In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

Hello, FredDavid Marquand
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Hugh Dalton 
by Ben Pimlott.
Cape, 731 pp., £25, March 1985, 0 224 02100 1
Show More
Show More

Hugh Dalton was a Member of Parliament for 35 years, a minister for 12, a Front-Bencher for 30 and a member of the Labour Party National Executive for 25. In the Thirties, as Ben Pimlott shows in this absorbing, perceptive and sometimes moving biography, he played a central part (after Bevin, the central part) in dragging the Labour Party out of the semi-pacifist isolationism of the Twenties into a grudging acceptance of re-armament and, when necessary, the use of force. As President of the Board of Trade in the wartime coalition, he laid the foundations of the post-war Labour Government’s regional policies. As chairman of the policy sub-committee of the National Executive, he did more than anyone else to shape the economic strategy on which the Labour Party fought the 1945 Election. He wrote 12 books, one of which ran to five editions over thirty years, and edited two others. He was an assiduous, not to say relentless patron of bright and, if possible, handsome young men, counting among his protégés Hugh Gaitskell, the most impressive leader the Labour Party has ever had, and Tony Crosland, one of its two or three most important theorists.

Yet none of this justifies a meticulous biography of more than seven hundred pages. Though Pimlott cannot bring himself to admit it, the truth is that, in talent and personality, Dalton never quite belonged to the front rank of politics. To be sure, he was a robust and formidable party warhorse – a kind of William Harcourt or Roy Hattersley, say – with enormous energy, considerable administrative drive and a powerful debating style. But he captured no imaginations, lifted no horizons and inspired no disciples. He left worthy memorials – the National Parks, for instance, and the spread of light industry to the depressed North – but he did not change the political or intellectual landscape.

As Keynes implied when he nicknamed him ‘Daddy’, there was something faintly ludicrous about his gnawing hunger for advancement, his insatiable appetite for intrigue, and his odd mixture of self-importance and self-doubt. He was a fusser, a buttonholer, a clasper of shoulders, a pacer of lobbies, at least metaphorically a listener at keyholes, endlessly obsessed by the narcissistic gossip and jockeying for position of the Westminster stock-exchange of reputations. As a minister he was also, and less forgivably, an appalling – in James Meade’s phrase, a ‘paranoid’ – bully, shouting at civil servants who could not answer back, insulting senior officials in the presence of their juniors, and displaying an astonishing incapacity to understand the ethic of public service or the requirements of team management.

Sometimes, he got his come-uppance. The best of Pimlott’s rich store of anecdotes concerns Dalton’s stormy relationship with Sir Frederick Leith-Ross, his Director General when he was Minister of Economic Warfare.

Dalton, it was alleged, had issued a peremptory order for Leith-Ross to attend on him instantly. When a Private Secretary explained that Sir Frederick was not available, the Minister merely repeated the command. Tracking down the Director General to the lavatory, the embarrassed Secretary passed a note under the door. ‘Tell him,’ came the reply, ‘that I can only deal with one shit at a time.’

Other anecdotes show Dalton in a more endearing, though still rather ridiculous light. A favourite one, of which there were several versions, describes his technique for building support in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Roy Jenkins’s version is probably the neatest:

Once, as we were entering the Chamber, Hugh called cheerfully to a working-class member: ‘Hello, Fred!’ Turning to me, he said: ‘You know, Roy, you’ll never get on in politics until you learn to call that chap Fred.’ I pointed out gently that in fact the man’s name was Bert.

As all this implies, he makes a fascinating psychological study. Beneath the bluster and showmanship, Dalton was an unusually tormented member of a species more than usually prone to torment. At first sight, he seemed the ruling-class renegade par excellence: Old Etonian; Kingsman; son of a canon of Windsor who had once been tutor to the future George V. But he was not quite as ruling-class as he looked and sounded. He belonged to the clerisy, not to the baronage: to the exam-passing classes, rather than to the order-giving ones. To use Harold Macmillan’s classification, he was a ‘gownsman’, not a ‘swordsman’. Unfortunately, he did not pass his exams well enough to be a really confident gownsman. He was an Oppidan at Eton, not a Colleger; a closed exhibitioner at King’s, not a scholar. Though he got a good Second, it was, after all, a Second. He never made ‘Pop’, and was not elected to the Apostles. In the ‘homoerotic’ culture of pre-1914 Cambridge, he was, again, an also-ran. He was obviously in love with Rupert Brooke. As obviously, Rupert Brooke soon found him a tiresome bore. His marriage seems to have been a disaster, and his emotional life a desert. His daughter – bundled off to a residential home at the age of four and, on Pimlott’s evidence, shamefully neglected by both parents – died in early childhood.

Though Pimlott does not put it quite like this, the strong implication of his book is that, for Dalton, socialism was a kind of revenge. Like the 17th-century puritans who hated the bear-baiters more than they loved the bears, he hated the ruling class more than he loved the ruled. In his case, the tired Tory jibe that egalitarianism is about levelling down rather than about levelling up contained a distinct element of truth. ‘Dalton’s most vulgar insults were reserved for Tories,’ Pimlott writes:

De Freitas saw him as the ‘first of the upper-class renegades’, who liked nothing better than the shocked faces of those who kept the old social code. He took pleasure in being a bounder and a cad, the kind of chap you itched to duck in the school pond or blackball from the club. Once, dining at the House, he interrupted his own monologue to boom in the direction of a Tory MP: ‘What’s that suburbanite looking at me for!’ The MP looked unhappy. ‘Come on, let’s show him how we in the Labour Party behave!’ Dalton started to shovel peas into his mouth with a knife.

All this adds to the gaiety of nations, but it hardly bears the weight of a major historical study. Dalton the man, even Dalton the opposition politician and wartime minister, would deserve, at most, an extended essay. The justification for Pimlott’s seven hundred pages lies in Dalton’s position as a member of the ‘Big Five’ – the inner circle of key ministers who dominated the Attlee Government in its initially exuberant but subsequently hag-ridden first two years. To be sure, he was personally, and in some ways politically, the fifth of the five. Bevin and Cripps, the first two, were men of genius – ruthlessly egocentric, no doubt, and sometimes catastrophically wrong, but towering above their colleagues in force and will. Dalton was not remotely in their class. Attlee and Morrison, the second two, were not in their class either. Both, however, outgunned Dalton – not in intellectual ability, but in resilience, in political nous and, on a deeper level, in inner toughness and self-confidence.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1945 to 1947, however, Dalton’s ministerial position was pivotal – more so, in some ways, than he seemed to realise himself. During the war, at any rate in its later stages, the Treasury did not count for much. So long as the Americans footed the bill for Britain’s over-extended war machine, the constraint that mattered was manpower, not money. Bevin’s Ministry of Labour was then the key economic department, not the Treasury. Peace changed all that. For the 1945 Government, as for all subsequent Labour Governments, the central, overriding, by the end almost all-encompassing issue was how to squeeze a quart out of a pint pot – how to marry the humane and generous aspirations of the party of the bottom dog with the cold realities of inadequate resources, excessive commitments and the pressures of an economic system run by top dogs. The key figure in squaring that circle was bound to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and the abiding significance of Dalton’s political career lies in the way he responded to its challenge.

Judged by results – and results are as good a test for cabinet ministers as they are for the rest of us – he did not respond very skilfully. The circle was not squared. Aspirations and resources did not marry. The convertibility clauses of the American loan agreement, accepted with so many heart-searchings in 1945, had to be suspended in August 1947, only a month after they had come into force. The continuing drain of gold and dollars was halted only by a deflationary autumn budget two and a half months later. The 1945 Government, in short, followed essentially the same cycle – though on a higher level, so to speak – as those followed by its successors of 1964 and 1974. An ebullient upswing, when new hope seemed momentarily to triumph over old experience, was suddenly cut short by a crisis, when the constraints of the external world drew in. Then came a long downswing of austerity, wage restraint and public expenditure cuts, accompanied by pangs of guilt and cries of betrayal. Dalton presided over the key economic department during the upswing, and took no action to avert the crisis before it broke. It may or may not have been his fault. The fact remains that, after two years in the Treasury, the basic assumptions underlying his management of the economy were in ruins. His unnecessary resignation after a trivial breach of Budget secrecy merely set the seal on what was clearly an agonising moral and psychological defeat.

Pimlott enters a vigorous plea for the defence, which sometimes reads like ‘not guilty’, but which really amounts to ‘guilty with extenuating circumstances’. Unfortunately, the one weakness in an otherwise splendid book is that his argument in this crucial section is a bit muddled, and I may therefore have misunderstood it. The essence seems to be that the 1947 crisis could have been avoided only by greater austerity at an earlier stage, and that greater austerity at an earlier stage would have imperilled the Government’s all-important social policies. ‘Arguably,’ Pimlott writes, ‘ “self-denial” on a scale necessary to avert a crisis would have meant postponing Labour’s social programme sine die.’ And he adds, in a later passage: ‘A social revolution was undertaken between 1945 and 1947. Such a revolution required, not only courage and determination, but an element of blind faith.’ Dalton, he implies, had more blind faith than the rest of the inner circle. But for this, but for his refusal to sacrifice Labour’s welfare objectives to the requirements of the external balance, the achievements for which the 1945 Government has gone down in history might never have happened.

It is a clever defence, but it is also a specious one. Blind faith is not the ally of radicalism. It is its most insidious and destructive enemy. Radicalism, radicalism in government at any rate, is about choice. Again and again in the history of the British Left, blind faith has provided excuses for postponing or avoiding choice. The incoming 1964 Government, faced with a choice between devaluation and deflation, preferred faith, and ended by having to devalue as well as deflate. The 1974 Government, faced with a choice between unemployment and an incomes policy, put its faith in the social contract, and ended with no social contract, no incomes policy and an unemployment rate twice what it had been when it came into power. The 1945 Government was incomparably more successful than these, of course, but if it had been a little less blind in its first two years, it might have been more successful still. It was, after all, the 1947 crisis which revived the credibility and restored the morale of the Conservative opposition, and began the long process of Labour self-questioning and self-doubt which ended in the Bevanite split in 1951. If it had been avoided, even at the cost of slower progress in the first two years, the Left might have kept the political initiative, and the whole history of post-war Britain might have been different.

Half-hidden by the doctrine of blind faith, however, a much better defence can be detected between the lines. The social services were not the sole contributors to the quart which Attlee and his colleagues were trying to squeeze out of their pint pot. Another – and, with hindsight, a much less respectable contributor – was the Government’s unflinching determination to maintain Britain’s role as a world power. As Pimlott points out, the real function of the American loan was to buy time. The Government undoubtedly spent part of the time it bought on the social revolution of 1945 to 1947. It spent another part on a doomed attempt to cling to a great-power status which had gone for ever. Its critics were right in thinking that it was piling excessive burdens on a shattered economy. They were wrong in thinking that the burdens were solely the fruit of soft-hearted socialist egalitarianism. Robust, old-fashioned patriotism and a high-minded sense of responsibility to the rest of mankind were at least as much to blame. Here Dalton ranks with what must, from the vantage-point of forty years later, be cast as the angels. Pimlott makes it clear that he fought for cuts in overseas commitments and military expenditure, and endorses Dalton’s own judgment that it was the ‘mulish resistance’ of the Foreign Office and the defence departments which stopped him from having his way. He also concedes, however, that Dalton’s inability to make his will prevail on what was, after all, the central issue facing the Government and Party was the symptom of a fatal political weakness. High politics is a rough game; there are no prizes for honourable defeat. Dalton’s defeats were honourable enough. They were defeats all the same.

In the end, moreover, defeat on military expenditure and blindness towards the economic implications of the Welfare State went together. In retrospect, the really striking feature of the Attlee Government is that – for all the talk of sacrifice, austerity, the export drive and the dollar gap – no one grasped the full significance of the wartime revolution in the balance of world economic power. No one saw that, materially though hardly morally, Britain belonged with the vanquished, not with the victors: that she had escaped defeat and occupation, not through her own merits, still less through her own strength, but through her good fortune in being allied to the two super-powers which were now busily dividing the world between them: and that her industrial base was as weak as, in some important respects weaker than, that of devastated Central Europe. By the same token, no one realised that the social revolution she needed was not the benign and kindly revolution of consumption foreshadowed in a decade and a half of Fabian summer schools, but a much harsher, almost Jacobin revolution of production, designed to smash the structures and root out the habits which had already produced more than half a century of relative economic decline. Excessive welfare commitments at home and excessive military commitments abroad were different sides of the same coin. Both were symptoms of, and at the same time contributors to, the inability or unwillingness of a proud old country to see how far it had come down in the world. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Dalton was in a better position to see this than any other Minister. He failed to do so. In that, he was a child of his time – no less, but also no more.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.