Sir Samuel Hoare, 1937-39
Conservative, in the National Government under Chamberlain
For Hoare’s career up until this point, see the post in the series on the foreign secretaries here.
Having been forced to resign from the Foreign Office in 1935, Hoare was back in cabinet six months later as first lord of the admiralty. Eleven months later, upon becoming prime minister, Chamberlain made him an open offer of any cabinet post other than the Treasury. Hoare took the Home Office. Had Hitler not intervened, Hoare may well have gone down in history as one of the great reforming home secretaries: his Criminal Justice Bill would have been one of the most enlightened and far reaching of modern history (it would have abolished corporal punishment in prisons, for example). It fell by the wayside when war broke out. Meanwhile, he had beefed up air raid precautions and created the Women’s Voluntary Service organisation: both would prove invaluable in the war.
Ironically, foreign affairs would take most of his attention. Hoare was one of Chamberlain’s inner circle and, as such, along with the likes of Halifax and Simon, was intimately involved in the events of 1938: he was one of the few consulted about Chamberlain’s proposed visit to see Hitler, the so-called Plan Z. Such was his attachment to appeasement, and his ambition, that a subsequent permanent secretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan, feared that Hoare might make an English Quisling. That is surely a judgement too far, though it does indicate one of Hoare’s flaws: he did not win trust, or make political friends easily. That made it easy for Churchill to drop him immediately, unlike the other appeasers. Come war, Hoare became lord privy seal and then air minister, serving in Chamberlain’s war cabinet. In the end, he took the embassy in Spain, in which post he did much to stop Spain being awkward about North Africa and, most importantly, to keep Spain out of the war.
When he accepted a peerage in 1944, he retired from active politics, though not public life. His interests reflected his career: air transport, penal reform (he supported the abolition of capital punishment) and skating. He wrote a number of successful books: his memoir of the ‘thirties, Nine Troubled Years, remains one of the better of its species. As one of eight men to have held both the Home and Foreign Office, his career could hardly be described as a failure, but it was one marked by both a sense of failure and a lack of solid achievement, never more so than as home secretary.