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Friday, 2 June 2017

The Old Order Makes Way for a Decidedly Familiar New Order


With the new King safely crowned, Stanley Baldwin formally resigned as Prime Minister. The Coronation date had long been flagged as a watershed in political leadership even when Edward VIII was still King. His younger brother had inherited his diary as well as his crown. It had been a rather bumpier ride than expected but the ex-King’s quiescence in the run up to the ceremony suggested that the risks were dwindling and the country would be ripe for what Baldwin’s successor, Neville Chamberlain, privately labelled “a new kind of P.M.” Chamberlain was manifestly committed to a far more activist approach to policy than the laid-back and largely reactive Baldwin but this was not apparent in his choice of Cabinet. Chamberlain’s ministers were barely changed from the previous crop. Two of Chamberlain’s close allies were promoted to fill gaps: Sir John Simon as Chancellor of the Exchequer, with Sir Samuel Hoare stepping into his shoes at the Home Office.

Putting Simon into nominal charge of the country’s finances gave a fair indication that Chamberlain would keep the firm grip on the area that he had established as a long serving Chancellor. Simon was a distinguished lawyer but largely inexperienced in finance; he was almost devoid of positive policy ideas anyway. His first task in his first days was to carry the can for a smart U-turn by Chamberlain on his ill-judged scheme to fund rearmament by the National Defence Contribution, an over-complex and inequitable tax on corporate profits, which had been very poorly received when it was announced. Almost Chamberlain’s first act as PM was to strangle his own infant; the NDC was dropped in favour of a simpler corporate tax.


Parliament finally passed A. P. Herbert’s private member’s bill reforming the divorce law. It went through with a healthy majority, assisted by the government’s barely concealed albeit tacit approval. It faced a minimum of moralistic outpourings from the old guard, who were in reality opposed to divorce full stop and sorry to see a dauntingly complex and appealing procedure – effectively a deterrent to divorce – be removed from the statute book. It was al rather different to the agonies over the acceptability or otherwise of  a divorced woman hat had marked the abdication crisis. Herbert’s bill also removed the six month gap between the two stages of the divorce procedure which had caused such complications: Edward VIII had left his throne to marry a woman who was still legally married to someone else with no guarantee that she would eventually be free.

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