September 26, 2006

Its that 1936 feeling

So the Prime Minister overstays his welcome and his chancellor who has been waiting for ten years as the obvious successor is beggining to get tired and at last feels that his shackles are coming off. The only problem is that its 1936 not 2006- the comparision is interesting though for students of British politics. In 1936 Neville Chamberlaine the Chancellor knew that his time was coming, having served loyally under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin as Health Secretary (1924-9) and then Chancellor (1931-7), he had seen off his main rival Winston Churchill (Chancellor 1924-9) and had become the acknowledged second man in the government. He had stayed away from the most divisive issues of Baldwin's leadership- saying very little about either India or foreign policy but maintaining a jealous fiefdom at the treasury and extending an uninvited service of consultancy into health, housing and education. In 1936 Chamberlain might well have been described a towering and formideable figure in British politics.

Chamberlain's premiership is normally held up as a disaster because of his failure in foreign policy but that failure stemmed as much from his character as anything else. He had very bad relations with the foreign office- particularly its head Sir Roger Vansittart. He had difficulties with both his foreign secretaries- Eden and Halifax- and an almost invincible faith in his ability to do deals with Hitler. Churchill's quip that Chamberlain would have been a good mayor of Birmingham in a lean year reflected the fact that Chamberlain's skills were mostly in administrating detail, sorting out domestic policy and forcing through an agenda- but what he had in policy making skill he lacked in the humility and electoral ability to be a successful Prime Minister. His stiffness and persona made him a less attractive personality to the public than his erstwhile chief Baldwin and his arrogance led to his mistakes with Hitler.

Whether our next Prime Minister, a similarly long serving Chancellor, with similar arrogance and a need to interfere in every department- will have a similar record to Neville Chamberlain is yet to be seen... I leave our readers to decide.

3 comments:

edmund said...

having said that Chamberlains actions as Foreign Secretary in many ways fitted in with the conventional wisdom-so I think it's more complicated than man management. And if Baldwin had been more rightwing and re-armed faster/ stood up to Hitler more Chamberlain would have been in a better position

It's also worth remembering that he was identified as a hawk beforehand-to the degree that in the 1935 election Labour used a picture of him as a death's head.

Gracchi said...

Yes I agree that he had that reputation but the point I'm making is just that some of the personality traits- say the interference in other departments are similar.

Interestingly though both the foreign office and Chamberlain's foreign secretaries were more willing than him to abandon appeasement

edmund said...

that I largely agree with-0my point was merely that policy as much as persoality was the probelm with Chamberlian