The Foreign Secretaries (15): Selwyn Lloyd

Selwyn-LloydSelwyn Lloyd, 1955-60

Conservative, under Eden and Macmillan

Selwyn Lloyd, as his name might indicate, came from a Welsh middle class background, but growing up in Liverpool. He was educated at Fettes and Magdalene College, Cambridge, becoming president of the union. Given his Welsh family, and Methodism, the fact that he grew up as a Lloyd George Liberal should hardly come as a surprise. He contested Macclesfield as a Liberal in 1929, was a political associate of Megan Lloyd George and was a regular presence at the famous Liberal summer schools.

The 1930s saw him build up a successful legal practice. He then had a good war, rising from second lieutenant to brigadier. He was on the general staff by 1942. As such, he was second in command of the second army, and worked closely with its commander, Dempsey, and Montgomery in the planning and execution of D-Day. He was twice mentioned in dispatches. He was among the first allied soldiers to enter Belsen, and later identified Heinrich Himmler’s corpse.

Lloyd entered the Commons in 1945. By then he had become a Conservative, though not an active one. He had first voted Conservative in 1931, having become convinced of the need for tariffs. His selection as the candidate for the safe seat of the Wirral owed as much to his local status and his war record as anything else. Whatever, it was a good time to be an able new backbench Conservative, and Lloyd was able to make a splash in the much diminished parliamentary party, coming under the wings of the like of Anthony Eden and Rab Butler. Eden’s patronage saw him made a junior foreign office minister when the Conservatives returned to power in 1951. From there he went to the ministry of supply. Though not a cabinet minister, Eden’s absences meant that by the time Lloyd became minister of defence in 1955, he was already a regular attendee.

Eight months later, he found himself foreign secretary, a startling rise in a reshuffle that saw Macmillan moved to the Treasury. It was a measure of Eden’s faith in him, for sure, but it was perhaps indicative of Eden’s desire to keep foreign policy is his own hands. Lloyd had played a role in negotiating the British withdrawal from Egypt, and proved to be rather more sceptical about military involvement in Suez than his boss was. Lloyd spent some time in New York as the crisis evolved, and believed he had made some headway towards a peaceful resolution. By the time Eden recalled to Lloyd to London, his mind had turned to a military solution. Lloyd was unenthusiastic as well as sceptical, but loyally followed his master’s line: a trait we will see later. Thus, when the plot was laid, Lloyd was in the thick of it. We also know that the attorney-general, Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, wrote to Lloyd expressing the view that intervention in Suez was, in fact, illegal. Suez was Eden’s baby, but Lloyd was its midwife, however reluctantly: the two men seen here facing the press outside number ten at the time.

Eden And Lloyd

The Suez debacle saw Lloyd offer his resignation but, rightly, Eden refused. As it was, when Eden went off to Jamaica for a rest cure, Lloyd had to take much of the flak for Suez in the Commons: it would not be the last occasion on which he acted as the ministerial lightning rod. When Eden resigned, Macmillan kept Lloyd, recognising him to be a steady pair of hands and an ideal second in command. Lloyd played a significant role in the major summits and in the restoration of Britain’s battered international reputation. Below, in July 1957, with US secretary of state John Foster Dulles and Soviet deputy minister of foreign affairs, Valerian Zorin.


Lloyd repaid Macmillan with absolute loyalty; years later, Macmillan would betray him. He surely felt no hint of that when, in the 1960 reshuffle, Macmillan made him chancellor. He was thus one of nine men to have run both the Foreign Office and the Treasury, more of which anon. Lloyd was a steady pair of hands when British foreign policy badly needed one, and one of the linchpins of Macmillan’s government. For all his skepticism, he was foreign secretary at the time of Suez, and must bear some of the responsibility for Eden’s debacle.

You can read about his time as chancellor, and after, here.

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