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Sir Anthony Eden

Conservative | 1955 - 1957

Sir Anthony Eden

Born

12 June 1897, Rushyford, County Durham

Died

14 January 1977, Alvediston, Wiltshire

Dates in office

7 April 1955  - 10 January 1957

Political party

Conservative

(On Suez) “I thought and think that failure to act would have brought the worst of consequences just as I think the world would have suffered less if Hitler had been resisted on the Rhine.”


Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon was a Conservative politician and Prime Minister from 1955-57. Educated at Eton and Christ Church, University of Oxford, Eden carved out a career in the Foreign Office, serving as Foreign Secretary three times during key periods in the Second World War and the Cold War. Acknowledged by many as Winston Churchill’s successor, Eden took over as Prime Minister in April 1955 at the age of 57. He immediately called a General Election and on 5 May 1955 increased the Conservative majority from seventeen to sixty.

Less than a year into his Premiership, Eden’s opinion poll approval ratings had fallen from 70 per cent to around 40 per cent and his inadequacies as Prime Minister were increasingly the talk of Whitehall and the press. Tired, stressed, overworked and in desperate need of a holiday, he became increasingly ill after a series of abdominal operations in 1953.

As Prime Minister, Eden left the areas he had very little experience in such as domestic and economic policy, to his deputy Rab Butler, preferring instead to focus on foreign affairs. With the Cold War at its peak, preoccupation with maintaining the country’s great power status at a time when the British economy could no longer afford such commitments led Britain, under Eden’s leadership, to miss out on important developments in Western Europe such as the 1955 Messina talks on closer economic integration.

Eden’s controversial handling of the Suez crisis in 1956 ultimately proved to be his downfall. After the nationalisation of the Suez canal by the Egyptian nationalist Colonel Abdul Nasser, Eden, fearing a new Arab alliance would cut off oil supplies to Europe, colluded with France and Israel in order to retake the canal. Following a badly executed invasion, widespread international condemnation from the United Nations, the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth and the threat of sanctions from the United States, Eden was forced into a humiliating retreat. ‘In his mind,’ the Sunday Times Washington correspondent Henry Brandon observed, Eden’s ‘whole proud career had been scarred by a decision which misfired for lack of American co-operation.’ Eden attempted to cover up the collusion, lied to Parliament and ordered his Civil Servants to burn the incriminating evidence. Isolated, he resigned on 9 January 1957 having shown the world that Britain was no longer the great power it had once been. The Suez crisis, according to one of Eden’s official biographers D R Thorpe,

“was a truly tragic end to his premiership, and one that came to assume a disproportionate importance in any assessment of his career.”

Eden was created Earl of Avon in 1961 and died in January 1977.

James Jinks, Mile End Group