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Friday, 16 June 2017

New style of Governmnent in London, old muddle drags on in India


Neville Chamberlain the new British Prime Minister was clearly setting his mark on policy. His Physical Training Bill received an unopposed second reading in the Commons. The poor physical condition of British working class men had oppressed him since his days as Health Minister and he had long nourished the idea that state-sponsored PT was the solution. He also gave evidence of another enthusiasm which turned out less happily and which has rather blighted his reputation in history: the belief that constructive dialogue with Nazi Germany was the correct way to avoid war. The German Foreign Minister Baron von Neurath was invited to London by way of demonstration that the British government did not see that conversation with a dictator state necessarily produced some evil result. The Germans were gratified but surprised and stumped for an immediate goal; the best they came up with was the impossible notion of a four or five power group that would in practice take over from the League of Nations. In the event von Neurath never came. Unusually, he combined enthusiasm for the Nazi regime with being a representative of the doomed conservative aristocratic professional diplomats for the German ministry of foreign affairs but his star was already waning and it would have been ludicrous to imagine that his eventual successor, von Ribbentrop, would somehow achieve more as an invited minister than in his previous spontaneous visits or his lamentable spell as ambassador. It was not to be the last time that Chamberlain displayed his shaky grasp on the realities of how German foreign policy was shaped..

The British Imperial government’s attempts to lure the Congress Party into participating in the local assemblies set up under the India Act degenerated into near farce. Unsurprisingly Congress had spotted that giving London appointed and invariably white governors the power to dismiss governments founded on these assemblies meant that they had little real power. In a pretty piece of formalism one Governor did refuse an expression of thanks from an academy of science on the grounds that only the local Government deserved the thanks. Other officials insisted that Governors wouldn’t really use the powers to dismiss governments. The Viceroy was widely criticized for remaining silent on the topic but it is hard to imagine what he might have added to the non-debate.


Predictably enough the fall from grace of Marshal Tuchachevsky in the Soviet Union was played out in a court martial which sentenced him and seven other generals to be shot by firing squad for espionage on behalf of a “foreign power” clearly Germany. The court martial was held in camera so the substance of the evidence presented against them is unknown and a remarkable number of people are still today willing to believe that there was some truth in the allegations. Stalin denounced the generals as the “contemptible scum of society”. It was the start of the massive blood-letting that deprived the Red Army of much of its leadership in the Second World War. 

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