January 15, 2003
Graham Stewart, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25.00, pp. 533.
of recent admonitions in the TLS about this sort of thing,
I should immediately state an interest: namely friendship with the
author. That said this is a splendid, splendid book. And
as for the author himself, only Robert
Brown's description of Ward Hadlow will suffice:
a frightfully brilliant chap. He's even more brilliant than he looks.
He made me promise not to tell you till after he'd gone because
he's frightfully modest as well as frightfully brilliant but
he's written a novel" . . .
William displayed any interest in Robert's news.
it about?" he enquired.
reluctantly turned to William and continued, with an air of one
quite conscious that he is casting pearls before swine:
an historical novel. It's been a frightful swot for him getting
up the historical part, of course, but he really is frightfully
brilliant. It's a perfectly marvellous story. I mean, I'm sure that
when they know about it the publishers will start simply fighting
they?" said William with interest. "I'd like to watch 'em. Where
will they have it?"
Caesar is divided into two halves, with the first taking us
from Randolph Churchill and Joe Chamberlain up to the 1935 election.
This section draws heavily at the end on Dr. Stewart's work on the
India Bill and establishes a number of very useful pointers to what
will be for most the book's meat, the second section focusing on
does not come out of this account at all well. He enters the stage
declaiming against coalition in 1922, and contrives to stay on it
in '31 by making one. As ever (at the hands of historians), Churchill
escapes the abuse his contemporaries meted out to him: his expediency
being most obvious in his 1923 abandonment of the reunited, Free
Trade Liberal party for the protectionist, but career friendly Unionist
theme of the book ('Churchill, Chamberlain and the Battle for the
Tory Party') obliges the author to 'compare and contrast' Chamberlain's
career with Churchill's by the early '20s. He concludes that Chamberlain's
was one of failure, when the only significant difference between
these two unconnected artistes was that Churchill's failures were
on such a vastly more monumental scale.
truth our two protagonists were not battling one another 'for the
Tory party' at any stage before the late '30s. They could conceivably
be seen as exemplars of the two tendencies which contested the Carlton
Club in '22: personally brilliant, politically catholic (i.e. both
very left and very right) coalys vs. honest husbandry (which itself
was divided between Baldwin, and the more right wing Chamberlain).
The important thing to bear in mind is that the latter tendency
won, first in ditching LlG, and then every subsequent time battle
a Conservative parliament passed the India Bill is conclusive proof
of the essentially moderate nature of inter-war British Conservatism.
Churchill, with his record on Ulster and other sins against Diehardery,
was never fully trusted as regards his defence of the Raj. Indeed
his historical position at the head of the diehards (as opposed
to Gods like Carson, and demi-gods like Salisbury) is surely a retrospective
invention of historians, beguiled by his later status. What Dr.
Stewart might have reflected upon slightly more is his own observation
that far more Tory MPs rebelled on India than did on appeasement.
And this was because appeasement had fully fledged right wing credentials,
whereas the India Bill was the ungodly product of Baldwin and the
hindsight squints at any treatment of appeasement. To take just
the defence expenditure allocation debates, these invariably end
up being considered in terms of what would have best helped us fight
the 39/45 war. This anachronism obliterates the truth that Britain
in the 30s faced a foreign policy problem, not a defence procurement
one. The question remains: was our foreign policy right? The chief
end of which being to maintain our Empire, not say the Polish dictatorship.
many ways Graham Stewart is the last, perfectly formed Churchillian
in that, whilst anti-appeasement, he is personally sympathetic to
Neville Chamberlain. It is this empathetic ability which allows
him to transcend the normal dogmatism of his faction and write such
an eminently readable book. Though the hugely civilized circumstances
in which it was written i.e. outside a university doubtless
also contributes to the fastest 500 pager I've read in a long time.
sweet words won't get us past appeasement, and more specifically
whether we should regret the fact that Chamberlain had won
the battle for the Tory party, and was implementing it, or be glad
of course had things right Churchill wanted to encircle Germany.
Chamberlain didn't; he didn't even want 'allies' like the US, which
as he knew full well would simply have entailed Britain taking on
others' problems (in America's case, Japan).
never easy to understand the logic of the anti-appeasers (either
contemporary, or in the history books). If their argument was that
war could not be forestalled, and that we thus had to be as best
prepared for this inevitable circumstance (e.g. by an Anglo-French
pact with the USSR) then this is an argument for a pre-emptive strike.
that's seen for the madness it is, then we have to account Chamberlain
and Horace Wilson, not Churchill and Brendan Bracken as the realists.
Why should we have fought a war to prevent war? The real disaster
was that, after the Prague invasion, Chamberlain adopted the policy
of the anti-appeasers.
was undone not by his policy to prevent the war, but by the progress
of the war he failed to prevent. Principally military failings
which Churchill presided over and rhetorical ones, 'missed buses'
and 'my friends'. For Dr. Stewart, and other anti-appeasers then
as now, Churchill's pre-war vapourings (selectively edited) are
vindicated, and more particularly so is the total-war he committed
Britain to after he succeeded Chamberlain, by eventual Russian and
American entry into the war.
was good for Churchill, but was it good for Britain and the Empire?
In March 1941 Liddell Hart concluded that all an improbable British
victory over Germany would amount to was 'our subservience to the
United States if not the supremacy of Soviet Russia in Europe'.
Caesar's one weakness is that by ending with Chamberlain's funeral
it precludes consideration of the consequences of Churchill's fluke
victory in the battle for the Tory party. Chamberlain, and his legitimate
heirs would never have neglected their party in the way the saviour
of humanity did and Attlee didn't.
Churchill did 'win' we must turn back to the beginning to see why
that mattered. In his political youth he split from the twentieth
century's diehards, the Hugh Cecils and the Willoughby de Broke's.
He never really returned, whereas Neville Chamberlain, limply, followed
in their wake. The importance of the hard right (1900-40) is that
in Britain, despite provocation, it remained constitutional and
largely democratic. A hidden irony is that it was Chamberlain who
was closest to this strain, and Churchill who, in his erratic liberalism,
sealed the party on the moderate course Baldwin had set it on.
one, startling, omission in this book is the paucity of high class
anecdotage. Only at the end, possibly his heart rising as his labours
near their finish, does the author give flight; the Evening Standard
billboard after the fall of France being especially good 'Britain
through to the final'. However one Churchillian cliché remains intact
after this excellent and serious work, he is that unique figure
the more of whom one reads the more one admires him:
the return journey across the Channel on board H.M.S. Boadicea,
one of the officers observed the scene: 'the neat figure of Neville
Chamberlain approached, surrounded by his retinue like a popular
master at a prepatory school conducting the Sunday walk. One or
two of the boys preferred to trudge along by themselves. Among these
was Winston Churchill.' Chamberlain went up to the ship's bridge
but got cold and had to have soup brought to him. Churchill meanwhile
had ensconced himself in the warmth of the ward room drinking port,
sucking a cigar and leafing through the pages of Blighty magazine,
a glorified girlie mag popular with sailors. From deep within the
ward room could be heard his distinctive growl, 'Tell the Prime
Minister to come and have some gin.' The First Lord of the Admiralty
subsequently went missing. He was eventually discovered sitting
on a table in the stokers' mess, 'swapping yarns'.