6.10 Statecraft


Thomas More: 1438-1535; Lord Chacellor beheaded for disobeying Henry VIII, who had had his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn instead; also some time Speaker of the House of Commons; more invented the word ‘utopia’ in a book of that name of 1516, to describe a perfect imaginary country run on tolerant and egalitarian principles, without the existence of private property; Thomas More is the official Catholic patron saint of politicians

Thomas Cromwell: 1485-1540; rose from poor obscurity to become Henry VIII’s chief minister, but the wheel of fortune turned and his career ended on the execution’s block

Robert Walpole: 1676-1745; in office as prime minister 1721-42; Walpole was in fact the world’s first modern-style prime minister and the creator of history’s first party political machine; he is Britain’s longest serving PM, at 21 years; there have been more than 50 British PMs since, all, like Walpole, based at 10 Downing Street, London, of which Walpole was the first occupant; it is piquant that Britain is run from a converted terraced house, albeit a posh one; in 1732 Walpole persuaded the House of Commons to abandon Saturday sittings so he could go hunting, creating a two-day break; the weekend has since been taken up enthusiastically all around the world; weekend is one of Britain’s greatest contributions not only to global recreation but to the world’s lexicon

William Pitt the Younger: 1759-1806; hero of the Seven Years War against France; turned the Royal Dockyards into the largest industrial enterprise in the world; on slavery, which was to see a quarter of the 10m or so souls shipped out of Africa travel on British ships to the New World, he said, ‘No nation has plunged so deeply into this guilt as Great Britain’; Britain became the pioneer anti-slaving nation, going it alone in this regard; the campaign’s most renowned advocate being William Wilberforce, 1759-1833, who spoke in Parliament, where he sat 1780-1825, of “this horrid trade” [see Abolition of slavery]

Lord Palmerston: 1784-1802; Civis Romanus sum – ‘I am a Roman citizen’ – quoted by ‘Pam’ in 1850, when he claimed that every British citizen should be protected by the British Empire, as a Roman citizen abroad was by the Roman Empire

Benjamin Disraeli: 1804-81; ‘Dizzy’ was the first British prime minister to be a Jew; Britain has historically been more accomodating of Jews in all walks of life than many other nations, also providing great campaigners for Jewish emancipation and rights such as Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885)

William Ewart Gladstone: 1809-98; four times prime minister, he was know as the GOM, ‘Grand Old Man’ – or, according to his political rival Disraeli, ‘God’s Only Mistake’

David Lloyd George: 1863-1945, PM, 1916-22; ‘The most famous Welshman ever born in Manchester’; he is the only British prime minister whose second tongue was English, his first being Welsh

Ramsay MacDonald: 1866-1937; became the first Labour prime minister ever in 1924, though his first government did not survive into 1925; he was prime minister again from 1929-35; MacDonald was the illegitimate son of a fisherwoman from Lossiemouth, a tiny fishing village in the north of Scotland

Prime Minister Churchill: Winston Churchill (1874-1965) had two spells as Prime Minister, 1940-5 & 1951-5; his first term as prime minister was in the Second World War; in his first parliamentary speech as prime minister on 13 May 1940 Churchill said “I would say to this House, as I said to those who joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all our strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let this be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, ‘come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.’ ” [see Churchill]

Margaret Thatcher: b1925; in 1979 she became first woman prime minister of a leading nation and went on to become Britain’s longest-serving 20th century premier, resigning in 1990; famous for ‘hand-bagging’ her fellow leaders at EU summits, Margaret Thatcher told a meeting of Scottish Tories in 1999 that “in my lifetime all our problems have come from mainland Europe, and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking nations across the world.”

Political triumvirates in the 20th century

- Lloyd George (UK), Woodrow Wilson (US), Georges Clemenceau (Fr)

- Churchill(UK), Roosevelt (US), Stalin (Russia)

- Thatcher (UK), Reagan (US), Gorbachev (Soviet Union/Russia)

Post-Second World War international arrangements:

NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation , 1949; NATO secured democracy in Europe; it has been one of most successful alliances in history; won the Cold War without firing a shot; reunited Europe via eastward expansion

IMF, WB, GATT: Bretton Woods, 1944, ‘triplet’ of International Monetary Fund, World
Bank and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

UN: the United Nations; the first session of the UN was held in 1946 in Central Hall, Westminster, London; Britain is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council; Britain is the only one of the five to accept as compulsory the verdicts of the International Court of Justice, which first met in 1946

IMO: International Maritime Organisation, 1959; part of the UN, the IMO is based in London

European Convention on Human Rights: 1950, Britain suggested this, in the person of Winston Churchill, mostly drafted it, in the person of David Maxwell Fyfe, and was the first to sign

Clandestinely yours

Francis Walsingham: Elizabeth I’s spymaster; established an unprecedentedly elaborate spy network called the Secret Service, later MI5; he was the original M of James Bond fame

John Dee: Elizabethan magus who was in Walsingham’s service as a spy codenamed 007

Sidney Reilly: of MI6, he was the real-life model for James Bond; Reilly seems to have been involved in the death of Rasputin

Special Operations Executive: Britain’s secret organisation in the Second World, which was devoted to bolstering resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe, was reckoned by its historian, MRD Foot, probably to have shortened the war by about six months [Source: obituary of MRD Foot, The Economist, 3 March 2012]

Cold War: this was between the Western nations and the Eastern bloc after the ending in 1945 of the very hot Second World War; MI6 was one of three key spy agencies, along with the KGB and the CIA, the formation of the last-mentioned being inspired by Britain’s wartime SOE (Special Operations Executive); the first Cold War was ‘The Great Game’, a phrase immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in his novel Kim of 1901; this was the rivalry between Britain and Russia in the decades after 1880 on the North-West Frontier of the Indian Subcontinent, but which more widely involved Britain, Russia, France and later Germany for control of the chain of Islamic states from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indus

Hostage crisis: there were plenty of these, alas, in the last quarter of the 20th century, into the 21st century; the forerunner triggered the Anglo-Abyssinian War of 1868, in which General Sir Robert Napier marched his men 400 miles over desolate mountain terrain to storm the Abyssinian Emperor’s stronghold at Magdala; the engagement took place during an apocalyptic thunderstorm; the British hostages were successfully freed, without casualties amongst them

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