by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal
When Stafford Cripps got up to speak to Labour students in Nottingham on the 6th January 1934, the reporters in attendance did not expect too much excitement. A brisk refresher on the Socialist League’s plan for an imminently Socialist Britain, then tea and biscuits if they were lucky.
Addressing the audience, Cripps declared,
“I do not believe in private armies, but if the Fascists started a private army it might be for the Socialist and Communist parties to do the same. When the Labour party comes to power, we must act rapidly and it will be necessary to deal with the House of Lords and the influence of the City of London. There is no doubt we shall have to overcome resistance from Buckingham palace and other places as well.”
The press sat up and took notice.
Because Cripps was airing the possibility of a Labour party private army? No. Because he was suggesting Labour join forces with Communists? No.
The Rubicon that Cripps had crossed was in voicing the great unmentionable, “Buckingham Palace.”
Outrage abounded. Within a day, Cripps had had to issue one of the finest political clarifications ever,
“There seems to have been some misconception of what I intended to convey by the term ‘Buckingham Palace’. I most certainly was not referring to the Crown…I cannot understand why anyone should have thought I was referring to the Crown.”
Indeed, the fools. Its obvious Cripps was talking about resistance to socialism from all those other people in Buckingham Palace. The servants maybe. Or the corgis.
Among the NEC there was a collective rolling of eyes at the gaffe. Dalton was apoplectic while Bevin was disgusted. Fortunately for Cripps though, one senior member of the party continued to back him – a member who also happened to be the acting leader – Clement Attlee. Thus Cripps swapped his red flag for a red face but remained free from formal censure.