Thursday, 31 May 2012

Lord Balfour


Lord Balfour, quoting from one of his Gifford Lectures - by Sir Max Beerbohm

Max spent his life drawing Balfour and I too find him quite fascinating, though cold and impossible to like.  I suppose, apart from being our cleverest Prime Minister of the twentieth century and perhaps the worst until Tony Blair (I first typed Bliar), Balfour was the one with the most style, Churchill excepted. In late twentieth century terms, Balfour was cool, which no other Prime Minister ever was.  

Only Eden was better looking than Pretty Fanny or equally well read. Unlike the adulterous Eden, Balfour seems to have been a chaste celibate, apart from once being caught snogging with a pretty fellow Soul in a summer house. Piers Brendon, who wrote a fourth-rate sketch of Balfour, said 'he obtained pale gleams of happiness on the tennis court.' One cannot imagine what he would have thought of Sir John Major, whose premiership resembled Balfour's, or New Labour, but he would have approved of Mr. Cameron for class reasons

However much one loves Israel, and I love the country, Arabs and Jews alike, the Balfour Declaration has caused a huge amount of bloodshed and hardship and entangled England and the Middle East in a terrible mess. Had he known what was to follow, he would certainly not have promised the Jews a homeland. This is true of very many achievements of very many politicians, perhaps, but much truer of this one than most. In politics, it is usually better to do nothing than do something, unlike in private life. Much more disastrous was the Liberals' decision to go to war in 1914 but, had we not done so, Balfour I suppose would have spun sophistries to justify the treason of the Ulster Protestants against the Crown in the civil war that would have broken out in the U.K. instead.

A wonderful double portrait of Joseph Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour, by Sydney Prior Hall, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery:


  1. Wasn't it Balfour who gave rise to the phrase "Bob's your uncle"? Robert Salisbury was his uncle, and gave him the job of Tory leader

  2. The declaration was actually written by Leopold Amery after many backroom drafts. Amery was from a Jewish background, but his son got tangled up with the Nazis and was hung after the war

  3. I once lunched with Julian Amery and wish i had asked him about his war fighting with Hoxha in Albania. Were they Jewish? L.S. Amery said 'Speak for England, Arthur', which we now know was in response to some Labour MP shouting 'Speak for the working class', in the Norway debate which lked to the fall of Chamberlain. John Amery was hanged for treason - he recruited for the St George's Brigade.