Page 6, 30th July 1965

30th July 1965
Page 6
Page 6, 30th July 1965 — Halifax —a gifted man who gave much in return

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Organisations: Foreign Office
Locations: Munich, Oxford


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Halifax —a gifted man who gave much in return

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][0RD HALIFAX WAS 4 ][0RD HALIFAX WAS 4 par excellence the Conservative Christian in politics. Countless Conservatives, Liberals and Socialists of genuine Christian faith and practice have. of course, been active in British politics. No great British statesman was ever so obviously a great Christian as Mr. Gladstone in the 19th century.

But in the last 50 years one Conservative, Lord Halifax, and two Socialists, Mr. George Lansbury and Sir Stafford Cripps, have been generally selected as embodying Christian statesmanship in a special degree. Lord Birkenhead* does full justice to this and (as far as I can judge) all the other main aspects of Lord Halifax's life, in a biography of immense perceptiveness and distinction.

Throughout the long, meticulous, yet always vivid narrative, he is preparing us for the note which he strikes with immense effect at the end.

He reminds us there for the last time that Halifax had held three of the highest offices of the State, each at a time of crisis. He is referring to his periods as Viceroy of India, Foreign Secretary (at the time of Munich and after) and Ambassador to the United States throughout the last five years of the War. He has explained earlier at length why such high marks should be awarded for his Indian and American achievements and why "an uneasy tenancy" is the only label available for his time at the Foreign Office.

Lord Birkenhead goes on: It is not the great moments of his achievement that linger most vividly in the •memory. We remember, rather, those last years in Yorkshire when he was occupied with things small, local and kindly, and at the end "made his soul" and prepared himself for death with a tranquil mind. His days had not been free from sorrow, but at moments of grief he had been solaced by his unshake 'HALIFAX: the life of Lord Halifax, by The Earl of Birkenhead (Hamish ton, 63s.). able belief in the world to come.

Lord Birkenhead labours hard and honestly to explain Lord Halifax's weakness in coping with the Nazis. Even admitting that his task at that time was in a sense impossible, the part he played seems curiously weak.

The author finds some of the explanation in Halifax's unawareness that such evil could exist, but this I find unconvincing. In a long and subtle analysis, which should be read more than once, he points to other elements in Halifax's particular Christianity which made it unlikely that he would ever show marked initiative. In particular he would never be inclined to differ sharply from his chief or his colleagues at times of crisis.

The belief in a divine control over the affairs of the world led him to think that human beings could only move because of events a little in certain directions so that while prepared to do this he was not ready to step in and stem the flood. All this rings true and leaves one asking whether Halifax's audacious policy of reconciliation in India was an exceptional rather than a representative performance. it may be so. and we are left with the speculation that he was most daring when he was most alone.

Halifax was a man of great possessions and privileges and at the same time a powerful intellect that won him a firstclass degree at Oxford and a Fellowship at All Souls.

One looks in vain in his recorded words for any intellectual conservative justification of the kind of society which he instinctively defended. He was brought up by a saintly father who idolised him and whom he idolised in return. Throughout his life he mixed on the happiest terms in Yorkshire with humble and mighty alike.

If we ignore the Nazis. he made a profound and beneficial impression whenever he represented Britain abroad. Whatever cause we assign to it he was not, as Lord Birkenhead brings out, a self-critical man, though in one sense a very humble one; nor was he, for all his academic distinction and love of Oxford, a systematic thinker.

He did not need to have explained to him or analyse for himself the virtues of the country or the society he loved. He will not, in that sense, leave an intellectual legacy.

But long after his countless friends have passed, he may be remembered inside and outside this country as a man whose piety made ,it certain that he who had received so many blessings would render exceptional service in return. The more his life is studied, the more I feel sure will Lord Birkenhead's portrait be accepted and admired.

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