Chapter XLI: Return to the Bear Pit.
Lord of Slower-than-real-time
- Dec 13, 2005
Chapter XLI: Return to the Bear Pit.
As peace and calm, on the surface at least, returned to Europe and South Africa Westminster's attention turned sharply to the new Prime Minister Austen Chamberlain and the members of his first cabinet. In all the turbulence of the weeks since his elevation to the premiership Chamberlain had, legitimately, avoided the issue of domestic government, concentrating instead on the more urgent events across the globe. As the global situation returned to a more even keel Chamberlain was finally able to divert his attention to the make up of his cabinet and the many groups within the party that had to be placated. The key interest groups were the 'Old Guard' grouped around former Prime Minister Baldwin and the traditional right wing of the party headed by the still much respected Neville Chamberlain. Into this mix could be thrown the group around Churchill, a diverse mix held together by similar views on defence and foreign policy and a common respect and loyalty to the man himself.
To try and find a balance Chamberlain was able to call on several advantages, firstly as the named successor to Churchill he could count on considerable lee-way from that group, at least over the short term. Secondly his personal stock was high, already a respected figure pre-war he had benefited from the success of the war and, more personally, from the governments rapid response to the South African affair where the Foreign Office had worked hard to both solve the problem and keep the Dominions on side. His final advantage was the self preservation instincts of his fellow MPs, having just changed leader the party would be reluctant to change again soon for fear of appearing weak, indecisive and divided to the electorate. Thus, barring a monumental crisis, he was guaranteed a long run as leader making public opposition to him a career threatening move for any who dared try. Noticeable by their absence from that list are Sir John Simon's National Liberals, a group Chamberlain had little time for partly due to his poor relationship with the notoriously hard to like Sir John and partly due to the undue influence he felt they had given their small number of MPs. In a strong position and with many, more important, groups to keep happy the National Liberals would be the big losers in Chamberlain's cabinet reshuffle, an outcome that would not go un-noticed by the other parties at Westminster.
Beginning at the Treasury Chamberlain folded the Ministry of Production and Development back into the Exchequer, although he made sure the team assembled by Beaverbrook was kept intact and in senior roles to continue their work. Although mainly a cosmetic change, the programmes started by Lord Keynes and Sir Walter Jones were not only to continue but were scheduled for expansion, the 'beefing up' of the Chancellor's powers was popular with the traditionalist Neville Chamberlain group, worried as they were about reckless spending and a lack of checks to the Prime Minister's powers. For Chancellor Chamberlain choose Leo Amery, his excellent record at the Ministry of Defence Co-ordination, particularly the expedited Swordfish production and delivery which had proved so vital at Taranto, had propelled him up the list of candidates, although his devotion to Empire Free Trade and Imperial preference were doubtlessly also significant factors given Chamberlain's own passion for those policies. The former chancellor, Leslie Hore-Belisha, was appointed Lord Privy Seal, one of the two sinecured 'Minister without Portfolio' positions in the Prime Ministers gift.While a significant demotion, which many blamed on his support for King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis, it was a sign of Chamberlain's respect for the man's abilities as it was a cabinet level post that kept him close to the heart of government.
Descending through the Great Offices of State the Foreign Office, previously Chamberlain's own office, was a cause of considerable consternation. The international scene was clearly still delicate and required experienced hands, yet the last two occupants of the office were ruled out through politics (Chamberlain refused to give Sir John Simon the role) and appeasement (Sir Samuel Hoare was still too tainted by Hoare-Laval to even consider). The most qualified acceptable candidate was the former Under-Secretary of State Anthony Eden, on the strength of his years in that office and opposition to Hoare-Laval while there. The Home Office stayed in the hands of Sir John Simon, Chamberlain recognising he couldn't completely alienate the entire National Liberal party and that any transfer of Sir John would be, in practical terms, a demotion as the other Great Offices had all been filled. From a more neutral perspective it must also be said Sir John had done a solid, if not spectacular, job at the Home Office and there was no desperate practical need for a shake up of that department.
Anthony Eden, the former Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would be thrust into the limelight by the peace negotiations with Italy at the Valletta Peace conference.
The appointments to the service ministries very much reflected the different needs and status' of the services at the time. At the Admiralty it was clear that the First Sea Lord, Sir Roger Keyes, was very much in charge and would resist efforts at undue political influence and would attempt to keep the post-war review in-house. As Chamberlain had witnessed during the Great War with Fisher and Churchill it was not wise to put two strong personalities in one department so, given his faith in the First Sea Lord and his experience in the House of Lords, kept the relative light weight of Viscount Monsell as First Lord of the Admiralty, with explicit instructions that Keyes was to be given his head to run the Navy. The War Office was somewhat down the pecking order, the Army lacking the connections and political clout of the Royal Navy, and moreover was more riven with internal arguments and debates over the future. It was however realised, even by the non-military political classes, that the Abyssinian war had been significantly different from the Great War and the result of such arguments could be vital to Britain's future. Realising it was important for the 'Baldwinites' to have some representation in the cabinet, and in fairness due to his own abilities and record as a junior minister, Alfred 'Duff' Cooper was plucked from the Treasury and promoted to Secretary of State for War. As the holder of a DSO from service on the Western Front with the Grenadier Guards his background would gain him some respect from the military but his first instruction was to arrange for the post-war review to be conducted outside of the Imperial General Staff to try and obtain some objectivity. Very much bottom of the pile was the Air Ministry and the Royal Air Force who, in contrast to the other services, were just desperate for a review to be carried out by someone, in-house or not. With a limited offensive contribution to the war, it is arguable the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Australian Air Force had a larger impact than the entire RAF (bar Bomber Command's raid on Rome), the Air Board was facing an uphill battle in the next funding review, a review that would be vital if the RAF was to fully leave behind biplanes and become a modern service. For this unique challenge Chamberlain knew there could only be one choice; Winston Churchill. A passionate advocate of the need to modernise and re-arm the air force and a man of limitless energy, on subjects that interested him anyway, his dynamism and political clout was exactly what the Air Ministry needed.
Among the other appointments Neville Chamberlain installation as Lord President of the Council stands out, the post was a recognition of his standing within the party but also that he needed time out of the limelight to complete his political rehabilitation. While Lord President Neville would conduct a thorough review of the economic impact of the war, the seminal 'Chamberlain Report', another gesture to the fiscally conservative right of the party worried about the economy. The appointment of Baron Lloyd as Secretary of State for India was a very apt choice, given he was instrumental in the failure of the Government of India Act the previous year which had left government policy over India in tatters. Quite aside from reaping what he had sown Baron Lloyd would also have to grapple with the 'Empire building' of Dehli as the Raj tried to extend its influence into newly conquered East Africa and the Middle East client states that the Foreign Office considered it's own territory. The cabinet also marked the return of Samuel Hoare to government, although in a greatly reduced capacity as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, as he too began his political rehabilitation. Hoare's return, although humble, was in stark contrast to the complete snub of Stanley Baldwin who's position in the party fell accordingly. It is also interesting to note the first ministerial post of future Prime Minister Harold Macmillian, taking over as Minister for Co-ordination of Defence. While not as important as it had been under Churchill, Amery at the Treasury would be keeping a close eye on his former department, he would still have to work very closely with both the service ministry and the treasury to rush out initial defence estimates for the upcoming budget.
- Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Commons - Austen Chamberlain (Con)
- Lord Chancellor and Leader of the House of Lords - Viscount Hailsham (Con)
- Lord President of the Council - Neville Chamberlain (Con)
- Lord Privy Seal - Leslie Hore-Belisha (Nat Lib)
- Chancellor of the Exchequer - Leo Amery (Con)
- Home Secretary - Sir John Simon (Nat Lib)
- Foreign Secretary - Anthony Eden (Con)
- Colonial Secretary - William Ormsby-Gore (Con)
- Dominions Secretary - Lord De La Warr (Nat Lab)
- Secretary for War - Alfred Duff Cooper (Con)
- First Lord of the Admiralty - Viscount Monsell (Con)
- Secretary of State for Air - Winston Churchill (Con)
- Secretary of State for India - Baron Lloyd (Con)
- Minister for Co-ordination of Defence - Harold Macmillian (Con)
- Secretary of State for Scotland - Walter Elliot (Con)
- President of the Board of Trade - Walter Runciman (Nat Lib)
- President of the Board of Education - Lord Halifax (Con)
- Minister of Agriculture - William Morrison (Con)
- Minister of Labour - Oliver Stanley (Con)
- Minister of Health - Ernest Brown (Nat Lib)
- First Commissioner of Works - James Stanhope (Con)
- Attorney General - Thomas Inskip (Con)
- Duchy Lancaster - Samuel Hoare (Con)
Chamberlain was not the only person shaking up his party, the following weeks and months would see the the French legislative elections, the US National Conventions to elect presidential candidates and major changes to both the German and Japanese governments. Meanwhile in Britain what began as one of the Labour Party's regular post-election bloodbaths would become a far more serious battle for the very heart and soul of the party. Before all that there was the little matter of the budget and the Valletta Peace Conference with Italy.