No. 419

London Embassy files, lot 59F59, 350 Britain

Memorandum of Conversation, by the First Secretary of the Embassy in the United Kingdom (Trimble)


Subject: Current British Views Toward the United States and Possibility of a Coalition Government.

I called on Sir David Maxwell Fyfe at his law offices on January 4, having previously telephoned for an appointment. Sir David, who is Conservative MP for the West Derby district of Liverpool, was Attorney General in the “caretaker” government formed in the spring of 1945 and is a member of the Tory “shadow cabinet”.

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I opened the conversation by stating that there were several subjects on which I should like to have his views and that I trusted he would be as frank in his replies as I would be in the questions which I wished to put to him. I then said that the Embassy had received rather disturbing reports from a number of reliable sources to the effect that anti-American sentiment was on the increase in Great Britain. This development was not reflected in the press, but from what we could gather, appeared to be quite widespread. I was, therefore, anxious to know whether he had seen any indications of it among his constituents and colleagues in the House of Commons.

Sir David replied that to the best of his knowledge there was no anti-American sentiment in the Conservative Parliamentary Party and further that he had seen no signs that it was growing elsewhere. Indeed, except for the Silverman1 group, he felt that there was no real anti-American feeling in the Labor Parliamentary Party. Silverman and his associates, Sir David continued, have always been biased against the United States and, hence, the attitude they displayed in the recent Foreign Affairs Debate and since that time represented no new departure. It was, of course, true that Richard Crossman2 is presently more critical of the United States than he has been. Nevertheless, he, Sir David, did not attach any importance to this for Crossman is like a weather vane, his views constantly shifting from one direction to another.

With a view to drawing Sir David out further, I outlined the elements which in the Embassy’s opinion had been worrying the British at the time of Attlee’s visit to the President and asked whether he concurred in our analysis. Sir David said that he tended to discount the importance of the “junior partner” factor and that he had seen little or no evidence that the British public took it seriously. It was true that many disliked having to play the role of recipient. This, however, was a natural reaction and did not materially affect the attitude of the British towards us. Furthermore, this element was no longer present now that Marshall Aid has been discontinued. He also did not believe that the British were worried about our policies toward Germany. The Conservatives saw eye to eye with us in respect to Germany and the necessity of dealing with the Soviets from “positions of strength.” In the latter connection he expressed the hope that there would be no “standstill” in [Page 893] our plans to proceed with the rearmament of Germany pending the outcome of the proposed CFM.3

Sir David said that the British are, however, seriously concerned about our policy toward the Far East and the actions of General MacArthur. There had been, as I knew, a certain amount of criticism of him on both sides of the House for launching an offensive in North Korea instead of stabilizing at the “waist.” The Conservatives naturally did not know all the facts in the case and there may well have been compelling reasons from a military standpoint to attempt to reach the Manchurian Border. From such information as had been available, however, it had seemed then and even more so now that the offensive had been a grave mistake. There was a basic disagreement between the British and ourselves in respect to China and he personally did not see any solution to this problem and certainly not on a short term basis. The British are alarmed that United States military strength will become so bogged down in the Far East that there will be little left for the defense of Europe. They are also concerned by our attitude towards Chiang and Formosa. If, for example, the Chinese Communists had agreed to the UN cease-fire proposal, it would have been extremely difficult for the British to turn down a proposal for the transfer of Formosa to the Communists, a position which he realized would have caused much resentment in the United States. From this standpoint it was, therefore, fortunate that the cease-fire had been rejected. It was also probable that as long as the fighting continues in Korea, the Chinese Communists will not seriously threaten Indo-China. Sir David admitted that the Communists might seek to take Hong Kong but felt that such a development was quite remote. He did not, however, explain the reasons for this impression.

Turning to the domestic political scene, I inquired whether there was any substance to the reports that a coalition government was presently being contemplated. Sir David replied that the rumors were completely without foundation. Indeed, he was just drafting a speech to be delivered at Cardiff the following day setting forth the arguments why the Conservatives would be unwilling to enter a coalition. He then outlined the reasons for their opposition, mentioning not only the points made by Sir Patrick Spens in my recent conversation with him but also an additional one.4 This was to the effect that the Conservative Party would be “put to sleep” if it should enter a coalition. Its present vigor derives from the fact that [Page 894] it is in opposition. It is developing a positive program based on the slogan of a “property owning democracy.” It is also seeking with considerable success to gain the support of TUC members. All this would be changed if the Tories were to take part in a coalition. I mentioned the rumor that Mr. Churchill allegedly would favor the formation of a coalition. Sir David replied that he knew for a fact Mr. Churchill had not held such a view when he left for his vacation in Morocco a few weeks ago and that as far as he, Sir David, knew, Mr. Churchill’s attitude had not changed since then. The Conservatives would, of course, be prepared to enter a coalition if the King should “exercise his royal prerogative” and ask Mr. Churchill and Mr. Attlee to form one. Barring such a development or the outbreak of war, Sir David felt that there was no likelihood that a national government would be formed.

At the conclusion of the conversation, Sir David said that he would be away from London for the next few weeks visiting his constituency but he would be glad to see me again when he returns here for the reopening of Parliament.

  1. Julius Silverman, Labour Party Member of Parliament from the Erdington Division of Birmingham.
  2. Richard Crossman, Labour Party Member of Parliament from Coventry East and Assistant Editor of the New Statesman and Nation.
  3. For documentation on the exchanges of notes concering the convening of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM), see vol. iii, Part 1, pp. 1048 ff.
  4. No record of Trimble’s conversation with Sir Patrick Spens, Convervative Party Member of Parliment from South Kensington, has been found in Department of State files.