Richard Crossman

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The Right Honourable
Richard Crossman
Secretary of State for Social Services
In office
1 November 1968 – 19 June 1970
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Keith Joseph
Lord President of the Council
Leader of the House of Commons
In office
11 August 1966 – 18 October 1968
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Herbert Bowden
Succeeded by Fred Peart
Minister of Housing and Local Government
In office
16 October 1964 – 11 August 1966
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Keith Joseph
Succeeded by Tony Greenwood
Personal details
Born Richard Howard Stafford Crossman
(1907-12-15)15 December 1907
Cropredy, England
Died 5 April 1974(1974-04-05) (aged 66)
Banbury, England
Political party Labour
Alma mater New College, Oxford

Richard Howard Stafford Crossman OBE (15 December 1907 – 5 April 1974), sometimes known as Dick Crossman, was a British Labour Party politician and author who was a Cabinet Minister under Harold Wilson. A prominent socialist intellectual, he became one of the Labour Party's leading Zionists and anti-communists. Late in his life, Crossman was editor of the New Statesman, but is best known today for his posthumously published three-volume Diaries of a Cabinet Minister.

Early life

Crossman was born in either Cropredy, Oxfordshire,[1] or Bayswater, London,[2] the son of Helen Elizabeth (Howard) and Charles Stafford Crossman,[3] a judge, and grew up in Buckhurst Hill, Essex. He was educated at Twyford School, and at Winchester College, where he became head boy. He excelled academically and on the football field. He studied Classics at New College, Oxford, receiving a double first and becoming a fellow in 1931. He taught philosophy at the university before becoming a lecturer for the Workers' Educational Association. He was a councillor on Oxford City Council, and became head of the Labour group in 1935.

War service and after

At the outbreak of World War II Crossman joined the Political Warfare Executive under Robert Bruce Lockhart, where he headed the German Section.[4] He produced anti-Nazi propaganda broadcasts for Radio of the European Revolution, set up by the Special Operations Executive. He eventually became Assistant Chief of the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF and was awarded an OBE for his wartime service.[5] In the spring of 1945 he was one of the first British officers to enter the Dachau concentration camp.

Crossman co-wrote the script for German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, a British government documentary, produced by Sidney Bernstein and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, that showed gruelling scenes from Nazi concentration camps. The uncompleted film was shelved for decades before being assembled by scholars at the Imperial War Museum. It was the subject of a 2014 documentary, Night Will Fall.[6][7]

Crossman was one of the leading players at the Konigswinter conference that was organised by Lilo Milchsack that was credited with helping to heal the bad memories after the end of the Second World War. Crossman met the German politician Hans von Herwarth, the ex soldier Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin and future German President Richard von Weizsäcker and other leading German decision makers. The conference also included leading British decision makers like Dennis Healey and the journalist Robin Day.[8]

Political career

Crossman entered the House of Commons in 1945, as Member of Parliament (MP) for Coventry East, a seat he held until shortly before his death in 1974. During 1945–46 he served, on the nomination of the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, as a member of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry into the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine. The committee's report, submitted in April 1946, included a recommendation for 100,000 Jewish displaced persons to be permitted to enter Palestine. The recommendation was rejected by the British government, after which Crossman led the socialist opposition to the official British policy for Palestine. That incurred Bevin's enmity, and may have been the primary factor which prevented Crossman from achieving ministerial rank during the 1945–51 government. Crossman initially supported the Arab cause but after meeting Chaim Weizmann, he became a lifelong Zionist. In his diary, he described Weizmann as "one of the very few great men I have ever met."[9]

He was a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party from 1952 until 1967, and Chairman of the Labour Party in 1960–61. Crossman cemented his role as a leader of the left wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1947 by co-authoring the Keep Left pamphlet, and later became one of the more prominent Bevanites.

In 1957, Crossman joined Aneurin Bevan and Morgan Phillips in a controversial lawsuit for libel against The Spectator, which had described the men as drinking heavily during a socialist conference in Italy.[10] Having sworn that the charges were untrue, the three collected damages from the magazine. Many years later, Crossman's posthumously published diaries confirmed the truth of The Spectator's charges.[11]

Crossman was Labour's spokesman on Education before the 1964 general election, but upon forming the new Government Harold Wilson appointed Crossman Minister of Housing and Local Government. In 1966 he became Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons.

He was Secretary of State for Health and Social Services from 1968 to 1970, in which position he worked on an ambitious proposal to supplement Britain's flat state pension with an earnings-related element. The proposal had not, however, been passed into law at the time the Labour Party lost the 1970 general election. During the months of political turmoil that led up to the election loss, Crossman had been considered, however briefly, as a last-minute option to replace Wilson as Prime Minister.

Books and journalism

After the general election defeat, Crossman resigned from the Labour front bench in 1970 to become editor of the New Statesman, where he had been a frequent contributor and assistant editor from 1938 until 1955. He left the New Statesman in 1972.

Crossman was a prolific writer and editor. In Plato Today (1937) he imagines Plato visiting Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Plato criticises Nazi and communist politicians for misusing the ideas he had set forth in The Republic.[12] After the war, he edited The God That Failed (1949), a collection of anti-communist essays.

He is best remembered for his colourful and highly subjective three-volume Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, published posthumously from 1975 to 1977 and covering his time in government from 1964 to 1970. The diaries appeared after he had died, and following a legal battle by the government to block publication. One of Crossman's legal executors was Michael Foot, then a cabinet minister, who opposed his own government's attempts to suppress the diaries.[13] Among other things, the diaries describe his battles with "the Dame", his Permanent Secretary Evelyn Sharp, Baroness Sharp, GBE (1903–1985), the first woman in Britain to hold the position. Crossman's backbench diaries were published in 1981.

Crossman's diaries were an acknowledged source for the highly successful TV comedy series Yes Minister.[14][15]


Crossman died of liver cancer in April 1974 at his home in Oxfordshire.


The Civil Service is profoundly deferential – 'Yes, Minister! No, Minister! If you wish it, Minister!' [16]

Published works

  • Government and the Governed (A History of Political Ideas and Political Practice) London: Cristophers (1939)
  • Plato Today New York: Oxford University Press (1939)
  • Palestine Mission: A Personal Record New York: Harper (1947)
  • The God That Failed New York: Harper (1950) (editor)
  • The Politics of Socialism New York: Atheneum (1965)
  • The Myths of Cabinet Government Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1972)



  1. Dalyell, 2002
  2. Howard, 2008
  3. [1]
  4. Mayne, Richard (1 April 2003). In Victory, Magnanimity, in Peace, Goodwill. p. 6. ISBN 0-7146-5433-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37308. p. 5067. 12 October 1945. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  6. Jeffries, Stuart (9 January 2015). "The Holocaust film that was too shocking to show". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 31 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Long Life: Presiding Genius, Nigel Nicholson, 15 August 1992, The Spectator, Retrieved 28 November 2015]] ]
  9. Palestine and the Great Powers, 1945-1948, Michael J. Cohen
  10. "Messrs Bevan, Morgan Phillips and Richard Crossman...puzzled the Italians by their capacity to fill themselves like tanks with whisky and coffee... Although the Italians were never sure the British delegation were sober, they always attributed to them an immense political acumen." See Bose, Mihir, "Britain's Libel Laws: Malice Aforethought", History Today, 5 May, 2013.
  11. Roy Jenkins wrote of his former colleagues (in "Aneurin Bevan" in Portraits and Miniatures, 2011) that they "sailed to victory on the unfortunate combination of Lord Chief Justice Goddard's prejudice against the anti-hanging and generally libertarian Spectator of those days and the perjury of the plaintiffs, subsequently exposed in Crossman's endlessly revealing diaries." Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote (in The Guardian, 18 March 2000, "Lies and Libel"): "Fifteen years later, Crossman boasted (in my presence) that they had indeed all been toping heavily, and that at least one of them had been blind drunk." Mihir Bose (in "Britain's Libel Laws: Malice Aforethought", History Today, 5 May, 2013) quotes Bevan's biographer, John Campbell, to the effect that the case had destroyed the career of the young journalist involved, Jenny Nicholson.
  12. Goldhill, Simon, Love, Sex and Tragedy, U. Chicago Press, 2004, p. 202
  13. Anthony Howard Michael Foot: The last of a dying breed The Telegraph, 5 March 2010
  14. "Yes Minister Questions & Answers". Jonathan Lynn Official Website. Retrieved 6 September 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Crossman, Richard (1979). Diaries of a Cabinet Minister: Selections, 1964–70. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd. ISBN 0-241-10142-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Ratcliffe, Susan. "Richard Crossman (1907–74)". Oxford Index. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 18 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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