338 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram 30[A] LONDON, 17 February 1942, 5.59 p.m.

IMMEDIATE FOR THE PRIME MINISTER PERSONAL HIMSELF ONLY

Since Cripps' return from Russia [1] I have been in touch with him and last night had a long conversation. [2] In addition to his outstanding capacity he has character and guts, and is in my view the hope of the side.

The Prime Minister invited him to enter Cabinet as Minister of Supply (this is most confidential) but he declined unless the structure of War Cabinet altered contending that as at present constituted it is a quite inefficient instrument and working with it no one could hope by his individual efforts to bring about a satisfactory higher direction of the war.

In my view this attitude and opinion are fully justified.

The present position is that he is waiting on events which however are moving rapidly, the fall of Singapore and the disastrous episode in the Channel [3] having occurred since his conversations with Churchill.

These happenings have so shaken public confidence here in the Prime Minister that in my view if he does not face a drastic alteration in the structure and personnel of the War Cabinet there will be considerable danger of [hiS] [4] defeat, not immediately but after a certain lapse of time determined by the pace of war developments.

The former is the consummation devoutly to be wished:

(a) [Because] reconstruction of War Cabinet under Churchill with Cripps included down the lines he and I discussed last night and were agreed upon would [provide] the best instrument to our hand for efficient conduct of the war. The alteration to the structure and personnel of the War Cabinet which we discussed I do not feel at liberty to give you as the conversation was a personal one in which we expressed our views very freely.

(b) Because Cripps in my opinion is the only man to succeed Churchill.

If (a) achieved Cripps by his ability and personality would establish himself as Churchill's successor as and when one was required.

If (a) not achieved but Churchill eventually had to go I do not believe that Cripps would succeed him. At the moment having just returned [from] his successful mission to Moscow which the people believe resulted in bringing Russia into the war on our side and following his admirable broadcasts Cripps' stock in the country is very high.

Owing to his relations with the Labour Party before the war he is not persona grata with it and has implacable enemies in its ranks.

He is also anathema to many sections of the Conservative Party.

Today these forces are powerless against him. Given time their combined [subterranean machinations] will undermine his position in the country.

Holding [the above views] I am doing what I can in an entirely personal capacity and with the utmost discretion to further them.

I feel however that I should let you know what I am doing. While we would properly resent any interference in our domestic politics by the United Kingdom representative I feel strongly that the pressent issue[s] far transcend any domestic issues and that I am entitled to do anything I can to assist in finding a solution of what is a question of vital importance to the Empire and in fact to the world.

I need not stress how personal the foregoing is.

BRUCE

1 Sir Stafford Cripps had until earlier that month been U.K.

Ambassador to the U.S.S.R.

2 See Bruce's record of this conversation on 16 February on file AA:M100, February 1942. Bruce described Cripps as 'the first person I have come across who I think could stand up to, work with and influence Winston', and was anxious to see him take up a leading role in the Churchill Govt. Bruce also told Cripps that he 'had found the present [Commonwealth] Government more responsive to suggestions than its predecessors and that it was extremely clear thinking and did not hesitate to express its views', but that 'it was extremely suspicious and attributed to the Government here a degree of cunning and intelligence which unhappily it did not possess'. In the U.K. War Cabinet reorganisation on 19 February Cripps became Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons and Clement Attlee replaced Lord Cranborne as Dominions Secretary.

3 See Document 335, note 10.

4 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from Bruce's copy oil file AA:M100, February 1942.

[AA:A1608, B33/1/2]