Cabinet’s Finest Hour

David Owen

‘An exciting, thought-provoking read, with profound contemporary as well as historical relevance.’
Andrew Roberts

‘David Owen has thought deeply about these issues – and is always worth reading.’
Dominic Lawson

‘A fascinating read’
Bernard Donoughue


Using papers once available only to members of Churchill’s War Cabinet, former Foreign Secretary David Owen has brought to life the pivotal Cabinet meetings of May 1940.

Eight months into the war, defeat seemed to many a certainty. With the United States and Russia over a year away from entering the conflict, Britain found herself in a perilous and lonely position. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, was pushing his Prime Minister to explore the possibility of a negotiated peace with Hitler, using Mussolini as a conduit. Deliberately concealed in Churchill’s published account of the conflict, the question before the War Cabinet was straightforward: should Britain fight on in the face of overwhelming odds, sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives or seek a negotiated peace? Over nine meetings, support in the Coalition Cabinet eased away from Halifax, though the minutes reveal just how close he came to convincing his colleagues that negotiations should be sought.

The formation of this Coalition Government, and the cross-party politics it engendered in the House of Commons, have come to exemplify the strengths of Cabinet Government in providing effective decision-making and leadership, with profound lessons for contemporary politics.

DAVID OWEN served as foreign secretary under James Callaghan from 1977 until 1979, and later co-founded and went on to lead the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He is the author of books including The Hidden Perspective (2014) and Cabinet’s Finest Hour (2016).

See David’s website here.

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