Eighty years ago, the currents of Imperialism and appeasement combine, as the cross-currents within Labour sweep it to irrelevance

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth reached the west coast of Canada, the turnaround point for their tour of the Dominion, the first ever by a reigning monarch. Canada had long been a rite of passage for the heir to the throne, but now the Canadians were getting the real deal. Perhaps because of this, the spin machine went into overdrive to play down the importance of the upcoming US leg of the North American tour: “a four days' diversion with a friendly neighbour.” Certainly there had been sceptical articles in some Canadian papers as to their Majesties’ true priority, but the presence in the Royal suite of a particular spin doctor invites another explanation. George Steward was taking time off from his normal task as 10 Downing Street’s press liaison for the Canada trip. Steward was a staunch supporter of Neville Chamberlain’s exclusively bilateral Anglo-German solution to European tensions; a solution that firmly excluded any thought of meddling by the US, which would have stolen Chamberlain’s thunder. Britain could sort out Europe very nicely on its own without US assistance, however well intentioned. The British Foreign Office might have thought otherwise, but theirs’ was not the voice that counted. Downing Street had as much reason to play down friendship with the US as to play up Imperial solidarity.

Divided councils were also the order of the day in the British Labour Party, which was holding its annual conference. More precisely, the party contrived to oppose everything, except vague platitudes that Fascism was bad. There were perfectly good objections to everything it rejected, but the net results was to leave it devoid of any positive policy. Sir Stafford Cripps was expelled for advocating a “popular front” with the Communist Party, the Labour Party’s rival claimant to be the representative of Socialism in Britain. Cripps was the most idiotic of the “useful idiots”, who believed that the British were too stupid to understand Socialism, and had to have it explained to them from Moscow, irrespective of the fact that Stalin was at that point the most blood-soaked of all the dictators available. Of course, it was a blessing to the Labour leaders that the government was engaged in what proved to be a futile attempt to secure an alliance with Stalin, which made any contact with Moscow, however much it might have been driven by brutal Realpolitik, suspect. The Labour party also opposed to any form of conscription, because no trust whatever was to be placed in the government’s foreign policy which the army might be called upon to enforce. It had voted against even the almost token measure of conscription that had been introduced at the pleading of the French a few weeks before.

The corpse of “non-intervention” in the Spanish Civil War was disinterred and mocked in a German parade of humiliation, heaped on the British and French governments, who had promoted this “policy” as a cloak behind which the German and Italian governments were given carte blanche to assist in the destruction of the Republic. The air force units of the “Kondor Legion” were acclaimed by Field-Marshal Goering as they returned from Spain. These were the men who bombed Guernica. There was no attempt to hide the fact that they had participated fully and “heroically” on the side of General Franco, amply giving the lie to contemporary German claims that there was no German involvement in the war. The more modest contribution of the Wehrmacht’s experts to training Franco’s tank forces was not overlooked.


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