Churchill’s Favourite Socialist  


Nov 1999

A Life of A.V. Alexander’  by John Tilley
Book Review
I came across this interesting book whilst surfing the Co-op Union’s Website on the Internet.  Published by Holyoake Books, it is a must for anyone interested in modern history.  I could not put it down. 'Churchill's Favourite Socialist: A Life of A.V.Alexander' by John Tilley  tells the story of a remarkable West Countryman who rose from humble origins to become the First Lord of the Admiralty in the Wartime Coalition Government  and the Minister of Defence under Attlee.

 Leaving school at 13, he became a junior clerk in local government.  Wartime service in the Artists Rifles and officer training at Oxford widened his horizons.  His return to civilian life was marked by a meteorite rise in his career. In a period of three years he rose from being Vice President of the Weston Society, to becoming the Co-op Unions Parliamentary Secretary and in 1922, a Labour MP.  

In 1929, he joined the Cabinet as the First Lord of the Admiralty in Ramsay Macdonald’s ill-fated minority Labour Government.  In 1931, the world economic crisis hit Britain.  The Cabinet was deeply split over cuts in the Dole.  Macdonald astonished his colleagues by forming a ‘National Government’ made up mainly of Tories and Liberals.  

But A.V. remained loyal to Labour and was one of the 235 Labour MPs swept out in the General Election that followed.  Returned in 1935, he constantly warned against the threat of fascist re-armament.  That was how is his relationship with Churchill began.  So it was natural that when war came, for Churchill to invite him to take charge of the Navy again.  He played an important role in the Battle of the Atlantic.  Throughout his career, he known was as ‘Mr Co-op’ and was an indefatigable defender of the Co-operative Movement.  The book also gives an interesting insight into pre-war co-operative politics and the curious arms-length relationship which existed between the Co-op and the rest of the Labour Movement.  This theme still has a resonance even today. 

Holyoake Books: £7 post and package


This article was published by the Co-op News

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