Stafford Cripps was born in London and had a comfortable upbringing. He studied chemistry while attending Winchester College and the University College of London, but did not pursue science; instead, he began practicing law with great success. Cripps moved to the left politically in the 1920s, developing sympathies for socialism. He joined Great Britain’s Labour Party in 1929, was knighted and appointed as solicitor general the following year, and was elected to Parliament in 1931. Cripps quickly rose in the Labour Party’s leadership. He also helped create the Socialist League in 1932 and founded a left-wing paper, the Tribune, in 1937.
During the 1930s, Cripps wanted to form a united front with communists to confront fascism , and he opposed an appeasement policy toward an increasingly aggressive Germany. Even when the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact to become Germany’s ally, Cripps still held out hope for a Great Britain-USSR coalition. In 1939, Cripps’ radical views led him to be expelled from the Labour Party, but when Winston Churchill became Britain’s prime minister in May 1940, he viewed Cripps as the perfect choice to negotiate with the Soviets. Cripps was named Britain’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, a post he held from May 1940 until January 1942. In this role, Cripps attempted to persuade the Soviets to abandon their alliance with Adolf Hitler . Based on intelligence he received, he also warned Joseph Stalin that the Germans were planning to invade the USSR, which occurred in June 1941.
After the Soviet Union joined the Allies , Cripps’ popularity soared. In February 1942, he became the leader of the House of Commons and a member of the British War Cabinet, but when he was sent to India that spring to arrange a deal—the promise of postwar independence in exchange for Indian help during the war—the talks were a failure. By year’s end, Cripps had left the War Cabinet and become the Minister of Aircraft Production. After rejoining the Labour Party and becoming president of the Board of Trade in 1945, Cripps returned to India in 1946 in an unsuccessful attempt to reach an agreement regarding a united, independent India. In 1947, as Great Britain faced an economic crisis, he became chancellor of the exchequer and introduced strict fiscal policies. Ill health forced Cripps’ resignation in 1950, and he died in 1952.