Showing posts from March, 2017

Obsolescent Big Guns, Judicial Suppleness and Wooden Titans

The latest developments on the dying question of limiting naval armament sent the sound of multiple stable doors being shut on horses that had long bolted. With touching respect for diplomatic niceties Japan informed Britain that it could not accept limiting the size of guns on battleships to 14 inch calibre. Japan claimed that this proposal was a manoeuvre to leave her in a position of permanent inferiority to Britain, which was mildly confusing as the Imperial Japanese Navy already boasted two ships mounting 16 inch guns. Admittedly the US Navy could boast three such vessels. Not only was naval arms limitation receding into the mists of past hops and ideals as the Far East slipped inexorably towards war, but the debate on gun sizes belonged to an earlier age of naval weaponry. When war eventually came in 1941, the aircraft carrier and land-based aircraft were to be the decisive factors. The US Supreme Court ruled in favour of the constitutionality of the Railway Labour Relat

Front Populaire in a Cleft Stick

France under the Front Populaire was not looking any more stable. The industrial suburb of Clichy near Paris was convulsed by major rioting, which left five people dead. The demonstrations had been sparked by a provocative public meeting, organized by the Parti Social Français, a very thinly disguised rebranding of Colonel de la Rocque’s now banned far right Croix du Feu movement. The Communist Party had been able to win some easy kudos by calling for the meeting to be banned (Clichy was a Communist municipality) by the government, which chose the lesser evil of refusing this at the near-inevitable cost of the disturbances that did occur. A ban would almost certainly have triggered far right demonstrations and the accusation that the government was curtailing free speech at the behest of the Communists. The Duke of Windsor was able to look forward to the joys of marriage with greater confidence, as one of the threats to the project for which he had renounced the throne dis

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 no

Men of Faux Steel, Man of Flannel

Joachim von Ribbentrop nailed his political colours firmly to the mast. Formally he was still Germany’s ambassador to Great Britain, but in practice was behaving ever more like Germany’s foreign minister, a post that he would soon occupy de jure . The abdication and departure into effective exile of Edward VIII had removed his one qualification – to put it at its kindest – for the post in London. He had long harboured the delusion that the pro-German sentiment he detected in Edward provided the foundations of a serious rapprochement between the two countries. Ribbentrop’s speech at the Leipzig Trade Fair trotted out all the clichés of recent Nazi utterance on foreign policy, notably the need to rebuild Germany’s prosperity by restoring the colonial empire, of which Britain had deprived her. Germany belonged amongst the “haves” and not the “have nots”. Autarky  gave an economic string to her bow that allowed her to dispense with other nations. The American steel industry blinke

Royalty Visits a Delinquent Brother and a Cunning Cat

Matters Royal were much in evidence. Parliament was treated to the latest cost estimates for the Coronation ceremonies. They were nudging towards £250,000 but would give seating for an extra spectators, although using steel rather than wood as at previous events made a big difference. In a blow to the new medium, it had been decided not to televise the proceedings. On a slightly more sombre note, the Duke of Kent became the first member of the Royal family to visit the Duke of Windsor in his Austrian exile. Connoisseurs of Royal incanabula could have noted that Kent was not accompanied by his wife. By suspicious coincidence, newspaper reports of Kent’s visit were juxtaposed with ones recounting a visit to the pantomime at the Lyceum by Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The show was Puss In Boots , a tale with a rather confused morality, but a clear message that an intelligent feline can outsmart a King. Senator Borah of Idaho responded to President Roosevelt’s scheme to reduc