Sir John Simon

David Dutton asks whether Simon was the 'Worst Foreign Secretary since Ethelred the Unready'.

Sir John Simon
Sir John Simon

Only one British politician has ever held each of the four great ministerial offices beneath the premiership - the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Lord Chancellorship. Yet the name of that politician scarcely resonates through the pages of twentieth-century British history. Unlike most of his political contemporaries John Simon was genuinely a self-made man. The son of a humble congregationalist minister, he was born in a terraced house in Manchester in 1873. Entering parliament as a Liberal in 1906 he rose rapidly on the strength of his impressive intellect. By the outbreak of the First World War he was already a cabinet minister and also a leading barrister. But the war, after first seeing his elevation to the Home Office, brought an abrupt halt to his seemingly inexorable advance. Simon resigned from the government in January 1916, objecting in principle to the introduction of conscription, not because he opposed the war effort but because he stood by the Liberal principle that it was for the individual to decide for himself whether or not he fought, and quite possibly died, for his country.

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