Sunday 7 February 2016

Peace At Any Price

The reaction in the media to Prime Minister Cameron's deal or no deal Euro caper has been interesting.  Yet again we have a PM who is looking like a gone man.  But if after being elected you then say I'm off in three years and leaving it to George you are asking for trouble especially when seeking favours.

One common theme is that his return from Europe evokes the memory of  Neville Chamberlain who between 1937 and 1940 was PM.  In his personal handling of foreign affairs he failed to prevent war with Germany.  The picture that we all know is of him at Heston Airport in 1938 displaying a piece of paper and claiming "peace in our time".

But the picture shows a remarkable event.  In his late 60's he had taken to the sky to go to Hitler to attempt to prevent war in Europe.  This was astonishing given the etiquette and conventions of diplomacy in that age and especially when flying was a far riskier business.  Cameron's efforts are more like those of a charity chugger in the street on a cold wet day.   

Chamberlain did not enter Parliament until he was 49 years of age, the same age as Cameron is now.  Until the First World War he had been concerned with business, local affairs and family and had a reputation for probity and hard work.  Despite a late start he soon was given major responsibilities in government.

To what degree his ideas and policies in the 1920's and 30's until becoming Prime Minister are right or wrong is for debate.  But in 1937 he followed Stanley Baldwin into office having had a full and respected career in senior positions.

He was a safe pair of hands at the time.  Churchill was too wild, distrusted and heavily in debt, Eden too young but Chamberlain had the edge on Oliver Stanley and Duff Cooper, two "might have been" men lost to history.

This was a period when Britain wanted peace and it was clear that a large part of the electorate had that opinion.  There were troubles enough around the Empire and in Ireland and at home and the First World War was a vivid memory of the risks of Europe.  For many Hitler was a joke German with a vicious streak.  Those who did see him as a liar and a serious danger were a minority.

Chamberlain's problem and the source of his misreading Hitler was that he was a businessman cum politician who had been good at doing deals and fixing things.  He could usually find a way round.  Hitler did not do deals.  He might make promises but he would not honour them and Ribbentrop had told him Britain would not fight.

Chamberlain tried and failed to do what he had been used to doing.  He compounded this by a hesitancy in declaring war.  Given that the British armed forces were both unready and not equipped for any major European conflict, a situation he had inherited and begun to correct, it is not surprising.
But this together with how badly things went in the first year and the shock of modern war and the effect on everyone and then the aftermath have meant that he is remembered as a failure.  So we forget his profound sense of duty and application and service to a greater cause.

Cameron is another kind of failure. Essentially,  a media spinner who had risen without trace as a special adviser he managed to swing the vote for Conservative leadership in 2005 on the basis of his image.  He had never held senior office and it shows.  He hopes to scoot off to became a travelling celebrity doing PR for the finance trades.

The coalition situation meant that fudge and nudge was the only way to work.  Now as Prime Minister he has little idea of how to run anything and his deal making skills are far too limited.  You need to know the detail and do the homework.  Cameron doesn't.

If those who study the markets are right and real problems arise, let along all the other issues in Europe and the world we may well find how little he can really to do and will pay the price.  Cameron has not really fixed anything or done any serious deal for our benefit.  And there is no record of achievement in government whatsoever.

He is not in the same league as Neville Chamberlain and never will be.  Chamberlain died in Heckfield in 1940 and there is a memorial to him in St. Michael's Church.  Across the aisle are other memorials of people connected in various ways to the Earl's of Home, the Duke of Wellington, Charles James Fox and the Grey's of Howick.

He is in good company.


  1. Excellent. You couldn't install a "like" button, by any chance?

    Nice to see someone being fair to a decent Midlander.

  2. Essentially as history has shown Chamberlain gave us time, sorely needed to build up armaments and men.

  3. For some reason modern political life does not attract able and experienced people. It isn't easy to tell the difference between Blair and Cameron, two obvious flim-flam merchants, yet people vote for them.