became solicitor general under Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. The following October, Cripps refused to join the coalition National Government and soon became a leading Labour Party left-winger, advocating a united front with the Communist Party, which was considered so radical that in 1939 the Labour Party expelled him. Visiting Russia in 1940, Cripps justified the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 23 August 1939 on the grounds that the hostility of the Western democracies toward the Soviet Union had left it no other choice. Appointed British ambassador to Moscow in June 1940, he encountered little warmth from Soviet officials until after the June 1941 German invasion, when he speedily negotiated an Anglo-Soviet mutual assistance agreement.

Effectively sidelined in Moscow by top visiting British government officials, Cripps returned to London in January 1942 as Lord Privy Seal and a war cabinet member. He promptly headed a mission to India, unsuccessfully seeking to negotiate an agreement with Indian nationalists whereby they would support the British war effort in exchange for postwar self-government. In November 1942 Cripps left the war cabinet to become minister of aircraft production and remained in this position until 1945.

Appointed president of the Board of Trade by Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee in July 1945, in the spring of 1946 Cripps headed another abortive mission to India, which sought but failed to avoid the dominion's eventual bloody 1947 partition into Muslim and Hindu states. In November 1947 Cripps, already a noted exponent of economic austerity, became chancellor of the exchequer, where he emphasized export growth and capital investment at the expense of satisfying British consumers. Although excluded by illness from the original cabinet decision, in September 1949 Cripps announced a major sterling devaluation, a measure he had previously pledged himself against and still disliked, that further damaged his reputation. Seriously ill with tuberculosis and cancer and besieged by cabinet rivals, in October 1950 he resigned. Cripps died in Zurich, Switzerland, on 21 April 1952.

Priscilla Roberts


Further Reading
Burgess, Simon. Stafford Cripps: A Political Life. London: Gollancz, 1999.; Clarke, Peter. The Cripps Version: The Life of Sir Stafford Cripps, 1889–1952. London: Allen, Lane, 2002.; Gorodetsky, Gabriel. Stafford Cripps Mission to Moscow, 1940–42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.; Moore, R. J. Churchill, Cripps, and India, 1949–1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.
 

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