Reviews

‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian
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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Death of a Political Chameleon


16 August is the anniversary of the death of Maurice Alexander in 1945. Alexander was a political chameleon. He was a Canadian-trained Jewish lawyer and army officer. Never married, he lived in Park Lane in central London and on an estate on the Surrey-Hampshire borders, where he eventually gave refuge to a hundred Basque children fleeing the Spanish Civil War. 

Alexander was elected as a National (Lloyd George) Liberal for Southwark South East in 1922, having received official Conservative backing after he had ‘given specific pledges of support to a Bonar Law Ministry’.  In 1923 he was rumoured to be about to join the Conservatives.  However, in the event, he fought and lost the 1923 and 1924 elections as a Liberal.

By 1931, Alexander’s political orientation had completely reversed, and he stood as a full-blooded Labour candidate for Newcastle East. He roundly condemned Ramsay MacDonald for forming the National Government, but claimed that MacDonald had offered him the post of Under Secretary for War to tempt him to join the National Government.  MacDonald repudiated the claim that he had made the offer, but Alexander stood by his version of events. 

Alexander lost the 1931 contest to his National Liberal opponent. Although never a MacDonald supporter, Alexander changed his attitude to the National Government when Chamberlain was Prime Minister. In 1938 Alexander was reported to be likely to be chosen as the National Government candidate for West Bermondsey, in opposition to Labour’s Dr. Salter.

However, Alexander died suddenly at the age of only 55 on 16 August 1945 and never put this, his fourth, political label, to the test.

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