Creech Jones lived in East Dulwich before the First world War and founded both the Camberwell branch of the Independent Labour party and the Camberwell Trades and Labour Council. In his political career, he had two main interests - workers education and colonial self-government. He served first as under-secretary of state and then as Colonial Minister in the post-war Labour government from 1945 to 1950 and has been regarded as the founder of the modern Commonwealth. In the Spring 2018 issue, John Taylor's article on the 'Conchies of Dulwich' referred to Creech Jones' political activity in the First World War, when he was sent to prison as a conscientious objector. This article focuses on his later political career. Creech Jones is one of the least known members of Attlee's cabinet - he has not been the subject of any monograph, and does not have an entry in the 14 volume Dictionary of Labour Biography, though there is an entry by Patricia Pugh in the Dictionary of National Biography.
Creech Jones was born in Bristol in 1891. Having passed the civil service junior clerk's examination, he moved to London in January 1907 to work as a clerk in the war office. Known as Arthur Jones (adding the middle name of 'Creech' later), he lived at 46 Keston Road near Goose Green, lodging with relatives, the Tidman family. He appears to have been a Methodist, joining the Liberal Christian League. He was secretary of the Dulwich branch of the League of Progressive Thought and Services and also joined the London Egyptian Debating Society. In 1910, he became lecture secretary for the Liberal Christian League study group. Jones was secretary of the Dulwich ILP from 1912 to 1916 and of the Camberwell Trades Council from 1913 to 1922. The Dulwich ILP was based at Hansler Hall in Hansler Road, off Lordship Lane. Jones organised anti-conscription meetings there for the ILP. A member of the No Conscription Fellowship and the South London Federal Council against Conscription, he was an absolute pacifist. He applied to join the Society of Friends (Quakers) ambulance unit but in September 1916 he was court martialled and sentenced to six months hard labour, which he served in Wormwood Scrubs, not being released until April 1919. Having lost his civil service post, he did some research for the Labour Party on prison conditions before being appointed organising secretary of the Docks, Wharfs and Shipping Staffs union, of which Charles Ammon (later MP for Camberwell and Baron Ammon), London County Council member for Camberwell, ILP'er and leading member of the No Conscription Fellowship, was secretary. This union, originating in the Port of London Authority staff association, was in 1922 incorporated into the Transport and General Workers Union. He therefore became a colleague of Ernest Bevin the union's general secretary, who was to become his political mentor. In July 1920, Creech Jones married Violet May Tidman, a second cousin with whose family he had been lodging. Creech Jones was elected to the London Labour Party Committee in 1921. The TGWU sent him to the Ruhr with Ben Tillett (the veteran trade unionist and TGWU international and political secretary) in 1923 to report on the effect of the French occupation of the Ruhr on the workers.
Creech Jones' interest in Africa apparently originated in being inspired by the campaigns of Edmund Morel and Roger Casement against colonial atrocities in the Congo. In 1925 he was asked to help Clements Kadalie, who had established a union for black workers in South Africa, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU). He commented later that “ I felt that the struggle of the African workers in South Africa could be helped by a type of organisation which had contributed so much to the making of British democracy….”. He had been in contact with Winifred Holtby (the subject of Vera Britain's Testament of Friendship and later the author of South Riding) who was an active feminist and member of the ILP, who had visited South Africa and who had contacts with liberals there. Holtby had already been seeking to obtain funds and books for ICU libraries through the ILP's New Leader paper. Holtby had asked the ILP's Noel Brailsford to support the ICU and then approached Creech Jones. Kadalie also wrote to Creech Jones and then visited London to seek support. Holtby acted as host and the ILP's imperialism committee, which included Creech Jones and Fenner Brockway, the ILP secretary who also had a lifelong interest in Africa, organised a promotional tour of England. Kadalie also attended the TUC conference as a visitor, though his request for delegate status was turned down on the grounds that the ICU was not affiliated to the (white) South African Trade Union Congress. Holtby and Creech Jones set up a fund to send a British trade unionist to South Africa to help Kadalie - a trade unionist from Motherwell was selected, William Ballinger. Holtby in fact supported the fund from the sales of her African novel Mandoa Mandoa! Kadalie and Ballinger however soon fell out though Ballinger stayed in South Africa supporting the African National Congress , serving in the senate between 1948 and 1960 as a representative of Africans in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (Africans not themselves being allowed to sit in the parliament), while his wife Margaret Ballinger also sat in parliament and became a vice--president of Alan Paton's Liberal Party.
Creech Jones also had an interest in workers education, becoming a governor of Ruskin college, the trade union college in Oxford, in 1923 and was an active member of the Workers Education Association, who in 1928 published his handbook Trade Unionism Today, which was widely used in the colonies. He unsuccessfully contested the Heywood and Radcliffe parliamentary constituency in Lancashire in the 1929 election. Creech Jones had been involved in the Workers Travel Association since 1921, and in 1929, following his failure to get into parliament, left the TGWU to take up the post of WTA organising secretary. He was to lead trade unionist delegations to most countries in Europe and also visited Palestine. Through the WTA, he was later to direct the emergency rescue of hundreds of Czechoslovakian socialists and Jews by train, ship, and aeroplane from Prague after Chamberlain signed the Munich agreement in 1938.
Creech Jones became involved in the New Fabian Research Bureau established by G D H Cole and with the fall of the Labour government in 1931, Creech Jones joined the Socialist League, a Labour left group established by Stafford Cripps, which involved a number of Fabians and ILP'ers, though his association with the League was brief. With the ILP being disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 1932, Creech Jones left the ILP focused his involvement in the Labour Party and was selected to stand for Shipley in Yorkshire in the 1935 general election. On election to parliament, Creech Jones joined the Labour Party's committee on imperial questions, also joining the Colonial Office's advisory committee on education in the colonies. He had been a member of the Fabian Society executive committee since 1925. In 1940 he helped to found the Fabian Colonial Bureau, which was to be the main focus of his political activity until 1945, when he became a Minister. Creech Jones also helped to set up a Trades Union Congress colonial affairs committee in 1937. Together with the Fabian Colonial Bureau secretary, Rita Hinden, he became the leading supporter of African nationalists advocate of both colonial self-government and native education in the colonies as well as a constructive critic of British colonial policy under the succession of wartime coalition government colonial ministers, Malcolm Macdonald, Lord Lloyd, Lord Moyne, Viscount Cranborne and Oliver Stanley. He campaigned against the suppression of African associations in Kenya. In 1942, he argued that “There must be a recognition of Africans' rights and status. There must be a big drive in social services, in education and in economic development. We must also associate the African in the administration of local government. We should nationalise the mineral resources of these areas. We should redistribute the land and there should be planned development of smaller industries… “ Despite being a critic of government colonial policy, Creech Jones served as vice-chairman of the Government's commission on higher education in the colonies, visiting Africa with the chairman, the Conservative MP, Walter Elliott. This led to the publication by the government of a report on Mass Education in African Society in 1943. In 1945 he contributed the introduction to Fabian Colonial Essays, edited by Rita Hinden, as well as writing an essay on the need for an accelerated policy of social reconstruction in the colonial empire.
Between 1940 and 1944, Creech Jones was PPS to Ernest Bevin, minister of Labour in the wartime coalition. With the election of a Labour government in August 1945, Creech Jones was appointed under-secretary of state in the colonial office, with George Hall as Minister. In promoting the Colonial Development and Welfare Bill in parliament, Creech Jones acknowledged that the Labour government was aiming at 'the liquidation of colonial status', commenting that “ I doubt if any Imperial Power has ever before embarked upon a policy of deliberately disintegrating its Empire.” In August 1946, Hall was given a peerage and Creech Jones was promoted to the cabinet position, which he held until his defeat in the 1950 general election. In this role, Creech Jones focused his attention on the social and economic development of the colonies, preparing them for self-government and with a continuing focus on the role of education. In 1948, he published a report on Education for Citizenship in Africa. He established the Colonial Development Corporation (later renamed the Commonwealth Development Corporation) to support agricultural development in the colonies. The independence of India and Ceylon threatened to continuation of the Commonwealth as an institution, but Creech Jones managed the transition of the organisation to a voluntary federation of independent countries and self-governing colonies. He chaired the first conference of the West Indian Federation in 1947 and then the London conference of African colonies held at Lancaster House in 1948. His memorandum on local government issued in 1948 confirmed the government's intention gradually to transform indirect rule to responsible government. The Fabian Colonial Bureau published in 1947 a pamphlet by Creech Jones outlining the Labour Government's colonial policy.
On leaving parliament, Creech Jones continued to use the Fabian Colonial Bureau to promote colonial self-government. In 1951 he published a pamphlet on the Future of the African Colonies and in 1959 he edited the Fabian New Colonial Essays, contributing a positive review of the Labour government's colonial policy and achievements. He also worked with the Anti-Slavery Society and the more radical Africa Bureau established by Rev Michael Scott. He was active in the opposition to the Central African Federation (which federated Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland under white leadership) and supported Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland, who was exiled from his country by the incoming Conservative government in 1951. Creech Jones failed to get re-elected to parliament in 1951, this time standing in Romford, but succeeded in fighting a by-election in Wakefield in 1954. He retired from parliament in August 1964 on the grounds of ill-health and died two months later. He was a vice president of the Workers Education Association as well as involved in the Oxford based Institute for Commonwealth Studies. He was also on the committees of the Ramblers Association and the Youth Hostels Association, having piloted the Access to Mountains Act through parliament in 1939 as a private members bill.
As Patricia Pugh's biographical entry in the Dictionary of National Biography comments, Creech Jones “was unimpressive in appearance; he was not a brilliant or witty speaker; but he was one whom the House of Commons greatly respected for his knowledge, integrity, and sincerity.” It may be appropriate to leave the last word to Ernest Bevin, trade union leader and Foreign secretary who on Creech Jones losing his seat in the 1950 election wrote to his former cabinet colleague -
“ Looking back over the history of colonial development, I do not think anyone has a greater record - the constitutional changes you have carried through, the development of education, the promotion of universities, the constant attention you have given to economic development, the way you have applied your mind to the problems of soil erosion and transport. If only it had been done long ago. What a different world it would have been!