Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Suez and Lebanon

(BBC Online)

Fifty years ago, Colonel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. The UK and France, which previously owned it, persuaded the Israelis to invade Egypt and the resulting furore helped permanently damage the reputation of the then British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, and showed the UK that when push came to shove, it would be playing second fiddle to the US.
Eden had previously a high reputation, just deserved. Admired by politicians across the spectrum, he resigned as Foreign Secretary over Chamberlain's appeasment policy, played second fiddle to Churchill faultlessly in public, and had a debonair charm which effortlessly cut ice.
Unfortunatley by the time he became Prime Minister, he was past his peak, was a sick man, and that in turn may well have affected his political judgement at a crucial moment in his premiership.
I am not using this as an analogy with contemporary politics save this. With regards to Lebanon, no side is wholly blameless, but Israel must try and aim it's attacks soley at Hezbollah (although how much we really know and how much is reporting bias is open to conjecture) and the UK must pause for thought here, take a moderate stance, and take a deep breath before plunging on.
In some respects the present Prime Minister has done well with regards to a political legacy. Presiding over a strong economy, if allowing for serious mistakes like Iraq. But if he really wants to leave with a good legacy, he should perhaps be a bit less servile to the US and try to take more of a tough but moderate stance. Because now is the time to pause and reflect if we are able to be in a position to be of real help in this present conflict.


C4' said...

Prime Minister has done well with regards to a political legacy. Presiding over a strong economy.

Which was inhereted from the Conservatives, just as the Tories inhereted an improving economy from Labour in the 1950s.

Paul Burgin said...

"just as the Tories inhereted an improving economy from Labour in the 1950s."
Oh how kind! ;)
As for Labour inheriting from the Tories in the 90's, if that is so, then we have done a fine job keeping it going! ;)

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

he resigned as Foreign Secretary over Chamberlain's appeasment policy

Not totally. Eden's resignation is a classic case of utter confusion at the time (it's said he left MPs more confused after he spoke, rather than less), distorted after the event to make it more glorious.

In his memoirs Eden blames the confusion at the time on the likes of Sit John Simon (then Chancellor and conveniently dead at the time of publication) spreading stories that Eden was ill amongst MPs. To paraphrase a historian I heard last week, "The Gospel according to Winston" first portrayed Eden's resignation as a heroic sacrifice, followed by eighteen month's opposition to the Chamberlain government. This is also the view of Eden's own memoirs. Contrast that with David Dutton's (amongst others) 1997 biography which shows Eden spending "The Wilderness Months" seeking to minimise his differences with Chamberlain and declining to rally with more vocal critics.

(Similarly Duff Cooper made a lot of his resignation over Munich as a great thing - and considerably less of his attempts to reingratiate himself.)

As for Eden's reputation, it's also forgotten how discredited he became before the Suez Crisis. Domestically his government was wandering and personally Eden was widely regarded as a failure. The idea that he was a spectacular Prime Minister on the home front brought down by foreign affairs doesn't ring true.

(Chamberlain on the other hand...)

Paul Burgin said...

Thanks for letting me know about that Tim.
Incidentally I did know that Eden wasn't impressive on the Home front as PM, but I got the impression he was brilliant when he was Foreign Secretary