British Policy In Spain Rings Hollow, Front Populaire's Hollower Yet

The Labour Party at last found a convenient tool to belabour the government's policy on the Spanish Civil War without adopting the potentially embarrassing position of actually coming out in outright support of the Spanish Republic and incurring the dread risk of seeming to endorse anything like military action. The flashpoint was the Nationalist blockade of the port of Bilbao in the Basque region, aimed at throttling Republican resistance there. Despite the government having made a great show of dispatching a whole battle-cruiser - H.M.S. Hood, pride of the Royal Navy, sunk by Bismark four years later - to the station, the Labour Party felt it could safely introduce a motion of censure saying that insufficient steps were being taken to protect British merchant shipping. the motion was, inevitably, defeated heavily.

The Blum Front Populaire government in France was also being castigated for its Spanish policy, with its numerous right-wing opponents happily taking up breathtakingly hypocritical Italian accusations that France was being dilatory in enforcing the policy of non-intervention by allowing arms supplies and the transit of volunteers to the battlefront.On a more farcical level Blum faced the controversy over "political" flags - Tricolores bearing the emblems of the Front's constituent parties - being raised over the the Paris Exhibitions. These had been removed and then replaced. Tellingly, it was the Communist Party that called loudest for their removal. This offered an undemanding diversion from its usual habit of excoriating Blum's failure to support the Spanish Republic. With the Front looking ever more short-dated in the face of such opposition, gold reached a new high on the Paris Bourse.

On happier monetary note, the new designs for coinage for George VI's reign were presented. The most charming feature was a naturalistic image of the wren, Britain's smallest bird on the smallest coin, the farthing, worth little more than one thousandth of a pound (0.1p). Never likely to survive more than modest inflation, it was to have a life of less than twenty years. The twelve-side sided threepenny piece also made its formal entry into British coinage, although sample models had been minted bearing the image of Edward VIII for the experimental use of vending machine manufacturers. These unique numismatic relics of Britain's shortest reign of modern times are now exceedingly rare.


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