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Old July 14th, 2014, 09:50 AM   #1

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Lord Halifax as PM


Why wasn't Lord Halifax appointed as PM in 1940? It seems that he was acceptable to just about everyone, including Churchill, who was willing to serve under him.

The only person who didn't seem to want to be PM was Halifax himself, but he nonetheless accepted a Cabinet post under Churchill and continued to argue his corner. Surely, if he was prepared to do that, he would have been better off doing it as PM, instead of as Foreign Secretary.

He seems to have made a number of errors of judgement during his career, from India to appeasement and then advocating a peace settlement with Nazi Germany, so it's just as well he didn't become PM. And according to QI (which is not the most reliable source in the world), Michael Foot stated that he was quite prepared to kill Halifax in the event of a German invasion, if he were made a puppet leader/
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Old July 14th, 2014, 10:49 AM   #2
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I think there may have been some difficulties leading the government from the House of Lords during WWII, he probably wouldn't have been able to get things accomplished as readily as Churchill did for this reason alone; though the problems wouldn't have been insurmountable. Under any other circumstances Lord Halifax would have probably made a great PM, but given the conditions of the time I think it's fortunate Churchill was chosen instead.

Whether Lord Halifax would have sought a separate peace, I don't know. It's one thing to put it out there and argue the position as Foreign Secretary, it's another thing entirely to make that call on behalf of the realm.
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Old July 14th, 2014, 11:57 AM   #3

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Halifax instead of Churchill
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Old July 14th, 2014, 12:04 PM   #4

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Originally Posted by Naomasa298 View Post
Why wasn't Lord Halifax appointed as PM in 1940? It seems that he was acceptable to just about everyone, including Churchill, who was willing to serve under him.

The only person who didn't seem to want to be PM was Halifax himself, but he nonetheless accepted a Cabinet post under Churchill and continued to argue his corner. Surely, if he was prepared to do that, he would have been better off doing it as PM, instead of as Foreign Secretary.

He seems to have made a number of errors of judgement during his career, from India to appeasement and then advocating a peace settlement with Nazi Germany, so it's just as well he didn't become PM. And according to QI (which is not the most reliable source in the world), Michael Foot stated that he was quite prepared to kill Halifax in the event of a German invasion, if he were made a puppet leader/
Michael Foot probably could not have killed a rabbit, other than boring it to death with a speech. He was the main author of "The Guilty Men", a 1940 tract against appeasement that destroyed the reputations of Halifax and many others at the time and afterwards. Foot however, conveniently forgot that as a journalist as would-be MP, he was rabidly against re-armament throughout the 1930s (even proposing British unilateral disarmament), re-armament was the alternative to appeasement. When he realised how much of a threat Mussolini and Hitler were to his beloved Stalin, then violently opposed appeasement.
When Chamberlain indicated that he wanted to resign after the Norway debate, the Conservatives wanted Halifax, Labour wanted Halifax, the Liberals wanted Halifax, the House of Lords wanted Halifax and the King wanted Halifax: even Churchill stated that he was willing to serve under Halifax--the problem is that Halifax himself did not want the job.
He had become Foreign Secretary in succession to Eden, a man some 16 years his junior and believed to be on his way up, while Halifax had turned down the job a decade earlier after being Viceroy of India. In 1940 the man was on Autocruise. Chamberlain had usurped his functions as Foreign Secretary with his "personal relationships" and he could see Churchill ( the shoo-in for the brand new job of Minister for Defence) sidelining him in the same way in a war. It happened anyway on 28 May 1940 when Halifax proposed some form of negotiated settlement with Hitler, brokered by Mussolini, in light of the collapse of the French and the surrounding of the BEF (this was before the Dunkirk evacuation), but Churchill gave a tub-thumbing-backs-to-the-wall-never-in-a thousand-years, die-with-blood-in-our-mouths speech to the entire 25 member cabinet that, lubricated by the late hour, had everyone present doing a Henry V and banging the table with approval. At the time Halifax's stance looked pretty realistic, although we shall never know what terms may have been proposed.
It's a great What-If. Maybe Britain would have been picking up the pieces of a Germany ground to bits by the Red Army in, oh, 1946 or thereabouts instead of enduring a generation of hard-scrabble.
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Old July 14th, 2014, 12:13 PM   #5

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But if that were the case, I don't understand why he didn't resign as Foreign Secretary.

I wonder then, if Germany had invaded two weeks earlier, would Halifax have accepted the job? He would no doubt have had an idea of what Churchill's response to the invasion would be.
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Old July 14th, 2014, 12:35 PM   #6

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But if that were the case, I don't understand why he didn't resign as Foreign Secretary..
Sorry, resign under Chamberlain or resign under Churchill?
Under Chamberlain, he seems to have been interested in developing a different Foreign Policy to Chamberlain's--a bit of re-armament and lots of "Gentlemen's agreements". He was a patrician after all while Chamberlain was a Brummagem tin-basher with a qualification in accountancy. As I said above, he was very much on Autocruise after 1937.
The UK's domestic politics of the 1940s have been a bit washed out by the glare of Churchill; it's hard to appreciate now that Chamberlain was actually considered a bit common and left wing by the Tories of the time.
Halifax stayed on under Churchill for only as long as was "respectable".
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I wonder then, if Germany had invaded two weeks earlier, would Halifax have accepted the job? He would no doubt have had an idea of what Churchill's response to the invasion would be.
Two weeks earlier? I don't understand the time frame.
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Old July 14th, 2014, 12:46 PM   #7

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Sorry, resign under Chamberlain or resign under Churchill?
Under Churchill.

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Two weeks earlier? I don't understand the time frame.
Well, let's say the Germans had invaded two weeks earlier, but Chamberlain still resigns on the same date as before and the invasion proceeds according to the original schedule. Two weeks into the invasion, Calais was under siege, and there was a much clearer danger that the British forces in France would be destroyed.

If Churchill had become PM at this point, Halifax would presumably have a good idea that he would choose to fight on, so the only chance for a negotiated settlement would be if Halifax himself had become PM.
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Old July 14th, 2014, 12:52 PM   #8
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When Chamberlain indicated that he wanted to resign after the Norway debate, the Conservatives wanted Halifax, Labour wanted Halifax, the Liberals wanted Halifax, the House of Lords wanted Halifax and the King wanted Halifax: even Churchill stated that he was willing to serve under Halifax--the problem is that Halifax himself did not want the job.
I must admit I can't remember where I read it but my understanding was that Labour wouldn't serve under Halifax.
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Old July 14th, 2014, 12:56 PM   #9
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I'm wrong - they refused to join a coalition led by Chamberlain. I have a copy of John Colville's diaries - he describes Halifax as "unpersuedable".
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Old July 14th, 2014, 01:43 PM   #10

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Under Churchill..
Well he didn't last long as For. Sec. under Churchill, did he? There was the little matter of presenting a unity government between June and November during the period of maximum danger (although people having the proverbial bombed out of them may have thought that maximum danger lasted right through to May 1941). The single most important Foreign Office aim in the second half of 1940 was surely to get a more positive support for Britain from the USA (both political parties in a US presidential election year), something that Halifax was incapable of doing, although his job as Ambassador to the US from Feb. 1941 suggests that he may have something to do with the Placentia Bay meeting in August 1941. After December 1941 Anglo American relations were carried on at many levels where the Ambassador was probably the least important.



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Originally Posted by Naomasa298 View Post
Well, let's say the Germans had invaded two weeks earlier, but Chamberlain still resigns on the same date as before and the invasion proceeds according to the original schedule. Two weeks into the invasion, Calais was under siege, and there was a much clearer danger that the British forces in France would be destroyed.

If Churchill had become PM at this point, Halifax would presumably have a good idea that he would choose to fight on, so the only chance for a negotiated settlement would be if Halifax himself had become PM.
Churchill became PM on 10 May. The jig was up for the BEF by the 24th and the Axis peace feelers arrived on 26th--the same day that Halifax put the idea of a negotiated settlement to cabinet and the same day that the BEF had fought back to the Dunkirk perimeter line and were clearly cut off.

Had the jig been seen to have been up and the BEF surrounded, say, on 8th May, the day before Chamberlain's resignation and the agonising between Labour and the Tory grandees, I suspect that Churchill may still have got the job and CHARGED by his colleagues to pursue some form of armistice pending a negotiated settlement. After all, Churchill DID consider the possibility--according to Len Deighton ( I forget his original source) the prospect for some days--he even got a novel out of it (XPD). The full cabinet (25 people) still worked on consensus. Had Halifax had enough support he may have swayed it (later with less of Chamberlain's men around it would have been impossible).
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