5 December 1937
On 5 December 1937, the Conservative MP Sir Henry Channon noted in his diary that he had ‘a long conversation with Lord Halifax,’ who had recently visited Hitler and other Nazi leaders in Germany, as a trusted informal ambassador acting on the prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s behalf. According to Channon, Halifax confessed that ‘he liked all the Nazi leaders, even Goebbels, and he was much impressed, interested and amused by the visit. He thinks the regime absolutely fantastic, perhaps even too fantastic to be taken seriously. But he is very glad he went, and thinks good will come of it. I was riveted by all his said, and reluctant to let him go.’1
Less than three months later, Chamberlain, anxious to improve relations with Hitler’s Germany as a supposed ‘bulwark against Bolshevism’, promoted Halifax to the position of Foreign Secretary. The British press was mostly supportive of the move. An editorial in The Times predicted that he ‘would bring to the Foreign Office the same sort of reputation for a liberal-minded, patriotic, high-principled Englishman as his relative Edward Grey. For the moment these qualities – rather than those of the ingenious diplomatist – are what is needed most in the Foreign Secretary.’2 Similarly, The Scotsman observed that ‘Lord Halifax’s appointment, which has been expected for some days, will please government supporters, many of whom regard him as the ideal man at the Foreign Office.3
Nazi and Fascist officials were equally glowing about the news. According to the Western Morning News, reporting under the headline ‘Berlin and Rome pleased with New Appointment’, a Nazi ‘spokesman in Berlin.. on learning of Lord Halifax’s appointment as foreign secretary said ‘we have the feeling that he harbours no prejudices against Germany and we therefore have confidence in him and his ways.’ The paper also noted that his ‘appointment has given satisfaction in Italian (Fascist) political circles in Rome, where it is thought to be a good augury for the success of forthcoming Anglo-Italian talks.’4 Harold Laski, writing for the left leaning Daily Herald, was one of the few commentators to speak out strongly against the new foreign secretary’s support for appeasement, warning that ‘Lord Halifax is a grave danger to peace because he has no notion of how intimate is the interdependence of peace and democratic institutions…. Piece by piece, he will surrender the fortresses of democracy.’5
- Sir Henry Channon cited in Travis Elborough (Editor), Our History of the 20th Centuary as Told in Diaries, Journals and Letters, Michael O’Mara Books Limited, London, p. 173.
- ‘The New Foreign Secretary,’ Editorial in The Times, 26 February 1938, p. 13.
- ‘Lord Halifax Appointed to the Foreign Office,’ The Scotsman, 26 February 1938, p. 15.
- ‘Berlin and Rome Pleased with New Appointment,’ The Western Morning News, 26 February 1938, p9. See also ‘Germany and Lord Halifax,’ The Yorkshire Post, 26 February 1938, p. 13.
- Harold Laski, Caretaker at the Foreign Office, The Daily Herald, 22 February 1938, p. 10.
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