Richard Kidston Law, 1st Baron Coleraine PC
Born: 27 February 1901
Died: 15 November 1980 (aged 79)
Dates as Education Minister: 25 May 1945 – 26 July 1945 (62 days)
Age when Minister: 44 yrs (3m) to 44 yrs (5m)
Best Fact: Held position of Education Secretary for the shortest time, just 62 days.
Youngest son of ex-Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, Richard held the position of Education Minister for just 62 days during Churchill’s caretaker government.
Educated first at Shrewsbury School and then at St. John’s College, Oxford, Law served Parliament for 23 years as an MP and a further 26 years as a peer – until his death in 1980.
As a hard ‘choice’ advocate we can only wonder what he might have done with the 1944 Education Act if he had remained in post. As it was, he had barely enough time for gathering paperwork before relinquishing the role to Ellen Wilkinson.
Is he a contender for ‘greatest’ ever education secretary? Barely even in the race.
After struggling at sport and failing his Eton entrance exam, Rab Butler (future Education Minister) focussed on improving his mind. But how?
1. Square your marks – Butler’s Classics teacher gave tests out of 6 and then required students to ‘square’ their marks. This meant that a respectable four out of 16 only resulted in one receiving 16 out of 36 after squaring. The squaring motivated Butler to push for those two extra points.
2. Be clever, with an interest – Butler focused on modern languages, literature and history instead of Classics. He did so because he was told “be captivated by your subject”. His subsequent Cambridge First suggests it was a smart move.
3. If you must learn something, do it properly – When Butler learned French he forced himself to read Gautier, the French writer with the widest vocabulary. Each day Butler would write down new words encountered, rehearse them, and then recount them the next day. When Butler wanted to learn German, he moved to Austria.
4. Focus on your strengths – Butler made ‘seriousness’ a motif in his debating skills as a way of hiding his lack of humour. He later secured a position as President of the Cambridge Union. He used the same focus to pull off a First in History after planning in advance precisely how he would spend his entire final year. Even though Butler was gravely ill for one his finals exams he achieved top marks for the paper and was awarded a University Fellowship.
5. Don’t just learn from books – Classical smarts were important to Butler but he also realised it wasn’t everything. He would later remark that his policies for employment were more influenced by the sight of desperate men queuing day-after-day at the labour markets than it was by anything he read.
Rab Butler’s childhood stories of living in India involve elephant rides, camping under hot skies, and the fact that no English person ever remained there once they hit sixty.
Butler recounts one particular incident that notably impacted his future opinions:
One day when out riding round Jakko, I ordered my sais to let go of the reins. Galloping around a corner, I was thrown and hopelessly broke my right arm. The sais did not catch up and the first to pass was a Sikh who ‘passed by on the other side’ and left me. All my life, especially when I was Under-Secretary for India, I was quite unjustly cautious of Sikhs.
Butler’s arm was so badly broken he later suffered with Volkmann’s Contractions, leaving him with a permanently weakened handshake and a lifetime of therapy. However, his pain was not his family’s main concern:
My father’s sorrow was terrible. He was brought up in the public school tradition and felt that my whole future as an athlete would be prejudiced. Indeed this proved to be so.
Butler’s family therefore turned their attention to schooling:
I fancied myself an Eton scholarship, and so did my mother, but my schoolmaster was very discouraging. However I went up and sat the papers. At the end of the second day a man in a gown read the names of those who were requested to stay and continue. Mine was not included. I went and spoke to him asking if there had been a mistake; he said there had not. My mother, who met me on the bridge in the High Street, hid her disappointment and cheerfully insisted that we must buy a camera immediately. So I took a picture of her on the bridge, but this did not come out either, due to faulty exposure.
If Butler had been told on that day of his many future achievements one wonders if he would have believed it.
Acknowledgements page from Rab Butler’s “Art of The Possible” Biography.
Not one of the most exciting in the acknowledgement series, but big question: Who are the Shephard family, and why do they own so many cartoons?
I am indebted to those whom I had given the bulk of my political papers, and the copyright therein, for making these papers available to me and to Peter Goldman, and for dealing with the business aspects of the publication of this book.
We are indebted to Lucia Santa Cruz for assisting with historical aspects, especially in the chapter on the Munich period, and to Robin Allen for research work, particularly in connection with the reform of the Conservative Party after the defeat of 1945, also to Michael Fraser for political advice. I make grateful acknowledgements to the many others who have kindly read individual chapters and commented upon them. My secretary, Julia Fish, has provided much help with the preparation of the sheets for publication, and to her too I offer my gratitude.
For permission to reproduce cartoons to David Low, Vicky, Giles, and Ernest Shephard I am obliged to the David Low Trustees, the Evening Standard, the Daily Express, Punch and Associated Newspapers Ltd.
Chapter titles give the flavour of a life. Here’s Butler’s:
I. EARLY INFLUENCES
II. THE LONG HAUL
III. GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
IV. INTO WAR
V. WILLINGLY TO SCHOOL
VI. THE EDUCATION ACT
VII. THE CHARTERS
VIII. “UNE IDEE EN MARCHE”
IX. HINGE OF DESTINY
X. LARGE ELEPHANT
XI. CUSTOMARY PROCESSES
XII. PASTURES NEW
To start us off on our quest, here’s a google maps showing the birthplaces of all UK Education Secretaries*. Can you find the one born outside of the UK?
*bar Geoffrey Lloyd, Fred Mulley & John Patten – If you know these, leave a comment so I can update.