Rifkind, Malcolm Leslie


Rifkind, Malcolm Leslie
▪ 1996

      When he reshuffled the United Kingdom's Cabinet in July 1995, Prime Minister John Major promoted Malcolm Rifkind to become his foreign secretary. Rifkind had long supported greater cooperation with the rest of Europe, but he had to devise policies that would not cause too much offense to those fellow Conservatives who opposed European integration.

      Rifkind was born in Edinburgh on June 21, 1946. A lawyer by training, he entered the House of Commons in February 1974 as Conservative MP for Edinburgh Pentlands. One year later Margaret Thatcher, the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party—then in opposition—appointed Rifkind as one of the party's spokesmen on Scottish affairs. The following year, however, he resigned in protest against Thatcher's hostility to a proposal (later dropped) on the creation of a Scottish assembly.

      On winning the 1979 general election, Prime Minister Thatcher forgave Rifkind his earlier defiance and appointed him to a succession of middle-ranking ministerial posts. As minister of state at the Foreign Office (1983-86), he played a significant role in persuading a reluctant Thatcher to accept plans to create a single market in Europe, which involved removing all barriers to movements of goods, services, and people throughout the European Community (now European Union) and coordinating a number of fiscal and commercial laws.

      Rifkind entered Thatcher's Cabinet in 1986 as secretary of state for Scotland. (By this time he had lost his earlier enthusiasm for Scottish devolution.) In 1990 he was promoted to be transport secretary, and after the 1992 general election Major appointed him defense secretary. In this post Rifkind faced two difficult tasks: to oversee the deployment of British troops in former Yugoslavia without provoking diplomatic trouble within the Atlantic alliance and to manage a succession of reductions in the U.K.'s defense budget without provoking hostility from the chiefs of the armed forces. Neither policy was popular with all sections of his party or of the wider British public. By applying himself to detail and refusing to descend into partisan hectoring, Rifkind won praise for his efforts on both fronts.

      On Douglas Hurd's retirement in July 1995, Rifkind was the obvious successor at the Foreign Office. Rifkind immediately made it clear that he would maintain Hurd's broadly pro-European policies, although to pacify Conservative Euroskeptics, Rifkind also promised "a stalwart defence of British interests." Rifkind also made it clear that he would maintain the U.K.'s evenhanded stance toward the Middle East.

      (PETER KELLNER)

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Universalium. 2010.

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