Rab Butler

British Conservative politician (1902–1982)

Richard Austen Butler, Baron Butler of Saffron Walden, KG, CH, DL, PC (9 December 19028 March 1982), also known as R. A. Butler, was a British Conservative politician. Butler was passed over twice as a potential Prime Minister, but did serve in the other three Great Offices of State (Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary).

Rab Butler (1963)

Quotes edit

Under Secretary of State for India edit

  • Many a time I have sat in the jungle in Central India watching a bait, in the form of a bullock or calf tied to a tree, awaiting the arrival of the lord of the forest, and put there as a trap to entice him to his doom. On this occasion, I have exactly the same feelings as those of the miserable animal whom I have so often looked upon in that position, and, if I compare myself to that bait, I may compare my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to the tiger. I hope that hon. Members and the right hon. Gentleman himself will remember, however, that there is waiting for the tiger a pair of lynx eyes and a sure and safe rifle to ensure his ultimate fate.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on Indian Constitutional Reform (29 March 1933)

Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs edit

  • What struck me at the League was the prestige in which our Government and our Prime Minister are held. What has struck hon. Members who have listened to this Debate is the fact that public opinion in the dictator countries has conceived a profound admiration for our Prime Minister and our country. Our country, therefore, is the country which is in a priceless position for securing the future of peace...It seems to me that we have two choices either to settle our differences with Germany by consultation, or to face the inevitability of a clash between the two systems of democracy and dictatorship. In considering this, I must emphatically give my opinion as one of the younger generation. War settles nothing, and I see no alternative to the policy upon which the Prime Minister has so courageously set himself—the construction of peace, with the aid which I have described. There is no other country which can achieve this, and I ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite sincerely to believe that in our efforts to understand, to consult with and, if possible, to get friendship with Germany, we do not abandon by one jot or tittle the democratic beliefs which are the very core of our whole being and system. In conclusion, I must gratify the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield by quoting Shakespeare. The right hon. Gentleman will remember the little poem "Under the Greenwood Tree"—"Here shall he see" "No enemy," "But winter and rough weather". We have the winter before us, and we have a great deal of political rough weather, but in that rough weather, do not let us forget the joint idea of peace which animates us all.
  • If the Socialist Party is prepared to make friends with Russia, which is a dictatorship with which no Englishman can really agree, why can we not make friends with Italy and Germany? There are people saying Herr Hitler has broken his word. I tell you that the one bargain he has made with us, that the German Navy should be one third of the size of the British Navy, he has kept, and kept loyally.
    • Speech for the Conservative candidate in the Bridgwater by-election, Bristol Evening Post (15 November 1938), quoted in Anthony Howard, Rab: The Life of R. A. Butler (1987), p. 78 and Tiberius Gracchus, Your MP (1944), pp. 12–13
  • [The Anglo-Polish alliance] would have a bad psychological effect on Hitler and would wreck any negotiations.
    • Note, 'September 1939', quoted in Anthony Howard, Rab: The Life of R. A. Butler (1987), p. 85
  • You can imagine how lonely and sad I felt in Parliament, and indeed in the whole political world, when I knew that Mr Chamberlain had gone. I do not think that the party will ever be the same again. I looked upon him as the last leader of the organisation in the State which I joined very late in its life but which has been responsible for much of England's greatness.
    • Letter to Mrs Chamberlain (22 December 1940), quoted in Anthony Howard, Rab: The Life of R. A. Butler (1987), p. 92

Chairman of the Conservative Research Department edit

  • We must understand that no party in the country can with success base itself on or identify itself with one social element or class. To be successful we have still to reorganize from top to bottom the social structure on which our party rests. We agree that in the modern world great extremes of poverty and wealth shall be replaced by an infinite variety of plenty.
    • Speech to the Conservative Party's first post-war conference on political education (30 March 1946), quoted in The Times (1 April 1946), p. 2
  • We must recognise that the absolutely free working of such a system cannot now be accepted. We are living too closely knit a structure of society in which the very complication of our immense programme of social reform and industrial development necessitates strong powers being retained at the centre. It will be necessary to use the organising power and majesty of the State in a variety of ways. The State will have to be the grand arbiter between competing interests.
    • Fundamental Issues (Conservative Political Centre, 1946), p. 7
  • Tories and others set about the task of dealing with the social consequences of the Industrial Revolution by calling upon the power of Government to redress injustice...[The State] assumed the functions of protecting the common interest and safeguarding the interests of the weaker members of society.
    • About the Industrial Charter (Conservative Political Centre, 1947), pp. 4-5
  • The term "planning" is a new word for coherent and positive policy. The conception of strong Government policy in economic matters is, I believe, the very centre of the Conservative tradition. We have never been a party of laissez-faire.
    • About the Industrial Charter (Conservative Political Centre, 1947), p. 6
  • Conservatives were planning before the word entered the vocabulary of political jargon.
    • About the Industrial Charter (Conservative Political Centre, 1947), pp. 6-7

Chancellor of the Exchequer edit

  • We should emerge from the rearmament period with inadequate reserves, with no assurance of further U.S. aid, with our export markets reduced, with a continuous and possibly increased claim on our resources for defence, with German and Japanese competition at full blast and finally, with industrial efficiency in a relatively worse position compared with the United States than it is now.
    • Memorandum, 'Our Economic Objectives and Prospects' (30 November 1951), quoted in Correlli Barnett, The Verdict of Peace. Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future (2002), p. 1
  • [I]n conditions of full employment, such as we have today, it is clear that the bargaining power of Trade Unions is very strong. Employers in general can sell all they can produce profitably and are afraid that they will never get their labour back if they once lose it. Workers know that there is plenty of work available. Thus there is no real obstacle to the steady increase in wages, which in turn leads to corresponding increases in prices. I must tell my colleagues that I do not see any easy answer to this problem.
    • Memorandum (10 December 1951), quoted in Correlli Barnett, The Verdict of Peace. Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future (2002), p. 71
  • The more effective our own action to deal with our balance of payments deficit, the higher will be the [exchange] rate [of sterling], and the lower the cost of living. On the other hand, if we fail to deal with our internal problems effectively, and fail to organise the economy in a way which releases sufficient resources for exports, the rate will fall and the cost of living will rise accordingly. ... When we had gold reserves (and American aid) to take the impact of our balance of payments deficit, it was possible to insulate the economy from the failure to pay its way. This is no longer possible, and failure to pay our way will be felt by every family in the country in a rise in the cost of living.
    • Memorandum, 'External Action' (21 February 1952) advocating Operation ROBOT, quoted in Correlli Barnett, The Verdict of Peace. Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future (2002), pp. 161–162
  • If we continue to use industrial resources for other purposes – defence, housing, etc. – thus preventing the diversion of resources to export work, the [exchange] rate will continue to fall. ... the basic idea of internal stability of prices and employment, which had dominated economic policy for so long will not be maintainable. It will not be possible to maintain stable internal prices and wages; it will not be possible to avoid unemployment. There will be a continuous process of change and readjustment and much of this will be painful.
    • Memorandum, 'External Action' (21 February 1952) advocating Operation ROBOT, quoted in Correlli Barnett, The Verdict of Peace. Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future (2002), p. 162
  • There are great economic opportunities ahead of us. If we are sensible, we can have rising production and rising standards of living without constantly rising prices. Why should we not aim to double our standard of living in the next 20 years, and still have our money as valuable then as now? The faster we modernize and expand our productive capacity, the more we shall be able to increase the national wealth.
    • Speech to the quarterly meeting of the National Production Advisory Council on Industry (28 May 1954), quoted in The Times (29 May 1954), p. 3
  • We want to keep prices stable for two reasons—to hold on to our share of world markets, and to avoid strains and dislocations at home. We are probably entering a period when it will be more difficult to keep prices from rising. It is a matter for both sides of industry to see that increased money returns, either dividends or wages, are matched by increased output.
    • Speech to the quarterly meeting of the National Production Advisory Council on Industry (28 May 1954), quoted in The Times (29 May 1954), p. 3
  • In the past three years we have burned our identity cards, torn up our ration books, halved the number of snoopers, decimated the number of forms and said good riddance to nearly two-thirds of the remaining wartime regulations. This is the march to freedom on which we are bound. And the pace must quicken as we go forward...Within the limits of law and social justice, our aim is freedom for every man and woman to live their own lives in their own way and not have their lives lived for them by an overweening State.
    • Speech in Gloucester (10 July 1954), quoted in R. A. Butler, The Art of the Possible (1971), p. 173
  • Truly Conservative policies [are] freeing markets, freeing the economy, giving the economy buoyancy, moving to liberty and the desirable goal of freeing payments and trade.
    • Speech at the Conservative Party conference of 1954, quoted in Ralph Harris, Politics Without Prejudice. A Political Appreciation of The Rt. Hon. Richard Austen Butler C.H., M.P. (1956), p. 159

Leader of the House of Commons edit

  • Conservatives have always been ready to use the power of the State.
    • Our Way Ahead (Conservative Political Centre, 1956), p. 10

Home Secretary edit

  • I have said on many occasions, in Parliament and elsewhere, that I am not convinced that this [the restoration of corporal punishment for young offenders] would have the effect for which its advocates hope.
    • Speech to the Association of Chief Officers of Police in Bournemouth (25 May 1960), quoted in The Times (26 May 1960), p. 18
  • The Government will have to give consideration to the question of how much this inflow can be assimilated into our society at the present time. If you give the Government a little longer, we shall try to find a solution as friendly to these people as we can and not based on colour prejudice alone.
    • Remark at the annual conference of the Conservative and Unionist Teachers' Association in London (17 June 1961), quoted in The Times (19 June 1961), p. 7
  • I do not believe that unless you can persuade parents that the family should still remain the unit in which discipline is applied, you will never get a conquest of the crime wave. ... We have created a better and happier state from the material point of view, but, at the same time, there is no doubt that the younger generation, especially just before leaving school, and between the ages of 17 and 19, are much more unruly than is right in a modern, civilized society.
    • Remark at the annual conference of the Conservative and Unionist Teachers' Association in London (17 June 1961), quoted in The Times (19 June 1961), p. 7

Later life edit

  • I had derived from Bolingbroke an assurance that the majesty of the State might be used in the interests of the many, from Burke a belief in seeking patterns of improvement by balancing diverse interests, and from Disraeli an insistence that the two nations must become one. If my brand of Conservatism was unorthodox, I was committing heresy in remarkably good company.
    • The Art of the Possible (1971), p. 134

Quotes about Rab Butler edit

  • Some would hail Rab Butler as beyond question the most important and the greatest Conservative of his generation; and certainly his continuous record as a minister or shadow minister from 1932 to 1964 is a tribute to his endurance. Helped by his young lieutenants he rebuilt the Tory Party; he taxed his countrymen's income less than any other chancellor; he abolished wartime controls; and under him began the prosperity for which Macmillan claimed the credit. His admirers thought the title he chose for his memoirs exemplified his exact understanding of politics: The Art of the Possible. And yet for all his reputation among us as a liberal Conservative who had re-educated his party after 1945 as Peel did after 1832, for all his patronage of a generation of clever young Conservatives in Central Office, for all his amusing deviousness, afraid to strike yet willing, well, not to wound but to scratch, he was so cautious, so much a man of Munich that few major initiatives came from the succession of departments where he presided. He had a record that looked fine as home secretary, chancellor and foreign secretary and, of course, as minister for education: hardly a foot put wrong. But, then, some of us considered, his feet had not moved all that far. If you stride you may put a foot wrong, and Butler failed to stride into the European Community. He and Eden reinforced each other's scepticism. "Whenever I met Anthony, the sort of conversation was, 'Simply nothing doing, you know.'" On major issues he hardly ever questioned the wisdom of his advisers. The paradox remains. He could have won the 1964 election for the Tories but was the only contender for the leadership towards whom his colleagues felt lukewarm.
    • Noel Annan, Our Age: The Generation That Made Post-War Britain (1990; 1991), pp. 549-550
  • I wish you to go on with your delicate manner of answering Parliamentary Questions without giving anything away.
    • Winston Churchill, remark to Butler recorded in Butler's diary (15 May 1940), quoted in Anthony Howard, Rab: The Life of R. A. Butler (1987), p. 95
  • Rab said he thought that the good clean tradition of English politics, that of Pitt as opposed to Fox, had been sold to the greatest adventurer of modern political history. He had tried earnestly and long to persuade Halifax to accept the Premiership, but he had failed. He believed this sudden coup of Winston and his rabble was a serious disaster and an unnecessary one: the 'pass has been sold' by Mr. C[hamberlain], Lord Halifax and Oliver Stanley. They had weakly surrendered to a half-breed American whose main support was that of inefficient but talkative people of a similar type.
    • John Colville, diary entry (10 May 1940), quoted in The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries, 1939–1955 (1985), p. 122
  • Nigel Ronald...who represents one very definite section of opinion in the F[oreign] O[ffice], told me he thought Rab Butler a public danger, flabby in person and morally and mentally as well; a young man whose whole influence was that of an old one, whose inclination was to put a break on all initiative.
    • John Colville, diary entry (11 May 1940), quoted in John Colville, The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries, 1939–1955 (1985), p. 124
  • [N]ot everyone who praises liberal Conservatism actually believes in it. There is no need, for example, to impute anything so naive to Lord Butler whose object in his period of maximum effectiveness was to persuade himself and everyone else that progress and decency were as Conservative as Baldwin had said they were, and that Conservatives could provide liberal reassurance in an intellectual climate which was profoundly unsympathetic to any Conservative position. In the 1940s and 1950s Lord Butler may well have been right; it may well be that the Conservative party owes a great deal more of its present existence to his calculating intuitions than it is now willing to believe. In the last ten years, however, the climate has changed, and with the change have come intuitions quite different from those he operated with then. It has been calculation as well as instinct that has made it necessary to replace his sort of liberal Conservatism by the new Conservatism of the 1970s.
    • Maurice Cowling, 'The Present Position', Conservative Essays (1978), pp. 13-14
  • The art of government, in his view, is to yield to the forces of change and then to harness them in time to prevent the disintegration of authority, whether in domestic politics or in international relations. In his eyes, there is no last ditch which is really worth fighting for if, by surrendering it, you can retain control of the situation.
    • Richard Crossman, 'The Ideologist of Inequality', New Statesman (3 April 1954), quoted in Anthony Howard, Rab: The Life of R. A. Butler (1987), p. 365
  • Butler is on the extreme left of the Tory Party and is shrewd enough to understand that they have got to...live down the reputation inherited from...the thirties...to be able to say to the electorate when the election comes, "no war: no unemployment: no cuts in social services. Just good Government". If I am right about this they will want to stay in power for three or four years, and I don't really see why they should not.
    • Hugh Gaitskell, diary entry (23 November 1951), quoted in Philip Williams, Hugh Gaitskell: A Political Biography (1979), p. 312
  • I was always one of Rab's admirers. Of the three up and coming postulants to the succession – Eden, Rab, and Harold Macmillan – I had always favoured Rab. All three were on the progressive wing of the party. But, to my eye, Eden was too temperamental and Harold too unpredictable in other ways. I admired Rab's almost oriental inscrutability, his subtle mind, and his intellectual approach to practical politics. However, I never numbered candour amongst his virtues.
    • Lord Hailsham, A Sparrow's Flight: The Memoirs of Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone (1990), pp. 218-219
  • His was the true moderate conservatism which did so much to create the stability and prosperity of postwar Britain.
  • [H]e possessed a well-trained and imperturbable mind that could digest a mass of disjointed facts and remain clear and unconfused.
  • Butler, of course, is sub-human.
    • Evelyn Waugh to Ann Fleming (18 July 1963), quoted in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory (1980), p. 610

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