Writing at the end of the Thirties, George Orwell remarked that the British ruling class had decayed so much that the time had come 'when stuffed shirts like Eden and Halifax could stand out as men of exceptional talent': It was an unfair comment, though not so unfair as his description of Baldwin as 'a hole in the air': yet it conveyed the view, subsequently shared by many, that with Eden the facade was more important than the interior, the appearance more impressive than the reality. People recognised his ability as a negotiator, skilfully handling diplomatic problems with the support of the Foreign Office, but it was widely held that in politics he was a bit of a lightweight, a 'natural number two' who should never have become prime minister. John Grigg wrote of him before the Suez crisis: 'Popularity means much more to him than it ever should mean to a statesman. Since the early days, when he was idolised by millions on account of his personal appearance and blameless views, he has never lost the temperament and outlook of a prima donna. He still smiles the same ingratiating smile, peddles the same innocuous platitudes.'
LRB 18 December 1986 | PDF Download