Letter of the week

Victoria James (Books, 22 April), while comparing British and Japanese monarchy, repeats the myth that, in 1963, "royal preference was decisive in the selection of Alec Douglas-Home [rather than R A Butler] to succeed Harold Macmillan as prime minister". Macmillan would obviously have done everything in his power - including firm advice to the Queen - to prevent Butler becoming prime minister.

As Lord Halifax's deputy at the Foreign Office in 1940, Butler was hounding around in neutral countries having unauthorised talks with Axis representatives, even after the Battle of Britain. A conversation he had with the Swedish ambassador may have been crucial in the Swedish government's decision to allow German passage across its neutral country to occupied Norway; if Britain was going to throw in the towel, why stand up to the Nazis?

This defeatist behaviour (to put it gently) ended only when Churchill felt his (at first tenuous) power had been consolidated, and he could send Halifax to Washington and Butler out of the war zone to Education. All this while Macmillan was having a strenuous war as Minister Resident in the Mediterranean.

Macmillan may have put HM in an awkward position, but the choice of Douglas-Home would have been his preference, not hers.

Robin Oakley-Hill
Sevenoaks, Kent

This article first appeared in the 29 April 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Le Pen is mightier . . .

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