ERNEST BEVIN: Foreign Secretary by Alan Bullock

ERNEST BEVIN: Foreign Secretary

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A massive, unrewarding volume: the last of three in Bullock's full-scale biography of the controversial post-WW II Labour foreign secretary. (Volumes I and II were not published in this country.) Burly ex-Labor leader Bevin was a surprise choice for his post when Labour surprised the world and turned Churchill out of office in 1945, and Attlee became Prime Minister. Replacing Churchill and Eden at Potsdam, Attlee and Bevin set out to assure consistency in British foreign policy. For Bevin's part, he gloried in the thought of having broken class barriers to the distinguished office of foreign secretary, and determined to act responsibly in defense of British interests. That meant primarily British interests in Europe and in the Middle East, and it embroiled him in controversies within his own party. As a fervent anticommunist seeking to ensure a balance of power against Moscow, he earned the enmity of the Labour left. That faction preferred Britain to take the lead in establishing a third force between the superpowers; but Bevin put Britain squarely in the Western camp by supporting the Marshall plan and the establishment of NATO. Bullock, defending Bevin, portrays him as a realist who saw that Europe needed American help to survive. He also credits Bevin with being quick to realize the possibility of supplying Berlin by air during the Soviet blockade. And, regarding the outstanding failure of his regime, Bullock denies that Bevin anti-Semitism accounted for British policy during the last years of the Palestine Mandate. Bevin had supported the Zionists, Bullock says, until he became foreign secretary, when British interests required that he recognize legitimate Arab concerns. Drawing Washington into the dispute, he thought he had found an acceptable solution--until he warned, undiplomatically, that Jews were only one group of claimants among many, and should not ""want to get too much at the head of the queue"" for fear of an anti-Semitic reaction. That comment itself was branded anti-Semitic--because of American Zionist propaganda, Bullock alleges--and the situation exploded again. In short, Bullock grants no points to Bevin's detractors or to the possibility that British policy might have been different. Only for specialists, and even they will not find many pearls. In general, no comparison with Kenneth Harris' searching Attlee (1983).

Pub Date: April 16th, 1984
Publisher: Norton