5 JULY 1975, Page 11

Crossman Diaries (2)

Double Crossman

Kenneth Young

The late Richard Crossman, whose diaries when he was a Cabinet Minister have caused controversy, himself figured in the war-time diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart. Naturally, the picture of Crossman's character that emerges there is quite different from the one he himself painted. Lockhart, ex-diplomat, former journalist and author of the best-selling Memoirs of a British Agent, was Director-General of the Political Warfare Executive, the body that co-ordinated all Britain's propaganda services from the contents of leaflets to the then highly secret 'black' (i.e. intentionally misleading) broadcasts to Germany. Crossman, formerly an Oxford don and journalist joined PWE in 1940 and eventually became an assistant chief to the Anglo-American propaganda unit at SHAEF in 1944.

Crossman, however, claimed at a lecture at the Hague in 1972 that he ran the British government's war-time propaganda. By this time Lockhart was dead, but Lockhart's successor as head of PWE, Major-General Sir Alec Bishop, was present at the lecture and noted the discrepancy. He also contested Crossman's claim that political warfare was the only field in which Britain reached "real pre-eminence during the war." It was, however, typical of Crossman. Almost the first reference to him in Lockhart's diary in 1940 is to the fact that Crossman had written "very foolish and boastful letters" to Attlee, Churchill's deputy in the government, "saying he is to be the big man" in PWE. In fact, in the early years of the war, he rose to being head of the German section in the BBC. There his relations with his staff and superiors led to his Oxford nickname, 'Double Crossman', being revived. One of those superiors referred to him as "an unpleasant but highly-intelligent buccaneer." Lockhart complained, in his diary, of Crossman's habit of "running with tales to the Minister's private secretary" (in this case, Gaitskell, PPS, to Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare). His German section eventually revolted against him and, says Lockhart, "I had to pull him up sharply." The chiefs of PWE were harassed by papers from such rebels against him as Patrick Gordon Walker, Tangye Lean and James Monahan. There was a Parliamentary question in January 1942, and a Parliamentary Committee was set up to inquire into his section's activities, Crossman having to be told that, as a civil servant, he could not make counter-attacks in the press which "Would merely play into the hands of the Germans." The Parliamentary Committee included the MP, Kenneth Pickthorne, who said the trouble with Crossman was not that he was too socialist but that he was a fascist: "After the bloodbath of June 30, 1934, Crossman had done a broadcast from Berlin praising the Nazi regime. "This," said Pickthorne, "made it, or should have made it, impossible for him ever to broadcast to Germany during a war." Crossman argued in 1942 for an appeal to the 'good Germans'. This, in the minds of the Churchill government, at that time, was equivalent to fellow-travelling. Eden, then Foreign Secretary, rejected it out of hand. But Crossman pursued the line and was accused of trying at the BBC, to twist the news to suit his .own theories. He is, noted Lockhart, "a plague to my life," and also "power-mad". After the Americans came into the war Crossman was promoted to be Deputy Director of Psychological Warfare in collaboration with the American PWB in North Africa and later in Germany. Lockhart wrote: "The department, while respecting his ability, distrust him deeply."

During 1944-5, Crossman as assistant to to Brigadier General McClure, the American head of the propaganda unit at SHAEF, was -grossly disloyal" to his chief. He sought to put over his frequently "very unsound" view by "subversive and dishonest methods", including leaks to the press, and especially to the New Statesman.

Even Crossman's friend, Kingsley Martin, then editor of the New Statesman, thought him "purely Teutonic in character and mentality." The Americans with whom he worked disliked him, partly because he had advocated their signing an agreement with the English PWE and then not keeping it. McClure "was shocked and rebuked Crossman." Other American commanders spoke, according to Lockhart, about "his ignorance of affairs and, his arrogance of manners."

Lockhart wrote: "All would be well, I feel sure, if we had straight relations with PWD. Trouble is and always has been that no one trusts Crossman who certainly does not behave in a manner which can inspire anyone with confidence. Nor does he act loyally by PWE who, after all, pay him and have taught him all he knows. Bracken [Minister of Information] and Sargent [Permanent Under Secretary Foreign Office] wanted to get rid of him. Kirkpatrick [deputy commander of the Control Commission in Germany] has told Bedell-Smith [Chief of Staff in Europe] that he will not have him in Germany in the Control period. So I expect that this time he will go. Now, [Major General] Bishop, too, is shocked to learn from McClure that, when the PM wanted the policy towards German civilians changed and when Crossman had given instructions to PWD, London, to beg them to fight and defend Crossman's policy with the PM, Grossman had not told a word to McClure, his chief, about the 'action he had taken. I said to Bishop: 'This is not the first time and will not be the last.'

"I have saved him several times and shall be accused of weakness — perhaps rightly — for not having got rid of him long ago. He has oceans of ability, is quick and has 'guts'. Vansittart and the Conservatives hate him because they think he is a Communist or very left-wing. Nonsense. Crossma.n is Crossman and to further his own ambitions he will stick at little. Nor in these circumstances does he think much about right or left. The trouble is. that no one can trust him and that his Oxford nickname of 'Double Crossman' was not given 'without good reason." The war was ending and Crossman decided to enter Parliament. There were difficulties since he was still in PWE. Bracken said he had written an article in the New Statesman so far exceeding the bounds of propriety that it was obviously intended to provoke his dismissal so as to pose as a victim at the election "and win votes from Anthony Eden many of whose. constituents live in Crossman's constituency at Coventry." He was duly elected for Coventry , East and continued as its MP until his death in 1974. Thus he passed from Lockhart's life and diaries. .

No doubt many of these strictures on Crossman's character and conduct were the result of Lockhart's irritation at one of his staff so frequently stepping out of line. Lockhart, after all, was controlling, and with general success, the most heterogeneous team ever assembled by a government, ranging from Foreign Office and newspaper personnel to barristers, bankers and dons. Yet because he never denied Crossman's great abilities, the portrait rings true.

Kenneth Young, who edited the Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, was formerly editor of the Yorkshire Post and is Literary and Political Adviser to Beaverbrook Newspapers