178 Facts About Rab Butler


Rab Butler was one of his party's leaders in promoting the post-war consensus through which the major parties largely agreed on the main points of domestic policy until the 1970s; it is sometimes known as "Butskellism" from a fusion of his name with that of his Labour counterpart, Hugh Gaitskell.


Rab Butler strongly supported the appeasement of Nazi Germany in 1938 to 1939.


Rab Butler had an exceptionally long ministerial career and was one of only two British politicians to have served in three of the four Great Offices of State but never to have been Prime Minister for which he was passed over in 1957 and 1963.


Rab Butler's father was a Fellow and later Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge.


Richard Austen Rab Butler was born 9 December 1902 in Attock, British India, the eldest son of Montagu Sherard Dawes Rab Butler, a member of the Indian Civil Service, and Anne Smith.


Rab Butler had two sisters, Iris Mary Butler, who married Lieutenant-Colonel Gervase Portal and became a writer, and Dorothy, the wife of Laurence Middleton.


Rab Butler attended a preparatory school in Hove but rebelled against going to Harrow School, where most of his family were educated.


Rab Butler entered Pembroke College in October 1921 and became President of the Cambridge Union Society for Easter term of 1924.


Rab Butler was elected a fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and gave lectures on the politics of the French Third Republic.


Rab Butler was elected in the 1929 general election, and retained the seat until his retirement in 1965.


On 29 September 1932, Rab Butler became Under-Secretary of State for India after the resignation of Lord Lothian and other Liberals over abandonment of free trade by the National Government.


Rab Butler retained this position in Stanley Baldwin's third government, and when Neville Chamberlain replaced Baldwin as Prime Minister in May 1937, Butler was appointed Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Labour.


In internal discussions after Germany's annexation of Austria on 12 March 1938, Rab Butler counselled against giving Czechoslovakia a guarantee of British support and approved the Cabinet decision on 22 March not to do so, facts that he later omitted from his memoirs.


Rab Butler became a Privy Councillor in the 1939 New Year Honours list, the youngest person so appointed since Churchill in 1907.


The evidence suggests Rab Butler did not support it and would have preferred Poland to be sacrificed in the interests of peace.


At the time, Rab Butler strongly supported reaching agreement with Hitler as necessary for peace, but in his memoirs, The Art of the Possible, he defended the Munich Agreement as essential to buy time to rearm and gain public support for war in Britain and the Dominions, and he claimed that he had little input into the direction of foreign policy.


Later commentators argue that the suggestion given in his memoirs that Rab Butler supported Halifax in leading the drive away from appeasement after Prague is "wholly false".


Jago concludes that Rab Butler "distorted the facts" and "grossly misrepresented his responsibility and attitudes in 1938".


On 20 October 1939, after the Fall of Poland, Rab Butler was, according to Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky, still open to a compromise peace and agreement to restore Germany's colonies if it was guaranteed by all the powers, including the Americans and the Soviets.


Rab Butler dismissed as an "absurdity" any suggestion for Germany first to be required to withdraw from Poland.


Rab Butler disapproved of Churchill, the new First Lord of the Admiralty who publicly opposed to any hint of compromise peace.


Rab Butler was quicker than many to realise the social change which war would bring.


Rab Butler spoke to Robert Barrington-Ward of The Times of "the new social revolution that is making its way, and how to anticipate and meet it".


On 17 June 1940, the day that Marshal Philippe Petain asked for an armistice, Rab Butler met informally with a Swedish envoy, Bjorn Prytz.


Prytz later reported to Stockholm that Rab Butler had declared British policy must be determined by "common sense not bravado" and that had "assured me that no opportunity for reaching a compromise would be neglected" if there were reasonable conditions.


Rab Butler, who was lucky not to be sacked, made a four-page handwritten reply the same day that claimed that he had kept to the official British line and had said "nothing definite or specific that I would wish to withdraw", but he offered to resign.


Halifax's biographer Andrew Roberts believes that Rab Butler had been putting words into the mouth of Halifax, who had already moved away from his earlier openness to a compromise peace.


Rab Butler kept his position and was allowed to make two broadcasts on the BBC.


Rab Butler had little respect for Eden but reluctantly agreed to remain at the Foreign Office when he became Foreign Secretary in December 1940.


Rab Butler vetoed it on the grounds that their work as government ministers was more important.


Rab Butler gained permanent fame for the Education Act of 1944.


In July 1941, Rab Butler received his first Cabinet post when he was appointed President of the Board of Education.


Rab Butler's biographer argues that the promotion was not, contrary to Butler's own later insinuations, intended as an insult.


At the time, Rab Butler recorded that Churchill had demanded more patriotic history teaching: "Tell the children that Wolfe won Quebec".


Rab Butler was the chair of the War Cabinet Committee for the Control of Official Histories.


Rab Butler became Chairman of the Conservatives' Postwar Problems Central Committee on 24 July 1941.


Rab Butler proved to be one of the most radical reforming ministers on the home front.


Rab Butler wrote to Churchill to suggest a Joint Select Committee.


Rab Butler received a deputation, including the two Anglican Archbishops, on 15 August 1941.


In early October 1942, Rab Butler sold his scheme to the Nonconformist leaders of England and Wales.


Rab Butler had less success in his dealings with the Roman Catholic Church.


Rab Butler was not able to have talks with the elderly Cardinal Arthur Hinsley until September 1942.


Rab Butler thought it better to present the Catholic Church with a fait accompli.


Churchill telephoned Rab Butler to tell him, "You are landing me in the biggest political row of the generation".


Rab Butler later embellished the story to claim that Churchill had sent him a mounted copy of the letter, with "There you are, fixed, old cock" scrawled across it.


Rab Butler once presented himself at Southwark for talks, only to be asked whu he had come.


Rab Butler was supportive and believed that standards would be raised in state schools if affluent and articulate parents were involved in the system.


The Fleming Commission, assembled by Rab Butler, recommended in July 1944 for a quarter of public school places to be given to scholarships.


In late November 1942, Rab Butler toyed with the idea of allowing himself to be considered for the job of Viceroy of India.


Rab Butler helped to write King George VI's Christmas broadcast at the end of 1942.


Rab Butler lobbied John Anderson, Kingsley Wood and Ernest Bevin for an education bill in 1943, and by the end of 1942, a draft White paper was proceeding through the Lord President's Committee.


Rab Butler thought that Conservative MPs who opposed the Act "a stupid lot".


Rab Butler became Chairman of the Conservative Research Department, assisted by David Clarke and Michael Fraser.


Rab Butler was opposed to detailed policy-making, not least as he felt the party was not yet pointing in the ideological direction that he wanted.


Rab Butler himself said that those who advocated "creating pools of unemployment should be thrown into them and made to swim".


Rab Butler inherited a balance of payments crisis that was partially caused by the increase in defence spending as a result of the Korean War.


Rab Butler initially planned to let the pound float and become partially convertible.


Rab Butler was opposed by his junior minister, Arthur Salter, while Lord Woolton insisted Eden should be involved since the policy would affect foreign relations.


Rab Butler followed to a large extent the economic policies of his Labour predecessor, Hugh Gaitskell, by pursuing a mixed economy and Keynesian economics as part of the post-war political consensus.


However, Rab Butler had more interest in monetary policy and in convertibility, whereas Gaitskell was more inclined to exchange controls, investment and planning.


Rab Butler maintained import controls and began a more active monetary policy.


When Churchill suffered a stroke in the summer of 1953, an illness that was concealed from the public, Rab Butler acted as head of the Government since Churchill's presumed successor, Eden, was in the United States having medical treatment.


Between 29 June and 18 August 1953, Rab Butler chaired sixteen Cabinet meetings.


Rab Butler was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour in 1954.


Rab Butler supported Churchill's proposal for Eden to take "command of the Home Front" in summer 1954, not least as he hoped to succeed Eden as Foreign Secretary.


Rab Butler was one of the ministers who demanded to Churchill's face that he set a date for his retirement.


Hugh Gaitskell accused him of having deliberately misled the electorate, which amused Macmillan, who wrote in his diary of how Rab Butler was always talking of "honour" in Cabinet.


In December 1955, Rab Butler was moved to the post of Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons.


Rab Butler recorded that after December 1955 that "it was never again said of me, or for that matter of the British economy either, that we had la puissance d'une idee en marche".


Rab Butler suffered from what his biographer calls an "inability to take Eden wholly seriously".


Rab Butler threatened resignation in March 1956 over Macmillan's plans to reverse the 6d cut in income tax.


Rab Butler served as Rector of the University of Glasgow from 1956 to 1959.


Rab Butler was ill when Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal and was not formally a member of the Cabinet Egypt Committee.


Rab Butler later claimed that he had tried to keep Eden "in a political straitjacket" and advocated an open invasion of Egypt.


Rab Butler seemed to be doubtful of Eden's Suez policy but never said so openly.


Rab Butler ended up pleasing neither those who were opposed to the invasion nor those who supported it.


Rab Butler later resigned, along with Edward Boyle, as soon as the fighting was over.


Rab Butler was seen as disloyal because he aired his doubts freely in private while he was supporting the government in public, and he later admitted that he should have resigned.


Rab Butler had to announce British withdrawal from the Canal Zone, which made him appear an "appeaser" to Conservative supporters up and down the country.


That evening, Rab Butler addressed the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, where his pedestrian defence of government policy was upstaged by a speech by Macmillan.


Rab Butler was seen to be an indecisive leader who was not up to Macmillan's stature.


Shadow Chancellor Harold Wilson said that Rab Butler had "the look of a born loser".


Rab Butler later recorded that during his period as acting Head of Government at Number 10, he had noticed constant comings and goings of ministers to Macmillan's study in Number 11, next door, and that those who attended all later received promotion when Macmillan became Prime Minister.


Salisbury may not have been an entirely impartial returning officer, as Rab Butler had replaced Salisbury as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in 1938, who when the latter had resigned over policy towards Italy.


Rab Butler later claimed to have been "not surprised" not to be chosen in 1957.


The media were taken by surprise by the choice, but Rab Butler confessed in his memoirs that there was a sizeable anti-Rab Butler faction on the backbenches, but there was no such anti-Macmillan faction.


Rab Butler spoke bitterly the next day about "our beloved Monarch".


In Gilmour's view, Rab Butler did not organise a leadership campaign in 1957 because he had expected Eden to hang on until Easter or summer.


Campbell wrote, "The succession was sewn up before Rab Butler even realised there was a contest".


Richard Crossman wrote in his diary, "This whole operation has been conducted from the top by a very few people with great speed and skill, so that Rab Butler was outflanked and compelled to surrender almost as quickly as the Egyptians at Sinai".


Rab Butler had to accept the Home Office under Macmillan, not the Foreign Office, which he wanted.


Rab Butler held the Home Office for five years, but his liberal views on hanging and flogging did little to endear him to rank-and-file Conservative members.


Macmillan's official biographer believes that Rab Butler simply had no interest in home affairs.


Rab Butler later said, "I couldn't deal with Eden, but I could deal with Mac".


Rab Butler inherited a Homicide Bill, which introduced different degrees of murder.


Rab Butler had privately come to favour abolition of hanging but signed off on the execution of James Hanratty, which was thought at the time to be a miscarriage of justice.


Rab Butler declined to reintroduce corporal punishment, according to the recommendation of the prewar Cadogan Report.


Rab Butler gave a very successful speech at the Conservative Conference in 1959.


Rab Butler passed the Licensing Act 1961 and reformed the law on obscene publications.


Rab Butler introduced the first curbs on immigration although the Eden Cabinet had contemplated measures in 1955.


Rab Butler recalled that if Butler was absent from his post as Chairman of the Cabinet Home Affairs Committee, it was if the government itself "came to a standstill".


Besides the Home Office, Rab Butler held other senior government jobs in these years.


Rab Butler likened himself to the Gilbert and Sullivan character "Pooh Bah".


Rab Butler appointed Lord Home as Foreign Secretary, refused again to appoint Butler and told him that it would be "like Herbert Morrison" if he took the position.


Rab Butler disagreed with the analysis but accepted it, enabling Macmillan to claim that he had declined the Foreign Office.


Rab Butler declined to accept Home's old place as Commonwealth Secretary.


Rab Butler retained the Home Office and declined Macmillan's suggestion to accept a peerage.


Rab Butler gave an excellent party conference speech in October 1961.


In March 1962, Rab Butler was made head of the newly-created Central African Department.


Rab Butler was given oversight of the EEC entry negotiations, which he strongly supported despite worries about the agricultural vote in his constituency.


Rab Butler helped to precipitate Macmillan's brutal "Night of the Long Knives" reshuffle by leaking to the Daily Mail on 11 July 1962 that a major reshuffle was imminent.


Rab Butler referred to it as the "Massacre of Glencoe".


Rab Butler became the inaugural First Secretary of State, a position that was created partly to avoid the earlier constitutional objections to that of Deputy Prime Minister.


Rab Butler told Tony Benn in February 1963 that he expected Macmillan to stay on and fight the next general election, which could occur no later than 1964.


Rab Butler was visited by Maudling, the two men agreeing to serve under each other if necessary.


Since Rab Butler was technically his senior, Maudling believed that gave him an advantage.


Just before Rab Butler departed for the Victoria Falls Conference in July 1963, John Morrison, still Chairman of the 1922 Committee, told him bluntly to his face: "The chaps won't have you".


At the Victoria Falls Conference, Rab Butler dissolved the Central African Federation.


Rab Butler insisted on occupying the leader's suite at the Imperial Hotel and on delivering the leader's speech on the final day.


Rab Butler's speech, when he delivered it, was an attempt to update the postwar Charters to modern politics, and he reprinted some of the speech verbatim in his memoirs.


Rab Butler later called the Imperial "that awful hotel" and refused to visit Blackpool ever again.


Current ministers who visited Macmillan in hospital included Duncan Sandys, who advised for Home not as a compromise but on his own merits, and Edward Heath who felt that Rab Butler would be uninspiring and had not emerged as a natural and undisputed successor in the way that he should have.


Powell, Macleod, Hailsham and Maudling were outraged and sought to persuade Rab Butler to refuse to serve under Home in the belief that it would make a Home premiership impossible and result in Rab Butler taking office.


Rab Butler was not present at the meetings at 5pm at Macleod's flat and that night at Powell's house during which Maudling agreed to serve under Rab Butler.


Rab Butler telephoned Butler and repeated his answers aloud to the room as if he were a barrister "leading" a slow witness before telling him "you must put on your armour, dear Rab".


Powell, a wartime brigadier, observed that they had given Rab Butler a loaded revolver, which he had refused to use on the grounds that it might make a noise.


Rab Butler had likened the "Quad" to the Fox-North Coalition and had to urge Home, who had agreed to stand only as a compromise candidate, not to withdraw.


Rab Butler called Dilhorne the same morning to demand a meeting of the three main candidates before the succession was resolved; "no reply was vouchsafed", as Rab Butler put it.


Rab Butler was pushing for a two-way meeting with Home, but he should, in Howard's view, have insisted on Home confronting the "Quad".


Home immediately moved into Number 10 and interviewed Rab Butler then Maudling early in the afternoon.


Rab Butler did not at first agree to serve, as he had reservations about whether Home, a peer and not a moderniser, was a suitable Prime Minister.


Hailsham, Rab Butler and Maudling finally met Home that evening after dinner, by which time Hailsham was lready wavering and expressing a willingness to serve under Home.


The Palace knew that Home could not form a government without Rab Butler serving, although Home himself later said that he could have formed a government without Rab Butler but not without Maudling.


Some, including Macmillan, argued that Rab Butler's vacillation was further proof of his unfitness to be Prime Minister.


Rab Butler later alleged in a letter to The Times that not to have served might have led to a Labour government; the suggestion was later dismissed as absurd by Wilson himself.


Rab Butler was motivated by his knowledge of Robert Peel and the split over the Corn Laws.


Rab Butler had planned to make Macleod Chancellor of the Exchequer and discussed the names of economists who could be asked to advise.


Rab Butler was less devastated than in 1957, as this time, it was largely a voluntary abnegation.


Home and even Macmillan himself in the 1980s later conceded that it might have been better if Rab Butler had become leader.


Macmillan, trying to control events from his sickbed, had urged Home to appoint Heath as Foreign Secretary but conceded that allowing Rab Butler to have the position that he had always coveted might be a necessary price for his agreeing to serve.


Rab Butler later wrote in The Art of Memory that "every word" of Macleod's Spectator article "[wa]s true".


Rab Butler was able to speak fluent French to French Foreign Minister Maurice Couve de Murville to the latter's surprise.


Rab Butler played only a small part in the 1964 general election campaign.


Rab Butler showed his lack of stomach for the fight by agreeing with the journalist George Gale of the Daily Express that the very close campaign "might yet slip away" in the "last few days".


Many, including Wilson, said that Rab Butler would have won the 1964 general election if he had been Prime Minister.


At the comparatively early age of 61, Rab Butler left office with one of the longest records of ministerial experience for contemporary politicians.


Rab Butler remained on the Conservative front bench into the next year.


Rab Butler did not accept until the middle of January and took office at the start of the new academic year on 7 October 1965.


Rab Butler was the first master in 250 years who had not been himself educated at the college.


Rab Butler was publicly promoted as a mentor and counsellor to the Prince by making himself available for a 45-minute time slot each evening before dinner if the Prince wished to seek his advice.


Rab Butler gave Lucia Santa Cruz, his research assistant for his memoirs, a key to the Master's Lodge and often let her stay, which gave rise to rumours that he was facilitating a romance between her and the Prince.


Rab Butler was a director of Courtaulds, the family company, at this time.


Rab Butler wrote that he had decided to "eschew the current autobiographical fashion for multi-volume histories".


Rab Butler was active as the first Chancellor of the University of Essex from 1966 to his death and Chancellor of the University of Sheffield from 1959 to 1977.


Rab Butler was High Steward of Cambridge University from 1958 to 1966 and High Steward of the City of Cambridge from 1963 until his death.


From 1972 to 1975, Rab Butler chaired the high-profile Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders, which was widely referred to as the Rab Butler Committee and which proposed major reforms to the law and psychiatric services, some of which have been implemented.


Rab Butler was, in the description of Charles Moore, then a student at Trinity, well into his "anecdotage".


Rab Butler scaled back his public appearances after an incident at the Booker Prize awards in London in December 1973, at which he told ill-judged anti-Semitic jokes, which caused grave offence to the publisher George Weidenfeld.


Rab Butler ate and drank copiously as Master of Trinity, which caused him to put on weight and to begin to suffer from heart problems.


Rab Butler suffered from a skin complaint from the 1950s, which grew progressively worse to the point towards the end of his life, he would sometimes appear unshaven in public.


Rab Butler argued that Trinity, which has had more Nobel Prize winners than the whole of France, spent the income on science research and on subsidising smaller Cambridge colleges.


Rab Butler died of colon cancer in March 1982 in Great Yeldham, Essex.


Rab Butler is buried in the churchyard of the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Saffron Walden.


Rab Butler's son, Adam Butler, was an MP from 1970 to 1987 and a junior minister under Margaret Thatcher.


Rab Butler's grandson Ed Butler is a retired Brigadier who commanded 16 Air Assault Brigade and 22 Special Air Service.


Rab Butler opened his memoirs by saying that his career had been split between academia, politics and India and that his main regret was never having been Viceroy of India.


Rab Butler regarded the 1935 India Act and the 1944 Education Act as his "principal legislative achievements".


Rab Butler wrote that the way to the top was through rebellion and resignation, but he had gone for "the long haul" and "steady influence".


Rab Butler enjoyed 26.5 years in office, equalled only by Churchill in the twentieth century.


Roy Jenkins, describing a stormy meeting that Butler had with Lyndon B Johnson, pinpointed a tendency in Butler's character in that "while Butler represented the forces of urbane, civilised superiority and Johnson the raw brashness of the insecure arriviste, it was the case that Butler was the natural servant of the state and LBJ the natural ruler".


Rab Butler noted that a similar dynamic was at work in Butler's relations with the equally domineering Winston Churchill.


Edward Pearce wrote of his legislative record that "Rab Butler's failure was more brilliant than most politicians' success".


Iain Macleod said of him that "Rab Butler loves being a politician among academics and an academic among politicians; that is why neither breed of man likes him all that much".


Lobby correspondents were advised never to believe anything that Rab Butler told them but never to ignore anything he told them either.


Ian Gilmour argues that Rab Butler was always more popular in the country than in his own party and that he acquired an unjust reputation for deviousness, but was in fact less so than a number of his colleagues.


On 20 April 1926, Rab Butler married Sydney Elizabeth Courtauld, the daughter of Samuel Courtauld and co-heiress to the Courtaulds textile fortune.


Sydney died of cancer in 1954, and in 1959, Rab Butler married again, this time to Mollie Courtauld, the widow of Augustine Courtauld.


Rab Butler remained there until her death on 18 February 2009, at the age of 101.