The Last of the Chamberlains


The sudden death of Sir Austen Chamberlain removed one of the towering figures from Britain’s interwar politics. His achievement in negotiating the Treaty of Locarno, which by some standards brought a realistic and durable peace to Europe after the unhappy contingencies of the Treaty of Versailles, had brought him the unique double accolade of the Nobel Peace Prize and Britain’s highest order of chivalry, a Knighthood of the Garter. In recent years he had migrated to the fringes of influence, but still sat as an MP and criticized the government’s foreign policy tellingly, albeit ineffectually. His death was all the more poignant as his half-brother Neville was about to rise to the Premiership, a prize that had eluded both Austen and their father Joseph. The announcement days before that Stanley Baldwin was about to step down – as had been widely expected – after the Coronation meant that it would be only a few weeks before the final seal would be set on his promotion. Neville had not formally been designated as successor – this would have presumed on Royal prerogative amongst other things – but few doubted that he would take over.

A meeting of India’s Congress Party ended in a victory for the more moderate and realistic elements, led by Ghandi. Congress would accept a apart in governing states where it held a majority in the regional assemblies set up the very tentative self-rule reforms instituted the previous year. The Party demanded a proviso that Provincial Governors would not exercise their “special powers” provided that the state governments acted “within the Constitution.” In practice would enormously dilute the de facto veto powers retained by the colonial authorities under the reform.


Sir John Reith, Director General of the BBC, adroitly defended his corporation from accusations of political bias in front of a committee of Conservative MPs. He insisted that reports of the Spanish Civil War drew on multiple agency copy and was factually reliable. Consciously or unconsciously, the MPs were betraying an instinctive sympathy for the Francoist forces. Reith did take on board criticism of coverage given to the leaders of unofficial strikes. The Conservative suspicion of left wing bias at the BBC is perennial issue, but Reith’s rejection of a suggestion that news broadcasts be made more “snappy” shows that his sombre ethos had a good many more years left in charge.

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