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The Holy Fox: A Biography Of Lord Halifax Paperback – 26 Jun 1992
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This is the first biography of Lord Halifax for 25 years and the only one to make use of papers now available under the thirty and fifty year rules. Andrew Robert's interpretation is at variance with the popular view of this enigmatic, influential and much-maligned politician. Edward Wood, third Viscount Halifax, was a church-going, fox-hunting aristocrat, but it was his political guile that earned him Churchill's nickname for him, "The Holy Fox". In November 1937, as Chamberlain's special envoy, he held a conversation with Hitler that was to cast a shadow over Europe until the outbreak of war. After Eden's shock resignation in February, 1938, he became Foreign Secretary, but just days before Chamberlain flew to Munich, Halifax turned against appeasement and led the move to guarantee Poland. When Chamberlain fell in May 1940, it was Halifax, rather than Churchill, who was the favourite to succeed as Premier.
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A deeply unattractive person, he is brought vividly to life in this very understanding and even sympathetic biography. The well-known path from Munich until the start of the war is brought vividly to life - and still manages to sweep one along with excitement even though one knows how it all ended!
However what i find rather odd is that the author devotes 20 pages to the time in India but doesnt mention the signing of the Soviet German pact on 31st August 1939 and breezes through the Munich Agreement in a couple of pages.
Quite frankly Halifax was a disaster as Foreign Secretary,and this is clearly highlighted by this book,whether or not the author is able to accept this conclusion.
In arguing that this judgment is incorrect, Andrew Roberts has given us an important, and detailed revision of the years leading up the Second World War.
He shows that Halifax saw Hitler in his true colours at the time of the Bad Godesberg meetings, and before the Munich Agreement.
From this time on he worked for a more realistic understanding of Hitler's real aims, and for rearmament and conscription.
Halifax came within a whisker of becoming Prime Minister in May 1940; the job was his to refuse. The Tory Party, and the King both wanted him, and it was argued that his place in House Lords was a barrier that could be removed.
Halifax must have realised himself that he was no war leader, and, inspite of massive doubts within the Tory Party, Halifax supported Churchill's claim.
From then on the story which unfolds is much less well known, and invites a re-assessment of Churchill's reputation.
Churchill - known to Halifax as The Rogue Elephant - needed Halifax to argue against his wilder schemes. The book is particularly important on relations with the Vichy regime, the problems associated with the French Navy, and the differences between Halifax and Churchill on how these should be handled.
It is not now very easy to understand that Britain was alone at this juncture, and that American support was very uncertain.
However, Halifax's attachment to Chamberlain's name made him important enemies, one of whom, Roberts reveals, was newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook.
When a new ambassador was needed in Washington, Halifax was not the first name mentioned. Beaverbrook saw to it that his name became prominent, and it is a blot on Churchill's reputation that he went along with this idea, almost certainly to rid him of the one minister in his cabinet who could stand up to him.
It is not pleasant reading.
A less time-specific reason for reading this book is that it portrays a now forgotten era when the aristocracy still dominated government in Britain.
Halifax comes across as a figure who eschewed "short termism" - now the current plague of British politics.
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