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John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon

John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon

British politician
The basics
Quick Facts
Occupations Politician Lawyer Judge
Countries United Kingdom
Gender male
Birth February 28, 1873 (Manchester, Manchester, Greater Manchester, North West England)
Death January 11, 1954 (London, Greater London, London, England)
Politics Liberal Party, National Liberal Party
Family
Spouse: Kathleen SimonViscountess Simon
Education Wadham College, Fettes College
The details
Biography

John Allsebrook Simon, 1st Viscount Simon GCSI GCVO OBE PC (28 February 1873 – 11 January 1954) was a British politician who held senior Cabinet posts from the beginning of the First World War to the end of the Second. He is one of only three people to have served as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, the others being R. A. Butler and James Callaghan.

He also served as Lord Chancellor, the most senior position in the British legal system. Beginning his career as a Liberal (identified with the left-wing and later the right-wing of the Party), he joined the National Government in 1931, creating the Liberal National Party in the process. At the end of his career, he was essentially a Conservative.

Background and education

Simon was the son of Edwin Simon (1843–1920), a Congregational minister in Manchester, and Fanny Allsebrook (1846–1936). He was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh and Wadham College, Oxford, where he was a near-contemporary of F.E. Smith and of the athlete C.B. Fry. He became a fellow of All Souls in 1897 and was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1899.

Before the First World War

Simon became a successful lawyer and entered the House of Commons as a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Walthamstow at the 1906 general election, later being elected for Spen Valley. While serving in Parliament, Simon spoke out strongly in support for David Lloyd George's progressive "People's Budget".

He entered the Government in October 1910 as Solicitor-General, succeeding Rufus Isaacs, and was knighted later that month. He was promoted in October 1913 to Attorney-General, again succeeding Isaacs. He was the leader of the (unsuccessful) Cabinet rebels against Winston Churchill's 1914 naval estimates and contemplated resigning in protest at the declaration of war in 1914 but in the end changed his mind.

Simon circa 1916

First World War

In H. H. Asquith's coalition government in May 1915, Simon became Home Secretary, declining an offer of the Lord Chancellorship, but he resigned early the next year in protest against the illiberal introduction of conscription. He proved his patriotism by serving briefly as an officer on Trenchard's staff in the Royal Flying Corps.

After Asquith's fall in late 1916, Simon remained in opposition as an Asquithian Liberal until he lost his seat, at the "Coupon Election" in 1918.

Out of office

In 1919, he attempted to return to Parliament at the Spen Valley by-election. Although the Coalition Liberals, who had formerly held the seat, were pushed into third place, Simon came second; in the view of Maurice Cowling, his defeat by Labour marked the point at which Labour began to be seen as a serious threat by the older parties.

1920s

In the early 1920s, he practised successfully at the Bar before winning Spen Valley at the general election in 1922, and from 1922 to 1924, he served as deputy leader of the Liberal Party, a role he relinquished when Asquith once again lost his seat in Parliament and Lloyd George took over the chairmanship of the Liberal MPs. Unlike Lloyd George, Simon opposed the general strike in 1926. Simon spoke for Newfoundland in a boundary dispute with Canada, before announcing his permanent retirement from the Bar.

From 1927 to 1931 he chaired the Simon Commission on India's constitution. During the late 1920s and especially during the 1929-31 Parliament, in which Labour had no majority but continued in office with the help of the Liberals, Simon was seen as the leader of the minority of Liberal MPs who disliked Lloyd George's inclination to support Labour rather than the Conservatives.

1930s

In June 1931, before the formation of the National Government, Simon resigned the Liberal whip and was accused by Lloyd George of leaving "the slime of hypocrisy" as he crossed the floor".

In 1931, when the Liberals split once again, Simon became leader of the Liberal Nationals (later to become the National Liberals) who continued to support protectionism and Ramsay MacDonald's National Government after the departure of the mainstream Liberals under Herbert Samuel. Simon was never opposed by a Conservative candidate at Spen Valley after 1924, and over time, Simon's Liberal Nationals became hardly distinguishable from the Conservatives, but some Conservative MPs continued to be known locally as "National Liberals" for decades after the Second World War.

Simon served as Foreign Secretary under MacDonald, the highlights of his tenure of office being the repudiation by Germany, under its new chancellor, Adolf Hitler; of the League of Nations; of Disarmament efforts and of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. He attracted particular opprobrium for a speech in Geneva in December 1932 in which he failed to condemn Japanese actions explicitly. Simon then served as Home Secretary, during which time he passed the Public Order Act 1936, restricting the activities of Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts. Stanley Baldwin appointed Simon as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; he was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Neville Chamberlain, of whom he had become a close political ally.

Simon possessed an unfortunately chilly manner, and from at least 1914 onwards, he had difficulty in conveying an impression that he was acting from honourable motives. His awkward attempts to strike up friendships with his colleagues (asking his Cabinet colleagues to call him "Jack") often fell flat. Neville Chamberlain wrote of Simon, "I am always trying to like him, and believing I shall succeed when something crops up to put me off". Harold Nicolson described him more pithily as "a toad and a worm". Another anecdote, from the late 1940s, tells how the socialist intellectual G. D. H. Cole got into a third-class compartment on the train back from Oxford to London, to break off conversation with Simon; to his dismay Simon followed suit, only for both men to produce first class tickets when the inspector did his rounds.

Later life

By 1940, Simon, along with his successor as Foreign Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare, had come to be seen as one of the "Guilty Men" responsible for appeasement of the dictators ("the snakiest of the lot" was Hugh Dalton's description), and like Hoare, his continued service in the War Cabinet was not regarded as acceptable in the new coalition. Simon was raised to the peerage as Viscount Simon, of Stackpole Elidor in the County of Pembroke, when he became Lord Chancellor in Churchill's government although without a place on the War Cabinet. In 1945, Churchill formed a brief "Caretaker" administration but once again excluded Simon from the Cabinet. After Churchill's defeat in 1945, Simon never held office again. Although he had won plaudits for his legal skills as Lord Chancellor, Clement Attlee declined to appoint him to the British delegation at the Nuremberg War Trials, telling him bluntly in a letter that his role in the pre-war governments made this unwise. In 1951, Churchill did not offer him a return to the Woolsack. Simon's portrait (by Frank O. Salisbury, 1944) is in the National Portrait Gallery.

In 1952, Simon published his memoirs, Retrospect, which Harold Nicolson reviewed as describing the "nectarines and peaches of office" as if they were "a bag of prunes". The quote "I so very tire of politics. The early death of too many a great man is attributed to her touch" is from Simon's memoir. After his death in 1954, from a stroke, Simon's estate was probated at £93,006.

His personal papers are preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Personal life

Dame Kathleen Simon, Viscountess Simon (17 February 1920)

Simon married Ethel Mary Venables in June 1899 in Headington, Oxfordshire: she was later vice-principal of St Hugh's Hall, Oxford. They had three children: Margaret (who married Geoffrey Edwards), Joan (who married John Bickford-Smith) and John Gilbert, 2nd Viscount Simon (1902–1993). Ethel died soon after the birth of their son, in September 1902.

In 1917, Simon married the abolition activist Kathleen Rochard Manning (1863/64–1955), a widow with one son, who had for a while been governess to his children.

Simon bought De Lisle Manor in Fritwell, Oxfordshire in 1911 and lived there until 1933.

Cases

  • Nokes v Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries Ltd [1940] AC 1014
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Background and education Before the First World War First World War Out of office 1920s 1930s Later life Personal life Cases
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