Eighty years ago relics of the Chamberlainite régime receive tardy burials


In a quaint nod towards a remote past and its customs, combined with an enthusiasm for selling a bear's skin long before it had been killed, Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, announced formally that the Munich Treaty of 1938, by which the Sudetenland had been transferred to Germany from Czechoslovakia, would not be taken into account when a settlement was reached for Czechoslovakia's borders after the war. He explained this by saying that the Germans had destroyed the agreement; this rather begged the question of why the treaty had not been repudiated in March 1939 when Hitler flagrantly ignored its provisions by seizing the remainder of the country. Neville Chamberlain, then still prime minister, was still bent on appeasing Germany at the time and would have fought shy of so bold a denunciation of Germany. Repudiating the treaty would also have repudiated Chamberlain's beloved side-deal with Hitler at Munich, the Anglo-German Declaration better known as "Peace for our time."

Another relic of Chamberlain's premiership was buried when the government decided on who was to replace Sir Horace Wilson, the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, Head of the Civil Service and Chamberlain's éminence grise in promoting appeasment. Wilson had just escaped defenestration along with his master in May 1940; it would have been too painful an admission that he had failed in the civil servant's duty of impartiality, and he was left to serve out his time till his official retirement at the age of 60.  Churchill took exquisite revenge in giving his job to Sir Richard Hopkins, who was actually older than Wilson, in a public demonstration that there were reasons other than age for letting Wilson depart into retirement.

The Left wing of the Labour Party demonstrated that it was not just the Chamberlainite rump of the Tories that had reservations about national government as practiced by Churchill and his colleagues. Over sixty MPs voted against the government on the issue of post war pensions. Their particular target was Arthur Greenwood, the official leader of the party, which had sponsored then withdrawn an amendment to the initial proposals. Unrealistic principle still trumped ugly pragmatism òn the Labour back benches.

 

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