The Impossible Peace: Britain, the Division of Germany and the Origins of the Cold War

By Anne Deighton | Go to book overview

1
LABOUR IN POWER

Expectations and Constraints: The Wartime Legacy

No new Government inherits a clean slate, and in foreign policymaking few are bold enough to wipe it clean. For the Labour Government in 1945 both the domestic and external pressures for continuity were remarkable. Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin, Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary respectively after 26 July 1945, were already in office, playing important roles in the wartime Coalition Government and involved in high-level discussions about the shape of the postwar world. They then took over the reins of power while the critical Heads of State meeting at Potsdam was still in progress. This critical turning-point between war and peace was no time to review British policy.

It was not initially expected that Bevin would become Foreign Secretary, and he himself had anticipated going to the Treasury. But he was preferred for the Foreign Office because, it seems, he was less openly anti-German, less left-wing, and more of a political heavyweight than his rival, Hugh Dalton. Attlee later remarked that he thought 'affairs were going to be pretty difficult and a heavy tank was what was going to be required rather than a sniper'. Bevin was also preferred by senior Foreign Office officials because Dalton had a reputation of being opinionated, as well as sympathetic to Soviet claims against the defeated Reich. Certainly, Foreign Office Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan, felt that 'we may do better with Bevin than with any of the other Labourites'.1

Both in the Soviet Union and in the United States the election victory was viewed with some concern. The Labour Party's

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1
David Dilks (ed.), The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan ( London: Cassell, 1971), 776; Ben Pimlott, Hugh Dalton ( London: Jonathan Cape, 1985), 411 f.; Dalton, High Tide and After, chap. 2; Michael Charlton, The Price of Victory ( London: BBC, 1983), 47; Alan Bullock, Life and Times of Ernest Bevin: Minister of Labour, 1940- 1945, ii ( London: Heinemann, 1967), 39; Rothwell, Britain and the Cold War, 228 f.

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