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Herbert Morrison

Herbert Morrison

British politician
The basics
Quick Facts
Occupations Politician
Countries United Kingdom
Gender male
Birth January 3, 1888 (London)
Death March 6, 1965 (Sidcup)
The details
Biography

Herbert Stanley Morrison, Baron Morrison of Lambeth CH PC (3 January 1888 – 6 March 1965) was a British Labour politician who held a variety of senior positions in the Cabinet.
During the inter-war period he served as Minister of Transport during the 1929-31 Labour Government then, after losing his seat in Parliament in 1931, as Leader of the London County Council in the 1930s. Returning to the Commons in 1935, he was defeated by Clement Attlee in the Labour leadership election that year, but later served as Home Secretary in the wartime coalition.
Morrison organised Labour's victorious 1945 election campaign, and served as Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister in Attlee's governments of 1945–51. Attlee, Morrison, Ernest Bevin, Stafford Cripps and (initially) Hugh Dalton formed the "Big Five" who dominated those governments. Morrison oversaw Labour's nationalisation programme, although he opposed Aneurin Bevan's proposals for a nationalised hospital service as part of the setting up of the National Health Service. Morrison developed his social views from his work in local politics, and always emphasised the importance of public works to deal with unemployment. In the final year of Attlee's premiership Morrison served an unhappy term as Foreign Secretary. He was hailed as "Lord Festival" for his successful leadership of the Festival of Britain, a critical and popular success in 1951 that attracted millions of visitors to fun-filled educational exhibits and events in London and across the country.
Morrison was widely expected to succeed Attlee as Labour leader, but Attlee, who disliked him, postponed stepping down until 1955. Morrison, who was considered too old, came a poor third in the ensuing Labour leadership election.

Early life

Morrison was the son of a police constable and was born in Stockwell Lambeth, London. As a baby he permanently lost the sight in his right eye due to infection. He attended Stockwell Road Primary School and left school at 14 to become an errand boy. His early politics were radical, and he briefly flirted with the Social Democratic Federation over the Independent Labour Party (ILP). As a conscientious objector, he worked in a market garden in Letchworth in World War One where he met his wife, a handweaver and embroiderer. His total involvement in politics undermined his marriage; he never mentioned his wife in his autobiography.

Political career

Early career

Morrison eventually became a pioneer leader in the London Labour Party. He was elected to the Metropolitan Borough of Hackney in 1919 when the Labour Party won control of the Borough, and he was Mayor in 1920–21. Morrison was a follower of Clapton Orient FC and became a shareholder in the club. He was elected to the London County Council (LCC) in 1922 and at the 1923 general election he became Member of Parliament (MP) for Hackney South, but lost that seat the following year when Ramsay MacDonald's first administration lost the general election.

Morrison returned to Parliament in the 1929 general election, and MacDonald appointed him Minister of Transport. Morrison, like many others in the party, was deeply disheartened by MacDonald's national government, and he lost his seat again in 1931.

London

Morrison continued to sit on the London County Council and in 1933 was elected to lead the Labour Group. He wrote a book Socialisation and Transport : the Organisation of Socialised Industries with Particular Reference to the London Passenger Transport Bill which encapsulated his ideas on nationalisation. Managers would be appointed to run monopoly industries in the public interest. He did not, however, envisage democratic control by the workers. Unexpectedly, Labour won the 1934 LCC election and Morrison became Leader of the Council. This gave him control of almost all local government services in London. His main achievements here included the unification of bus, tram and trolleybus services with the Underground, by the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board (colloquially known as London Transport) in 1933, and creating the Metropolitan Green Belt around the suburbs. He confronted the Government over its refusal to finance the replacement of Waterloo Bridge, and eventually they agreed to pay 60% of the cost of the new bridge.

In the 1935 election Morrison was once again elected to the House of Commons and immediately challenged Attlee for the leadership of the party. He was defeated by a wide margin in the final ballot, a defeat ascribed to his unfamiliarity with the MPs who had served in the previous Parliament. Both he and his supporter Hugh Dalton put some of the blame on the Masonic New Welcome Lodge, who they claimed backed the third-place leadership candidate Arthur Greenwood and then switched their votes to Attlee. After losing, Morrison concentrated on his LCC work. He convinced Labour to adopt the new electioneering techniques that opponents had been using, especially using advertising agencies in the 1937 local elections. For example, he stressed housing, education and his own leadership with posters featuring Morrison alongside children and with a backdrop of new LCC flats above slogans such as 'Labour Puts Human Happiness First', ‘Labour Gets Things Done’ and ‘Let Labour Finish the Job.’

In 1939 Conservative MPs defeated Herbert Morrison's bill introducing "site value rating", a tax on similar lines to Land Value Tax, in the old London County Council area.

By the late 1960s (long after Morrison had left the leadership of the London County Council), London Conservatives frequently accused him of seeking to 'build the Tories out of London', the implication being that the LCC would deliberately build council houses in order to affect local voting patterns. His biographers Donoghue and Jones have written that "Morrison never said or wrote" the words attributed to him.

Wartime Coalition

In 1940 Morrison was appointed the first Minister of Supply by Winston Churchill, but shortly afterwards succeeded Sir John Anderson as Home Secretary. Morrison's London experience in local government was particularly useful during the Blitz, and the Morrison shelter was named after him. His radio appeal for more fire guards in December 1940 ('Britain shall not burn') features on an audiobook titled The Blitz.

Morrison had to take many potentially unpopular and controversial decisions by the nature of wartime circumstances. On 21 January 1941, he banned the Daily Worker for opposing war with Germany and supporting the Soviet Union. The ban lasted for a total of 18 months before it was rescinded.

The arrival of black American troops caused concern in the government leading Morrison, the Home Secretary, to comment, "I am fully conscious that a difficult social problem might be created if there were a substantial number of sex relations between white women and coloured troops and the procreation of half-caste children." That was in a memorandum for the cabinet in 1942.

In 1943, he ran for the post of Treasurer of the Labour Party but lost a close contest to Arthur Greenwood.

Deputy Prime Minister

After the end of the war, Morrison was instrumental in drafting the Labour Party's 1945 manifesto Let us Face the Future. He organised the general election campaign and enlisted the help of left-wing cartoonist Philip Zec with whom he had clashed during the early stages of the war when, as Minister of Supply he took exception to an illustration commenting on the costs of the supplying the country with petrol. Labour won a massive and unexpected victory, and Morrison was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Commons, having switched his own seat to Lewisham East. He was the chief sponsor of the Festival of Britain.

Morrison supervised the major Labour programme of nationalising industry. As Lord President chaired the Committee on the Socialization of Industries, he followed the model that was already in place of setting up public corporations such as the BBC in broadcasting (1927). The owners of corporate stock were given government bonds, and the government took full ownership of each affected company, consolidating it into a national monopoly. The management remained the same, only now they became public servants working for the government. For the Labour Party leadership, nationalisation was a method to consolidate national planning in their own hands. It was not designed to modernise old industries, make them efficient, or transform their organisational structure.

In July 1946, Morrison, together with US ambassador Henry F. Grady proposed "The Morrison Grady Plan", a proposal for the solution of the Palestine problem, calling for federalisation under overall British trusteeship. Ultimately the plan was rejected by both Arabs and Jews.

After Ernest Bevin's resignation as Foreign Secretary Morrison took over his role, but did not feel at ease in the Foreign Office. He took an aggressive stance against Iran's nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq and approved his overthrow. His tenure there was cut short by Labour's defeat in the 1951 general election, and he was appointed a Companion of Honour in November that year.

Festival of Britain

The 300-foot tall Skylon at the Festival of Britain, 1951

Morrison lacked a deep concern for foreign affairs, but he was an enthusiastic leader of a major domestic project, the Festival of Britain. Starting in 1947 he was the prime mover of the 1951 fair. The original goal was to celebrate the centennial of the Great Exhibition of 1851. However plans changed. It was not to be another World Fair, and international themes were absent; even the Commonwealth was ignored. Instead the Festival focused entirely on Britain and its achievements; it was funded chiefly by the government, with a budget of £12 million. The Conservatives gave little support. The Labour government was losing support and so the implicit goal of the festival was to give the people a feeling of successful recovery from the war's devastation, as well as promoting British science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts. Historian Kenneth O. Morgan says the Festival was a "triumphant success" as thousands:

flocked to the South Bank site, to wander around the Dome of Discovery, gaze at the Skylon, and generally enjoy a festival of national celebration. Up and down the land, lesser festivals enlisted much civic and voluntary enthusiasm. A people curbed by years of total war and half-crushed by austerity and gloom, showed that it had not lost the capacity for enjoying itself....Above all, the Festival made a spectacular setting as a showpiece for the inventiveness and genius of British scientists and technologists.

End of political career

Although Morrison had effectively been Attlee's heir apparent since the 1930s, Attlee had always distrusted him. Attlee remained as Leader through the early 1950s and fought the 1955 election, finally announcing his retirement after Labour's defeat. Morrison was 67 and was seen to be too old to embark on a new leadership. During the leadership election he was the interim Leader of the Labour Party. Although he stood, he finished last, by a wide margin, of the three candidates, with many of his supporters switching to Hugh Gaitskell. Gaitskell won the election, and Morrison resigned as Deputy Leader.

During the Suez Crisis Morrison advocated unilateral action by the United Kingdom against Egypt following Colonel Nasser's seizure of the Suez Canal. He stood down at the 1959 general election and was made a life peer as Baron Morrison of Lambeth, of Lambeth in the County of London on 2 November 1959. He was appointed President of the British Board of Film Censors.

Death

He died in 1965, coincidentally in the same month as the London County Council was abolished. His grandson Peter Mandelson was a cabinet minister in the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. (While Morrison had held the post of Deputy Prime Minister, in 2009 his grandson was appointed First Secretary of State, notwithstanding the fact that the titles are sometimes mistakenly seen as synonymous.)

TV portrayal

Morrison was Foreign Secretary at the time of the defection of the double agents Guy Burgess and Donald Duart Maclean. In the 1977 Granada TV play Philby, Burgess and Maclean by Iain Curteis, Arthur Lowe appeared as Morrison – glowering to the camera in his final shot to show the opaque right lens of his spectacles.

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