John Dugdale (Labour politician)

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John Dugdale (16 March 1905 – 12 March 1963) was a British newspaper journalist and politician. Well-connected with the Labour Party establishment, he worked as Private Secretary to Clement Attlee and was appointed a Minister in his post-war government.

Early career

Dugdale was from a high-class family, the only son of Colonel Arthur Dugdale who was Commander of the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars during the First World War. He was also second cousin of Conservative MP Thomas Dugdale, who was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1951 to 1954. He was sent to Wellington College, from where he moved to Christ Church, Oxford. On leaving Oxford, Dugdale joined the Diplomatic Service and was stationed in Beijing as an Attaché in the British embassy.

Journalism and politics

This life did not suit him and Dugdale then went into journalism. He was a correspondent for The Times on the Yangtze River during troubles there in 1930. In the 1931 general election, Dugdale fought the constituency of Leicester South as a Labour Party candidate. In the new Parliament, he was appointed as Private Secretary by Clement Attlee, who had become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party largely by default of being the only former Minister to survive the election.

Local government

He was elected to London County Council in 1934 from Islington South. He enjoyed his time on the LCC and local government in general, becoming Vice-President of the Association of Municipal Corporations. At the 1935 general election he tried again to get into Parliament, this time for Cardiff Central, but was again defeated; he fought a byelection in York in 1937. Dugdale married Irene Haverson, granddaughter of George Lansbury, in December 1938.

Entry to Parliament

Dugdale resigned as Attlee's Secretary and enlisted in the Army during the Second World War and was an Officer. He had edited a book of Attlee's speeches called The Road to War which was published in 1940. However, when the Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for West Bromwich Frederick Roberts resigned due to ill health, Dugdale was chosen to follow him, and he was elected unopposed at the by-election in April 1941.

In December 1941, Dugdale was an organiser of a Labour rebellion in the House of Commons over National Service. His group put down an amendment insisting that National Service in industry should happen in conjunction with nationalisation of industries involved in the war effort. The Labour whips did not support the amendment. In 1942 he was part of an all-party group which pressed for wider Sunday opening of cinemas and theatres, decrying the campaigning of the Lord's Day Observance Society. He also took up his interest in China, becoming Secretary of the All-Party Group on China when it was formed in 1943.

Ministerial Office

During the last months of the war, Dugdale was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Clement Attlee. When Attlee formed his government after the 1945 general election, Dugdale was made Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. The job involved a great deal of travelling to visit Royal Navy bases which were scattered across the world. His health was not always good during his time in office. In 1949 he was named to the Privy Council.

Colonial office

In a reshuffle in February 1950, Dugdale was moved to be Minister of State at the Colonial Office. He endorsed the fight against communist insurgents in the Federation of Malaya. In the summer of 1950 he went on a tour of East Africa, including the Tanganyika groundnut scheme.

An embarrassing incident

While visiting Arusha in Tanganyika he was invited to a cocktail party given in his honour by Captain Rydon, a British settler. Accepting on condition that there was no 'colour bar', Dugdale found that some of those presented to him refused to meet him. When one of the settlers made a statement disapproving of the government's Africa policy and defending European rule, Dugdale decided to walk out of the party and return to his hotel; the incident had wide publicity. Dugdale strongly believed in developing African administration and praised the contribution of Kwame Nkrumah in Gold Coast.

Opposition spokesman

When the Labour Party went into opposition in 1951, Dugdale remained a spokesperson on Colonial affairs. He opposed the plan to unite Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In 1956 he asked Parliamentary questions on the mysterious death of Lionel Crabb, who had disappeared while apparently on an intelligence mission to spy on a visiting Soviet warship. In 1958 Dugdale stood for the Shadow Cabinet, but finished bottom of the poll with only 36 votes. He kept up travelling, including a visit to Uganda in 1959, during which he opposed the government's policy of reserving seats in the Uganda Parliament for the Indian minority after independence, which he blamed for civil unrest in the colony.


After the 1959 general election, Dugdale took issue with those who claimed that a pledge of nationalisation had cost votes for the Labour Party. In late 1959 he was one of the first to call for a cricket boycott on South Africa until the policy of apartheid was ended. When he won a place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills in November 1960, he introduced a Bill to make the conditions of farm animals more humane, although it was unsuccessful.

Dugdale's deep belief in the Commonwealth led him to oppose the Macmillan government's application to join the European Economic Community. He demanded that Macmillan accept the resignation of the First Lord of the Admiralty over the Vassall spy case. While speaking on the Defence Estimates in the House of Commons on 11 March 1963, Dugdale was taken ill and rushed to hospital; he died during the night.


  • M. Stenton and S. Lees, "Who's Who of British MPs" Vol. IV (Harvester Press, 1981)
  • Obituary, The Times, 13 March 1963.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Frederick Roberts
Member of Parliament for West Bromwich
Succeeded by
Maurice Foley
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Victor Warrender
Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty
1945 – 1950
Succeeded by
James Callaghan
Preceded by
The Earl of Listowel
Minister of State at the Colonial Office
Succeeded by
Alan Lennox-Boyd