Butler was responsible for the 1944 Education Act that created the pattern for post-war secondary schooling in Britain. He was a key figure in the Conservative Party in the 1950s.
Richard Austen Butler - who was always known as 'Rab' - was born on 9 December 1902 in India. He was educated at Cambridge University and in 1923 became Conservative member of parliament for Saffron Walden. He held a number of junior ministerial positions in the 1930s. In February 1938, he became under-secretary of state for foreign affairs, and in this position he was a resolute supporter of the prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, and his policy of appeasement.
In 1941, however, Butler became president of the board of education in Winston Churchill's wartime coalition. Here he oversaw the Education Act that popularly bears his name - the act that introduced free secondary education for the first time in the UK. It was the only significant piece of legislation relating to post-war social reform that was passed by the coalition government. After the Conservative Party's defeat in 1945, Butler used his position as head of the party's research department to promote moderate policies that accepted many of the Clement Attlee government's social reform and public ownership measures.
When the Conservatives returned to power in 1951, Butler became chancellor of the exchequer. While Butler worked within the mixed economy and welfare state inherited from Labour, he was not averse to reshaping them along more traditionally Conservative lines. As a result, Labour's progressive taxation policy was revised, welfare benefits were made less universal, and in 1952 Butler briefly contemplated floating the pound on the foreign exchanges. From 1957-1962 Butler was home secretary, and he also served as foreign secretary in 1963-4. However, he twice failed to become Conservative party leader, losing out to Macmillan (1957) and Alec Douglas-Home (1963). This was partly because his consensual Toryism was viewed with suspicion by some party members, but also because he lacked the ultimate ambition and ruthlessness to seize the opportunity presented to him. Butler became a life peer in 1965 and died on 8 March 1982.
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