Here it is, the British upper crust in all its glory, with all its foibles and sensibilities and understanding of what it means to be free and English Speaking—and with the sexual morals of ally cats.
The focus of the book is the greatest drama of the last Century, when the appeasement oriented Neville Chamberlain ruled the Tory Party and British Government will a tighter rein that Mr Hitler ruled Germany.
In early 1939, Leslie Hore-Belisha, the secretary of war, told a Times correspondent that the "Conservative party machine is even stronger than the Nazi party machine. It may have a different aim, but is similarly callous and ruthless. It suppresses anyone who does not toe the line." (Page 160)With a blind eye to what was going on in Africa and Europe, Mr Chamberlain blundered ahead, thinking that he could see into Mr Hitler's soul and come to an understanding with him. In so thinking he missed the little corner that thought that the Germans, to get the grain and living space they needed, might have to kill or force into exile some 42 million people to the East.
Opposed to the Neville Chamberlain juggernaut was Winston Churchill and a small band of Tories who thought that war was coming and that England was not ready. This was discussed by then college student John F Kennedy, in his book Why England Slept. The future president's father was the US Ambassador to the Court of St James and was frankly on the side of the appeasers. The future president was not.
The critical vote, the one that caused Prime Minister Chamberlain to tender his resignation, was taken on 8 May 1940 because the Labor Party was encouraged by the Tory rebels to put the question regarding confidence in the Prime Minister. This was the "Norway Debate" or "Narvik Debate", and it took place before Germany moved on the Low Countries and France. Mr Chamberlain's government won that vote, but he was wounded. While he should have had a majority of 241 votes, he lost 41 to the other side and 60 abstained. Mr Chamberlain then asked Labor and the Liberals to join in a "national unity government", but they declined. There was some talk of putting Lord Halifax in as Prime Minister, but he was an appeaser and knew that Churchill would be still in the Government, and running the war.
Before he left office, Mr Chamberlain had imposed rules on the British people that we would, today, find ridiculous.
Precious British liberties like habeas corpus were swept away for the duration. The government was given the authority to jail indefinitely without trial any person judged to be a danger to public safety. It could prevent the holding of demonstration or putting out of flags; requisition without payment any building or other property, from a horse to a railway; tell farmers what to plant and what to do with their crops; enter anyone's home without warning or a warrant. (Page 231)It is interesting that they Tory "rebels" did not fair well in the new Government. There were a number of reasons for that, including Mr Churchill's belief that his grip on Parliament was not as strong as he would have liked. After all, he had ratted twice.
The author sums it up:
The rebels' cause certainly had seemed impossible at the time. They were defying a seemingly omnipotent prime minister and political establishment, whose success at shutting down dissent and dispute within the government and the press had been unparalleled. In the course of the two-year struggle the dissidents, with a rare exception like Ronald Cartland, were not untarnished heroes. They were timid and cautious on occasion, susceptible to intimidation and appeals to loyalty made by Chamberlain and his men, worried about their careers and being branded as parliamentary pariahs. But when their country's future hung in the balance in May 1940, they put all those considerations aside. In the end, they did what Leo Amery had urged Arthur Greenwood to do eight months before.Thank God they did.
They spoke for England. (Page 364)
Regards — Cliff