The Forgotten Statesman Who Shaped Modern Britain
A new biography of a towering figure in twentieth-century British politics.
A Sunday Times Politics and Current Affairs Book of the Year, 2020.
A Telegraph Best Book of the Year, 2020.
Can you name the creator of the Territorial Army and the British Expeditionary Force? The man who laid the foundation stones of MI5, MI6, the RAF, the LSE, Imperial College, the ‘redbrick’ universities and the Medical Research Council?
This book reveals that great figure: Richard Burdon Haldane. As a philosopher-statesman, his groundbreaking proposals on defence, education and government structure were astonishingly ahead of his time—the very building blocks of modern Britain. His networks ranged from Wilde to Einstein, Churchill to Carnegie, King to Kaiser; he pioneered cross-party, cross-sector cooperation. Yet in 1915 Haldane was ejected from the Liberal government, unjustly vilified as a German sympathiser.
John Campbell charts these ups and downs, reveals Haldane’s intensely personal side through previously unpublished private correspondence, and shows his enormous relevance in our search for just societies today. Amidst political and national instability, it is time to reinstate Haldane as Britain’s outstanding example of true statesmanship.
John Campbell OBE is the co-founder and Chair of Campbell Lutyens, an international private equity and infrastructure advisory house. He read Economics at the University of Cambridge and began his career in corporate finance at N M Rothschild. Married with three children, he has long been inspired by Lord Haldane’s example.
‘A labour of love. Haldane is rescued from “the condescension of posterity”, his achievement in war and peace is finally recognised, and his rightful place in history is secured.’ — Gordon Brown
‘This captivating, ground-breaking book firmly re-establishes Lord Haldane in the national consciousness as a remarkable statesman of the early twentieth century. Many of his innovations are still flourishing today, and his thoughts on statecraft have much to teach our leaders.’ — Sir Anthony Seldon, British political biographer
‘An outstanding biography that will have Haldane recognised, at long last, as one of our very greatest twentieth-century statesmen.’ — Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Secretary of State for Defence and Foreign Secretary
‘My Grandfather found Haldane to be unfailingly kind and in particular supported him in 1915 when Haldane lost Office. This book brings Haldane marvellously to life, centre stage on the then political map of Britain. It not only remarkably tells Haldane’s extraordinary and neglected story, but the exceptional images so cleverly illustrate his life and the turbulent times in which he lived. A must read.’ — The Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames
‘Impressively well-researched, wonderfully written and so obviously relevant to the present day.’ — Brendan Simms, Professor in the History of International Relations, University of Cambridge, and author of Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation
‘We should thank John Campbell and we should thank Haldane. Haldane saw what our country needed and he quietly and brilliantly introduced those changes and creations, many of which are still with us. We in intelligence, and many others, are much indebted to Haldane. Mr Campbell tells us why.’ — Sir Colin McColl KCMG, former chief of MI6
‘Most politicians would view themselves as an outstanding success if only one of Haldane’s reforms were credited to them. He transformed the British Army, brought into existence many of the great civic universities, and even proposed a Supreme Court 100 years ahead of his time. John Campbell brings Haldane to the front of the political stage, where he belongs, and details well his supreme intellect and political method, which has so much to teach for today’s politics.’ — The Rt Hon Frank Field DL, former MP
‘A welcome and enjoyable biography of a towering yet overlooked figure — Haldane was a transforming war minister, a visionary Lord Chancellor, a passionate supporter of education, and much more. Like the best biographies, this book casts revealing light on the times in which he lived.’ — The Rt Hon. The Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, former President of the UK Supreme Court
‘Few if any of today’s public figures can stand comparison with Haldane, architect of so much of what we take for granted in our government and civic society. Campbell’s account summons back to life this giant of public administration.’ — Professor Sir David Omand GCB, former Director of GCHQ and Home Office Permanent Secretary
‘An immensely readable, painstakingly researched biography of a little-known polymath statesman to whom Britain is more indebted than it knows. In this Who’s Who of early-twentieth-century politics, Campbell delves deep into Haldane’s complex and fascinating personality, in so many ways ahead of his time. He makes his hero our hero.’ — Sir Peter Westmacott GCMG LVO, former British Ambassador to Turkey, France and the United States
‘A refreshing and compelling new biography of the leading philosopher-statesman of modern Britain. Haldane has had enormous influence, not least in re-organising the British Army to prevent a quick German victory in 1914, as well as in developing British education, the security services and the machinery of modern government.’ — Martin Pugh, former Professor of History, Newcastle University, and author of The Making of Modern British Politics
‘I wish I could have read this as my guidebook before taking on my Prime Ministerial duties, back in 2009. Now I can only hope that current and future leaders will use their chance to do so.’ — Gordon Bajnai, former Prime Minister of Hungary
‘A meticulously researched life of Haldane which rightly defines him as the ultimate polymath. Haldane’s multiple achievements are a lesson to today’s politicians: that so much more can be achieved by reaching across party lines when searching for benign change. We have all forgotten how much our military, intelligence services, universities and research communities continue to benefit from Haldane’s impact, a century later. This work sets the record straight.’ — Sir David Cooksey GBE, Chair of the Francis Crick Institute
‘The debt the United Kingdom owes to Haldane is as great as to any other statesman of the first half of the twentieth century. John Campbell’s immensely readable study reminds us of the achievements of this extraordinary public servant. Haldane’s instinct to work constructively across the Party divide shows the importance of broad consensus in delivering lasting institutional reform. His search for long-term solutions to our country’s needs has never seemed more apposite.’ — Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury, former Leader of the House of Lords
‘A remarkably intimate story of an exceptional man who created the British Army of 1914. These carefully considered reforms, resolutely fought for by Haldane in 1907, saved the nation from defeat.’ — Major-General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter
‘A truly superb book. Not only is it a remarkable biography of an extraordinary life, it also provides important insights into Haldane’s role in laying the foundations of the British university system. It traces how his education in Scotland and Germany moulded his beliefs about the purpose of life and the capacity of universities to inspire minds that contribute to the intellectual advancement and well-being of society. A profoundly humane account of one of Britain’s most enlightened and influential, yet insufficiently recognised, reformers of the twentieth century.’ — Colin Mayer CBE FBA, Peter Moores Professor of Management Studies, Said Business School, University of Oxford
‘The great sadness is that Richard Haldane was Chancellor of St Andrews, Scotland’s first university, for only two months before he died in August 1928. In inviting him to fill this key governing role, St Andrews knew it was appointing one of “the most powerful, subtle and encyclopaedic intellects ever devoted to the public service of his country”. This great and long overdue book explains why St Andrews was so keen to make him one of its own.’ — Sir Ewan Brown CBE FRSE, former senior governor of the University of St Andrews