What one clerk said to another

A.J.P. Taylor

  • Britain and the Cold War 1941-1947 by Victor Rothwell
    Cape, 551 pp, £16.00, January 1982, ISBN 0 224 01478 1

Maybe there was once a time when the British Foreign Secretary, occasionally assisted by the staff of the Foreign Office, conducted British foreign policy single-handed. This was by no means the case during the Second World War or even after it. Winston Churchill, when Prime Minister, ran foreign policy with only expostulations here and there from the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, and Eden certainly did not take much notice of the Foreign Office when making his interventions. The Treasury had one foreign policy, the Ministry of Economic Warfare had another. The Chiefs of Staff had a foreign policy – usually rather wild – and so did the Political Warfare Executive. The War Cabinet counted for more than the Foreign Office, as did the press, especially the Times when expressing the views of that former member of the Foreign Office, Professor E.H. Carr. Rothwell says apologetically: ‘At the very least, to study British foreign policy from the standpoint of Foreign Office officials can scarcely be an invalid exercise.’ I doubt whether this book tells the reader much about British foreign policy and its motives. At best, it is a competent précis of ‘what one clerk said to another clerk’ during a period when great events were happening a long way from Whitehall.

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