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Crossman Diaries Reveal

Labour Leaders in a Different World!

(December 1975)

From Militant, No. 384, 2 December 1977, p. 5.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Crossman diaries are supposed to be an insight into the workings of government and the process of decision making. What they in fact reveal is:

The diaries describe the jostling for positions, the plotting and general lack of principle of some of the careerists and place-seekers who entered Labour Cabinets between 1964 and 1970.

The glaring insights into what right wing Labour leaders say in the privacy of 10 Downing Street as opposed to Labour Party Conferences provides a devastating exposure of their real attitudes and motivation. For instance Crossman wrote on Wednesday May 29, 1968:

“I stayed behind [after a Cabinet meeting] to discuss with the PM. Mr Callaghan’s notorious speech to the fireman’s union ... He had apparently told them without any qualification that there would be no more legislation on incomes and prices. Harold said ‘That fellow’s getting above himself. We much teach him a lesson. I will do so after Cabinet tomorrow.’”

It was a bit different from his “10% only” strictures to the firemen today! Well Crossman had no doubt about the reasons for Callaghan’s attitude to the firemen in 1968. He tells about a meeting he says he had with him over some drinks in the smoking room that same evening.

“I added, rather maliciously: ‘This is the electioneering season, of course, for the seats on the National Executive. Last year in order to get the trade union vote you knifed Michael Stewart in the back when he was trying to do the prices and incomes policy at the DEA. Now you seem to be knifing Barbara [Castle] in the back.’ ... At this point his temper began to rise: ‘How often did you or Barbara knife me in the back in those three years when I was Chancellor? I’ve never forgotten how, time after time, you went behind my back to the Prime Minister and tried to destroy me. You got your own way against me. Why shouldn’t I get my own back?’”

If Crossman’s account of this incredible outburst is true then the veil of solemn statesmanship is torn away to reveal the childish tantrums of a man who is now Prime Minister of Britain. If it is not true, then the fact that it was written at all would indicate the cynical Byzantine scheming of an equally experienced Government Minister. Either way, it is not exactly an attractive advertisement for a socialist movement.

The diaries are full of instances of this kind, involving many members of the Cabinet. Principle and policy, not to mention socialism, are pushed into the background. Like the courts of medieval Kings, they try to out-manoeuvre one another and curry favour with those they think can give them a leg up the ladder to power and privilege, or at least keep the rung they already hold.

At the time when the debate was raging throughout the labour movement over ‘In Place of Strife’, that infamous attempt by the right wing labour leaders to shackle the trade unions by restrictive and punitive legislation, while the living standards of the working class were being held back as a result of incomes policy, Crossman alleged that Barbara Castle and her husband, together with the Crossmans, were cruising in a luxury yacht provided by Sir Charles Forte. This prominent member of the ruling class owns a number of the hotels and restaurants that have been involved in union recognition disputes recently, where his management have tried to deny their workers democratic rights to join the labour movement. Crossman’s entries on April 14 and May 23, 1969, describe this trip.

“On Thursday we are off to Italy for our holiday. Barbara is tremendously keen to keep it a secret that we are going on Charles Forte’s yacht [I wonder why? – RA], so we are simply saying we are going to a villa near Rome ... When we got to Rome last night there were two cars waiting for us and a very sleek Café Royal waiter, Gino, waiting for us who had been specially flown out to look after us. Gorgeous vessel. We had wonderful food, wonderful drink, every comfort laid on.”

There are a number of revealing entries about the date and preparation for the 1970 General Election.

Wednesday April 29, 1970: “At Management Committee we talked about electoral prospects. He [Harold Wilson] began of course by saying that one had to consider all the practical possibilities and at inordinate length he discussed the timing of the South African cricket tour, the timing of the Wakes Weeks, the timing of the Coventry shutdown week, not forgetting the World Cup at the end of June. These were the major factors that were to decide the date and possibility of victory. Past failure and future policy are hardly featured at all.”


Sunday June 14, 1970: “We have given them three years of hell and high taxes. They’ve seen the failure of devaluation and felt the soaring cost of living.”

Sunday June 7, 1970: “He [Harold Wilson] has dispensed with practically all policy and there is no manifesto because there are no serious commitments at all.”

Another example of the contempt some right wing ministers have for the party they claim to represent is revealed in a conversation that Crossman allegedly had with Roy Jenkins on March 23, 1970.

“Roy said he never finds Birmingham quite as depressing as I find Coventry. But I remember Jennifer [Roy Jenkin’s wife]. She said to him ‘You haven’t canvassed there for 24 years.’”

It must be awful for these jolly nice chaps to have to occasionally spend time in that depressing environment in which millions of workers have to spend their whole lives.

Never mind, it’s back to reality in an entry dated July 13:

“At a reception at Lancaster House I met two people from Nuneaton. They said to me: ‘We are just ordinary comrades, somebody slipped and asked us to come and we wondered what we were doing here. Isn’t this the kind of party the Tories hold?’ ‘Well yes,’ I said, ‘I should say that 98% of the guests would be here whatever party was in power. This is an establishment party, it’s true.’” And what was the advice Crossman gave to the two comrades? “’Let’s be grateful for it and have a drink together.’”

That last remark shows how many Labour Members of Parliament quickly adapt themselves socially – and politically – to the needs of the ruling class.

Once again the capitalists had succeeded in tearing up Labour’s Manifesto and foisting pro-capitalist policies on a pliable Labour government. The election was lost but, no matter as far as ex-Cabinet Ministers were concerned, their lifestyles went happily on. It was the mass of the working people who had to face the onslaught from Selsdon man.

Perhaps the clearest self-condemnation is Crossman’s description of his farewell to the Queen:

“I asked her whether she minded elections. She said ‘Yes, it means knowing a lot of new people.’ I suppose that’s it. She doesn’t notice that much difference between Conservative and Labour and for her all this simply means that just when he has begun to know us she had to meet another terrible lot of politicians.”

Conditions determine consciousness. Just as the plush lifestyle of the Labour leaders is a million miles removed from the reality of working class living conditions, so are their political aims entirely different from those of the labour movement. Workers join the Labour Party to fight for the socialist transformation of society, the right wing’s reforms remain firmly within the bounds of capitalism.

It is time the Labour Party put its own house in order. A thorough-going socialist programme must be adopted by the party – a programme that would sweep away the contrasts of opulent wealth and poverty, the privilege and corruption forever. And only those who are prepared to make sacrifices and struggle for a socialist society should be entrusted with leadership.

The party must safeguard its socialist aims and ideals by electing all officials and representatives, subject to the right of instant recall. These representatives should receive no more than the average wage of a skilled worker plus necessary expenses audited by the movement. They must give a written undertaking to carry out the party policy democratically decided by Party conference. Then we will have a fighting, socialist leadership we can be proud of.

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Last updated: 9 April 2016