France Takes the Lead



Pierre Mendès France, born into a Jewish family in 1907 and thus the youngest of the leading actors in our story, began his political career in 1932 as the youngest deputy elected (he was 25), but was serving in the air force when refusal to accept French capitulation led to his arrest by the Vichy régime in 1940. He continued his political career after his escape and a further spell in the air force, this time that of the Free French, who then entrusted him with important administrative responsibilities. The war once over his advancement languished a little and, compared with Bidault’s string of ministerial offices, he had no prizes to display. This did not stop the British Embassy in Paris, in June 1953 when Mendès France was a Radical deputy backed by the newspaper L’Express, from nominating him as the man best able to save France.2 But his bid for the premiership (won, curiously enough, by a politician equally lacking in experience of major office – Joseph Laniel) failed by 13 votes.


Foreign Minister Acceptable Agreement Political Career Negotiate Settlement Left Wing Government 
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© Sir James Cable 2000

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