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Hugh Dalton

(1887—1962) politician


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(b. Glamorganshire, 26 Aug. 1887; d. 13 Feb. 1962)

British; Chancellor of the Exchequer 1945–7, Baron (life peer) 1960 The son of a Church of England canon, Dalton was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge. After service in the army during the First World War, he taught at the London School of Economics and Political Science and wrote on public finance and international relations.

Dalton entered Parliament in 1924 as MP for Peckham, later moving to Bishop Auckland. In 1929, he and his wife were the first married couple simultaneously to sit in the House of Commons. After junior office in the second Labour government (1929–31) he lost his seat in 1931 (recapturing it in 1935). He nevertheless made a major contribution to the Labour Party throughout the 1930s. He played an important part in weaning Labour from its traditional opposition to expenditure on the armed forces. In Winston Churchill's wartime coalition government (1940–5) he was initially Minister of Economic Warfare—responsible for establishing the Special Operations Executive to undertake sabotage in Nazi-occupied Europe—and then president of the Board of Trade (1942–5).

By then one of the party's most influential figures, Dalton became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Clement Attlee's government (1945–51) after a last-minute decision to send Ernest Bevin and not him to the Foreign Office. His chancellorship ended abruptly with his resignation over a budget leak, in November 1947. The leak was relatively minor and he returned to the Cabinet in 1948 as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. After the 1950 general election he was made Minister of Town and Country Planning (later expanded to Local Government and Planning). After Labour lost office Dalton's influence waned rapidly. He was defeated in the NEC elections in 1952 and in 1955 announced his retirement from the shadow Cabinet. He accepted a peerage after leaving the Commons in 1959 but was relatively inactive in the Lords.

Opposition suited Dalton less well than office, where he could exercise his administrative skills. But despite his academic background as an economist, he was no great success as Chancellor: his policies were inflationary and inappropriate to the state of Britain's post-war economy. They were largely reversed by his successor. He was more successful at Local Government and Planning.

When in high office, Dalton displayed a commendable preparedness to bring on the younger generation. But he also displayed less attractive attributes. His propensity for gossip and intrigue was renowned. It has been suggested that Attlee's readiness to accept his resignation in 1947 was influenced by recent intrigues against him by Dalton. He was also egotistical and conscious of his ranking in the Cabinet. All these qualities were displayed in the three volumes of his highly controversial memoirs (1953, 1957, and 1962) which revealed the inner workings of party and government with what was, for their day, unaccustomed frankness.

Subjects: Politics — Economics.


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