THE PASSING of Anthony
Eden — and it is surely by this name rather than by the er mined camouflage of Lord
Avon that we all remember him — marks more than the
death of an eminent man.
It signifies the end of an era and resurrects a past which, so swift is the passage of events in modern times, seems light years ago, although in truth it is only a few decades since he was one of the dominating statesmen on the world stage.
He became Foreign Secretary in 1935 at the extraordinarily early age of 38, when diplomacy was still dominated by the European Powers and when both the United States and Soviet Russia were brooding presences on the sidelines of international politics. of immense potential but whose power and interests were somehow muffled and withdrawn.
"Great Britain" still had a real meaning: the seat at the top table was ours riot by courtesy, or by history, but by right. Anthony Eden was the last of the "great" British Foreign Secretaries in that he was the last who could really profoundly influence the tide of wurld affairs.
Among the many ironies of his career. perhaps the greatest is that it should have fallen to him, by the fatal miscalculation over Suez, to have revealed to the world what had in effect long been a fact — our decline from that of great to medium power. Since then the descent has been continuous, and we now find ourselves near the bottom of the second division and still going down. Suez telescoped into a few weeks what it would have taken another decade to demonstrate, namely that the British Empire was gone and had gassed beyond the point of recall. Britain's impotence was revealed for everyone to
I remember those days well, and although I was not in Parliament at the time was passionately against the intervention on both moral and pragmatic grounds. I ended up by being anti-everyone. anti-Eden, antiNasser, . anti-American and antiRussian!
would certainly not have gone into Suez, but having gone in I would equally certainly not have come out, and longed for the British Forces to press on and reach the other end of the canal.
I was in close touch with Edward Boyle during those weeks and, not for the last time, he represented the liberal conscience of the Tory Party and won both admiration and obloquy.
His resignation from the Government was hailed by many of us as an act of great courage, and 1 recall that Lady Violet Bonham Carter arrangecidimaadxinner party in his honour which turned out to be something of an anti
By the time the dinner was actually held, Suez was over, Anthony Eden had gone, Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister and Edward Boyle was back in the Government again! Such are the swift vagaries of politics which make it such a fascinating (I was almost going to say pastime) but will settle for occupation.
Why did Anthony Eden act in such a manner and pursue a policy which was so contrary to his previous record and experience? It was not through lack of knowledge despite his debonair appearance he had a capacity for hard work and application to problems unequalled amongst his contemporaries.
It was not malevolence: collusion was not in his nature. It was in fact (and this is what makes him such a tragic figure) miscalculation.
He was, as Lord Blake has pointed out, a figure worthy of Greek tragedy — the great man who in the enjoyment of high reputation and prosperity brings disaster on himself net by depravity but by some great error.
He was led to this by his own past experience. He drew the wrong lesson from history, and a parallel between Nasser's seizure of the Suez (:anal and Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland.
The situations were different. Nasser was not intent on an expansionist policy and the Egyptians are not the Germans: above all, the relative position of Britain and France had altered.
In 1936 or even in 1938, Britain and France acting together could have halted Hitler: by 1956 no Western nation could act successfully in military matters without the support of the United States, and at crucial moments this was withheld. Eden hated and distrusted Dulles, and with good reason, Suez was tragic, but the event although it looms large, has not eclipsed the earlier achievements. The obituarists in the newspapers would have us believe that it had (I except The Times) but it is not so.
The public, who in these matters are often a much better guide than the professionals, recall him not as the man of Suez but as the gallant officer, the patriot, the statesman who rumbled Hitler and Mussolini and stood up against them, who would not be "taken for a ride" by Chamberlain and who at the country's darkest hour (which was 1938, not 1940) stood for strength and honour and principle in international affairs.
Anthony Eden was not a great Prime Minister but he was a very great Foreign Secretary. He was also a man of singular charm and attractions — a man of sharp perceptions and great strength of purpose. England loved and admired him because in a striking way he embodied the best side of the national character: he was in appearance what all Englishmen would like to be: his virtues were English virtues, and that is why he is so widely mourned in his country today.