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JUNE 12th

On this day in history in 1897, was born Anthony Eden.

Eden was a politician who presided over the catastrophic 'Suez Crisis' and, it could be said, was the worst ever Prime Minister.

Robert Anthony Eden was born on 12th June 1897, at Windlestone, County Durham, the son of Sir William Eden, an eccentric aristocrat, and society beauty, Sybil Eden, nee Grey, a member of an old Northumberland family. In his memoirs, Rab Butler described Eden as ‘half mad baronet, half beautiful woman’. He was educated at Eton and, after distinguished war service, read Oriental languages at Christ Church, Oxford.

In 1923, Eden was elected to Parliament for the seat of Warwick and Leamington, and spent his time quietly on the back benches until 1931, when he was appointed undersecretary for foreign affairs, and in 1934, became minister for League of Nations affairs, a Cabinet office, granted to him on account of his knowledge of foreign languages. In 1935, he became foreign secretary, where he conducted a policy of non-interference in the Spanish Civil War, and non-involvement in Europe, but resigned in 1938, when Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement. His stance against appeasement endeared him to Winston Churchill, who, when he became Prime Minister in 1940, appointed him foreign secretary, a position he held until Churchill’s fall from power in 1945.

In 1951, after the Conservative Party returned to power, Eden again became foreign secretary, and due to his long standing friendship with Churchill, was designated Deputy Prime Minister, and, due to Churchill’s advancing years, was considered to be Prime Minister in waiting. His policy in foreign affairs was to maintain oil supplies to Britain, resolve quarrels in Iraq which might inhibit British supplies, and generally to ignore the United States, the Soviet Union and Europe.

In 1955, he succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister, and continued his policy of non-interference in foreign affairs, except when they impinged upon British interests. In 1956, unexpected events unfolded in the Middle East. The Egyptian government, led by the revolutionary Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal Company, in which the British government was a principal shareholder. Eden was alarmed, not only on account of the loss of the valuable asset of the Suez Canal, but also because he foresaw the disruption of supplies from India and the Far East, a potential threat to the British economy. Eden saw Nasser as a dictator in the style of Hitler or Mussolini, and was prepared to take decisive action. Backed by public opinion at home, he sent a contingent of British troops to Egypt, using the pretext of maintaining civil order, but actually to secure key positions, to maintain the running of the canal.

This action led to widespread international condemnation. The United States saw it as an attempt to re-establish colonial powers. The Soviet Union condemned the action as a blatant attack on a democratic state. European powers, with the exception of France, who had assisted with detachments of the Foreign Legion, saw a potential threat to world peace. The British forces had insufficient numbers to prove an effective force, and were unable to take the strategic locations of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez. Eden attempted to negotiate a UN emergency unit, to take over from British forces, but international pressure obliged him to relinquish what little control he had over the canal zone. In 1957, Eden resigned, citing ill health as his reason.

The Suez fiasco proved that Britain was isolated from international affairs, had no support for its policies, and in short was no longer a world power. The Suez crisis is viewed as the final episode in British Colonial history. After Suez, it was realised that Britain was politically and financially dependant on the United States, and that no serious attempt to become involved in international politics could be made in isolation.

Eden retained a measure of popularity. In 1961, he was created Earl of Avon, and lived in secluded retirement until his death in 1977. He is buried near to his home in Alvediston. [St Mary’s Church, Alvediston, Near Salisbury, SP5 5JY]

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