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Lord David Owen in his new book, Cabinet’s Finest Hour: The Hidden Agenda of May 1940, studies the critical cabinet meetings held in late May 1940 in which it was decided whether Great Britain should fight on or seek a negotiated peace. The debate in these meetings pitted Prime Minister Winston Churchill against his Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, who supported pursuing the possibility of peace negotiations. Chapter Four of the book reproduces the full-text of the minutes of the nine cabinet meetings as well as the documents seen by the cabinet members in their deliberations. In describing the debates and decision-making in Churchill’s cabinet at that pivotal moment, Owen offers a spirited defense of the importance of cabinet government in a parliamentary democracy. He praises Churchill as prime minister for not attempting to ”bypass either Cabinet or Parliament,” and for a “a deepening of democracy from 1940-45.” In the volume’s epilogue Owen condemns the failure of Cabinet governance under Antony Eden during Suez in 1956 and Tony Blair during Iraq in 2003. He labels the latter’s sweeping changes to cabinet government in 2001 as “a hubristic act of vandalism for which, as Prime Minister, Blair alone bears responsibility.” Owen’s experiences as a member of parliament for 26 years and as foreign secretary from 1977 to 1979 inform his comments about the House of Commons and Cabinet.

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