Tremendous work!I Want To Get Off Mr Eden's Wild Ride1955-1957: Sir Anthony Eden (Conservative)
def 1955: (Majority) Clement Attlee (Labour), Clement Davies (Liberal)
1957-1959: Sir Anthony Eden (Loyalist Conservatives)
1959-1959: Admiral Louis Mountbatten (Temporary Military Administration)
1959-1963: Hugh Gaitskell (Labour)
def 1961: (Majority) Rab Butler (Anti-Eden Conservative), Dick Crossman (Independent Labour), Bob Boothby (Loyalist Conservatives), Frank Owen (Liberal), Stanley Evans (Pro-Eden Labour)
1963-1966: George Brown (Labour)
1966-1975: Nigel Birch (New Conservative)
def 1966: (Majority) George Brown (Labour), Jennie Lee (Independent Labour), Enoch Powell (Loyalist Conservatives), Violet Bonham Carter (Liberal)
def 1971: (Grand Coalition with Labour) Tony Greenwood (The Third Way: An Independent Britain), Denis Healey (Labour), Enoch Powell (British People's Party), Eric Lubbock (Liberal)
1975-1977: Tony Greenwood (The Third Way)
def 1975: (Non-Alignment Alliance with British People's Party and Liberals) Nigel Birch (New Conservative), Enoch Powell (British People's Party), Denis Healey (Labour)
1977-1980: Colonel David Stirling (Independent)
1980-1990: David Stirling (National Salvation Movement)
def 1980: (Minority)
Boycott Election (The Third Way), Ian Gilmour (Democratic Alliance)
def 1985: cancelled
1990-1991: Major Patrick Wall (National Salvation Movement)
1991-XXXX: Ralph Miliband (Socialist Coalition)
def 1991: (Majority) Michael Keith Smith (Britannia), Michael Heseltine (Democratic), Keith Nilsen (CPGB), Patrick Wall (National Salvation)
Melvyn Bragg: Hello, I'm Melvyn Bragg, and welcome back to the Culture Review. We have three first-rate guests lined up for you tonight, and first up is Professor Matthew Kneale, who is here to talk about his new book Exile From The Garden: How Anthony Eden Shaped Modern Politics. Professor Kneale, what would you say the central message of your book is?
Matthew Kneale: There is a famous maxim that the right man in the right place can change history forever. Anthony Eden provides an equally apposite corollary: the wrong man in the right place can change everything as well...
MB: Yes, you take a fairly harsh line on Eden in your book, don't you... What would you say about the way that recent portrayals of Eden have depicted him, monstered in The Throne and humanised by dissident academics?
MK: Well, obviously depictions of Eden as a cackling baby-eater are ahistorical and hardly worth discussing, but I take issue with the claim that those seeking to smooth off his edges are 'dissident'. Indeed, it has become almost fashionable in some circles, as we come up to the sixtieth anniversary of Suez, to paint Eden as a victim of circumstance--some even claiming that any Prime Minister in his shoes would have felt obliged to demonstrate that Britain still had power. This is patently absurd.
It is conceivable that most alternative PMs in 1955 would have decided to pressure Nasser into giving back the canal--Morrison, for example, was a major cheerleader of Eden's efforts. It is less likely, however, that any other leader would have continued with said military intervention for four years, in the face of massive international pressure from both sides of the Cold War--Khruschev even, at one point, considered threatening Britain with missile bombardment before being persuaded to reconsider by General Zukhov--and increasingly chilly public opinion as more and more British young men left their blood on Egyptian sands.
Some less ambitious revisionist takes have far more substance to them. It was indeed true that, by 1956, Eden was increasingly dependent on Benzadrine due to his acute cholangitis, and as such shouldn't be considered fully responsible for his actions. However, not only is it clear that Eden would have gone to war without drugs, such an argument is less an exoneration of Eden and more a condemnation of the wider government apparatus. If, as many political diaries attest, by late 1958 Eden was taking around 2 grams a day, sleeping for less than four hours each night, and wracked by muscle tremors and psychosis, why on Earth weren't his decisions challenged sooner?
MB: He was challenged, though, wasn't he? The party split? Mountbatten interfered?
MK: Yes, the thing about the Anti-Eden Conservatives was that, besides a few principled figures like Nutting, their opposition was rather too little and too late. Butler, for example, might have smothered the war in its crib, had he been sterner in his opposition earlier on, but history repeated himself and just like in '38 he only began opposing evil once it became worth his career to do so. Still, he jumped ship at least. Others with private doubts, like Selwyn Lloyd, stayed with Eden to the end--Lloyd largely because by this time he was as steeped in blood as Eden himself.
As for Mountbatten, his intervention was a frankly tactless blunder. The last days of the Eden ministry were a complete chaotic jumble, with moderates trying to talk Eden round to de-escalation and the hardliners predicting boots in Cairo by Christmas, and the government hamstrung by rebellion and unable to do anything. In this fevered atmosphere, all sorts of bizarre things were being thrown around. It's unlikely that serious plans were actually drawn up to postpone the general election if there was a vote of no confidence, any more than Nasser was to be paid reparations--something which was thrown at the peace faction by the hardliners. Nevertheless, the rumours of British democracy being under threat was enough for the first Sea Lord to join with American forces in actually threatening it.
The Mountbatten coup--and it was a coup, no bones about it--could have easily spiralled into dictatorship. Indeed, we have records of Clark Clifford trying to persuade Mountbatten to extend military rule to "ensure stability". Luckily for Britain, Mountbatten saw his intervention, dramatic though it may have been, with military policemen escorting the PM out in handcuffs, as being a mere temporary blip, and quickly installed the Leader of the Opposition as PM. And luckily for Mountbatten, Gaitskell was perfectly willing to work with the US on Soviet containment. In a lot of ways, Mountbatten's coup was a perfect storm, much like the disaster of Eden's premiership--a lot of details lined up to make it successful. And it still paved the way for Stirling's junta two decades later.
MB: Which of course is the main theme of your book--but surely Stirling's assumption of power was in part a response to political realities of the time?
MK: Yes, and those political realities were just as much indirectly shaped by Eden as Stirling was! The only thing that was more a product of Suez than Stirling was the governing coalition he usurped. A mutual dislike for American dominance and a desire for Britain to go its own way--whether that meant joining with Desai and Tito or with Salan and Franco--was the only thing that prevented Greenwood and Powell from not going at each other's throats. On every issue bar foreign policy their two parties were opposed, and the fact that an anti-NATO right-wing party was even viable was entirely a result of Eden!
Before British forces pushed into Suez, anti-American feeling marked one out as a radical leftist, either of the peacenik or bearhugger variety. But with Mountbatten's coup, suddenly a right-wing narrative of continued imperial dominance if only the Yanks hadn't stabbed Eden in the back was palatable to the general public. These views quickly began to trickle into Parliament, led by those who had held them for decades. On the Left, the opposite slowly began to take shape--Gaitskell owing his Premiership to Langley meant that those Labour MPs who were unable to stomach American foreign policy jumped ship to a new designation, allowing for an odd sabre-rattling social democracy to become the official position of the old party. The Grand Coalition of 1971 would have seemed insane 20 years before, but Labour had changed enough in the meantime that it made sense. Foreign policy, not the economy, now defined British politics.
The Stirling junta didn't destroy this definition, it just made it so that a pro-NATO position was almost completely nonviable. The major political parties we have today--a broad leftist alliance, a populist sabre-rattling right, and a centre to centre-right small-l liberal third party--can all trace their heritage back to the alliances formed in the Seventies as a reaction to the events of the Eden ministry. And it's more than just the parties, there's a reason why I called my book Exile From The Garden. It's not just a bad pun on Eden's name, it's in recognition of the fact that, once Britain had consumed that apple of knowledge, had learnt that its interests weren't NATO's interests, there was no going back. It is unlikely that any politician today will have the sheer influence on the future that one drug-addled imperialist had in 1956.
MB: Thank you Professor Kneale, that was very interesting. Guests still to come include a slam poet from Croydon, an expert on Ancient Sumerian petroglyphs, and a devotee of edible mushrooms...but first, Lloyd Hoggart is here to talk about the life of former Labour cabinet minister, master of St Edmund's College, and my predecessor as host of this programme, Norman St John-Stevas...
They're a bit too modern, aye. There were regional concepts back then, but they were more ad hoc I think. The analogous internal regional organisation for the Tories up here was termed 'Northern Counties' and encompassed most of the north east, plus Boro, plus Cumberland.Only thoughts that immediately come to mind is I think the regions are a bit too modern in England. 1920s Yorkshire would definitely not include North Lincolnshire, and this is a period where you've got Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham all sitting on county boundaries and so likely to be split off as separate things. I also can't help but think that if London is being given devolution here as the County of London, it's more likely that we see an administration for the Home Counties (probably including Oxfordshire), a small East Anglia and an enlarged Wessex that includes Hampshire.
Cumbria appears to have been one of the more artificial creations of the 1974 era really. Westmoreland was generally seen as linking in with Lancashire, Cumberland as being a definitively separate thing that had more in common with Newcastle. (Well, the really artificial thing came earlier when the Barony of Kendal was joined with the Barony of Westmoreland rather that splitting along the hills).They're a bit too modern, aye. There were regional concepts back then, but they were more ad hoc I think. The analogous internal regional organisation for the Tories up here was termed 'Northern Counties' and encompassed most of the north east, plus Boro, plus Cumberland.