The Chancellors (11): Sir John Simon

simon1Sir John Simon, 1937-40

Liberal National in the National Government, under Chamberlain

For his career beforehand, see the post in the home secretaries here, and the foreign secretaries here.

Very much a Chamberlainite, and thus was a seen as a safe pair of hands at the Treasury when Chamberlain became prime minister. Like Chamberlain, had believed in measured rearmament (so as not to threaten the economic recovery), but by 1938 was forced to fund the rapid build-up needed. Ironically, this forestalled a looming recession and amounted to a British government’s first, if unintended, dalliance with Keynesianism.

Simon’s real importance was as one of Chamberlain’s inner circle and thus one of those who backed Plan Z and appeasement at Munich: as such, he is one of The Guilty Men (as he had been as Foreign Secretary, 1931-35). However, in September 1939, he was one of a group of Chamberlainites who, fearing their master’s resolve was weak, went to see him to push him into a not putting off the declaration of war. As an arch-Chamberlainite, he was kicked upstairs as Lord Chancellor when Churchill formed his National Government, the post to which he was probably best suited. In that capacity, he interrogated Rudolph Hess.

Simon remains one of only three men to have held all three of the great offices of state other than that of prime minister (James Callaghan held all three, and was prime minister as well). He was thus one of ten home secretaries to have also been chancellor, and one of nine to be foreign secretary as well. He was also one of three men to be home secretary twice, though he had relatively little to show for it.

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