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Anthony Deryck Edwards (May 20, 1902 - October 24, 1989) was an English politician who served as Prime Minister of England and Leader of the National Party from 1960 to 1968. He previously served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1951 to 1960, making him the longest serving Chancellor since 1850.
He served as MP for Canterbury from 1931 until 1980, at the time of his retirement he was the Father of the Parliament.
As Chancellor Edwards presided over a period of unprecedented economic growth, and one of the most rapid rise's in living standards anywhere in the world. Edwards was also a strong advocate of free trade and european integration, and was instrumental in the creation of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) in 1958.
He was the obvious successor to Charles Armstrong in 1960, and led the National Party to three successive victories in 1960, 1963 and 1966. His premiership was during an era of peace and prosperity, although during the final months of his premiership student protests began against the staunch conservatism of English society. He retired in May 1968, to date the last Prime Minister to retire on his own terms, without being ousted from office by electoral defeat or forced out by his or her party. After he retired as Prime Minister he remained in parliament until 1980, and was a noted elder statesman.
Anthony Deryck Edwards was born on May 20, 1902 in
Early Political Career
Edwards was elected Liberal MP for Darwen at a by-election in 1927, but lost his seat to the Conservative candidate in 1929. He remained active within the Liberal Party locally. Edwards supported the formation of the National Party in 1931, despite being considered on the left wing of the Liberal Party he remained a staunch anti-socialist. He was elected National MP for Canterbury at a by-election in 1931, a seat he would hold for the next 49 years.
He remained on the backbenches for much of the next decade, although soon came to be seen as a major economic thinker within the National Party. Edwards advocated economic planning and an increase in government expenditure to help end the depression. He also wrote in favour of a Third Way between socialism and classical liberalism, supporting a strong welfare state but also lower taxes for small business. In 1939 he entered cabinet as Minister of Economic Planning, and the following year became Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In 1942 he became Minister for Supply. He soon gained a reputation as an able technocrat, and one of the cleverest minds in the National Party.
When the National Party was swept from office in 1945 he authored another series of books on his personal economic thoughts, critiquing the socialist policies of the Holt government. When Charles Armstrong became party leader in 1947 Edwards was formally made Shadow Chancellor. After the 1948 election Edwards was elected Deputy Leader of the National Party.
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In 1951 the National Party returned to government, and Edwards was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. As a surprise to many, who thought Edward's job was largely to roll back the reforms of the previous SDP government, he did not immediately embark on any great crusade of de-nationalisation or seek to curtail or cut back the expansive welfare state created by his predecessor, although Edwards did return the Steel industry to private hands in 1951. Instead Edwards main achievement during his first term as Chancellor was establishing the Economic Development Board (EDB) in 1953 to help establish economic growth by investing in English firms and attracting foreign investment. Edwards rejected calls for a more interventionist economic model. His 1954 budget saw the final end to wartime rationing, and some modest tax cuts. This was seen as being instrumental in ensuring the National government won re-election later that year.
His second term as Chancellor saw Edwards preside over a period of even more rapid economic growth, and the beginning of the long period of rising living standards, relatively low inflation and low unemployment known as the English Miracle. England became a net exporter of luxury goods, particularly televisions and cars. Edwards also established strong relationships with trade union leaders, which partly helped to end the blight of strikes that had dogged previous non-socialist administrations, and helped establish the high level of productivity that was a hallmark of the English Miracle.
Edwards also expanded the welfare state, increasing spending on pensions, healthcare and unemployment benefits.
Edwards was reappointed chancellor following the 1957 election, but his last term was to be his toughest at the treasury. By 1957 inflation was beginning to become an undesirable side effect of the economic boom, and something Edwards had been unable to control. His 1958 “dampening” budget was designed to control the economic boom and cut inflation by reducing public spending and raising taxes. However the budget was largely seen as an overreaction, and rather than simply cutting growth the economy entered a short, sharp recession. The budget was seen as the largest blunder of his political career, and Armstrong seriously considered reshuffling Edwards out of the treasury, possibly to the Home Office. Ultimately Edwards was not moved, and by the end of the year the economy was back into growth.
Succession to Armstrong
Armstrong had told Edwards shortly after the 1951 election that he wouldn't want to serve long as Prime Minister, and would review his leadership position upon turning 65 in June 1955. Ultimately Armstrong decided to continue as Prime Minister.
In November 1959 Armstrong informed Edwards of his desire to retire almost immediately after the next budget in March 1960, and that he was him as his natural successor.
Edwards was elected leader of the National Party unopposed on March 9th 1960, and was sworn in as Prime Minister the following day.
First Government 1960
On 20th March Edwards went to see the Queen, dissolving parliament and calling a general election for 12th May.
Second Government 1960-1963
Third Government 1963-1966
The 1963 election marked the high point of National rule in England, increasing its number of seats in parliament for the sixth election in a row.
Fourth Government 1966-1968
1968 was not a very happy year for the Edwards government. Although the economy was strong, the rigid conservatism of English society, personified by the long lasting conservative government saw widespread discontent. Student protests began in March, and were to continue throughout the year.
Following his retirement Edwards remained in parliament. John Cattermole offered him the position of Foreign Secretary in his new cabinet, however Edwards graciously refused to serve.
Edwards finally retired from parliament at the 1980 election. He suffered a major stroke in 1984 and spent the rest of his life secluded and retired from active politics.