Diaries reveal cabinet revolt against Churchill

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LONDON, Nov 1 (Reuters) British Prime Minister Winston Churchill faced rebellions from members of his cabinet over foreign policy towards Moscow and plans to develop hydrogen bombs, newly declassified British documents show.

The diaries of cabinet secretary Sir Norman Brook, made public today, show Churchill threatened to resign after cabinet members criticised him for failing to consult them on an offer to meet the Soviet leader.

Although the incidents have been described by historians in the past, the diaries reveal the scale of rebellion in the cabinet in 1954, the year before the wartime leader ended his second term in office.

They paint a picture of an aging World War Two leader trying to hold down dissent in his Conservative Party government as Britain faced the challenges of the Cold War.

When Churchill asked the cabinet to approve developing the hydrogen bomb, future Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, then secretary of housing, said it was a ''shock to be told casually that we were going to do this. A number of us feel like that.'' Cabinet members were openly hostile to a decision by Churchill to approach the Soviets about a meeting with Soviet leader Georgy Malenkov without consulting the cabinet first.

Lord Privy Seal Harry Crookshank, said it was ''such a big act of policy (that) the cabinet should have had a chance of expressing a view. If my view had been sought I would have been reluctant to favour making such a move at this time.'' Anthony Eden, Churchill's foreign secretary and eventual successor as prime minister, said he had insisted repeatedly that Churchill consult the entire cabinet first.

Another cabinet member said Churchill's move meant ministers who disagreed would have no choice but to resign.

Churchill responded sharply, threatening to quit himself.

''Don't admit that my action was improper,'' Brook wrote, quoting Churchill arguing with his ministers. ''If Cabinet thought so I should have forfeited their confidence and should resign.'' Churchill added: ''I have done nothing unconstitutional.'' In the end, Churchill was spared a showdown. The meeting with Malenkov did not take place, because the Soviets insisted Churchill travel to Moscow and Churchill wanted it to take place elsewhere in Europe.

REUTERS PD RAI0851

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