Neville Chamberlain

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The Right Hon. Neville Chamberlain
Prime Minister 28 May 1937 - 10 May 1940
Political Party Conservative Party
Born 18 March 1869
Edgbaston, Birmingham
Died 9 November 1940
Highfield Park, Heckfield, Hampshire

Arthur Neville Chamberlain (18 March 1869 - 9 November 1940) was a prime minister of the United Kingdom and elected leader of the British Conservative Party, from 1937 to 1940.

Career

Chamberlain was the eldest son of the Birmingham Mayor Joseph Chamberlain and also half-brother to Sir Austen Chamberlain. He became Lord Mayor of Birmingham himself in 1915 after a successful start in business. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1923 - 1924 and again 1931 - 1937, and was Minister of Health in 1923, from 1924 to 1929 and again in 1931.

In May of 1937, Stanley Baldwin tendered his resignation as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party and nominating Neville Chamberlain as his successor. He became prime minister of the United Kingdom on 28 May 1937 and leader of the Conservative Party a few days later. Ironically he never considered himself to be a 'Conservative,' preferring personally to use the term 'Unionist' which had been more commonplace when he first entered politics and which recalled the Liberal Unionist Party of his father.

Appeasement

Chamberlain's domestic policy receives little attention from historians but was considered to be highly significant at the time. His policy of appeasement culminated in the Munich Agreement which effectively allowed Adolf Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia, and delayed the onset of the Second World War by a year. One popular view is that Chamberlain believed passionately in peace, and wanted to avoid war at virtually any cost, which seems to have contributed to his willingness to believe that satisfying each of Hitler's escalating demands for control of more and more territory would finally be the last, and that peace would be ensured. Eventually, although too late to prevent the war that arguably could have been ended by British military intervention when the Third Reich had not yet established its military strength, Chamberlain was able to see through Hitler's tactics and supported the declaration of war against Germany after the invasion of Poland.

Under Chamberlain, the United Kingdom undertook a massive expansion of its military and war industry and instituted a peacetime draft. According to some historians, Chamberlain was under no illusions about the aims and goals of Nazi Germany, but was informed by his military advisers that Britain was in no condition to fight Germany over Czechslovakia. Seen from this vantage point, Chamberlain's actions in Munich were less a cowardly and ignorant cave-in, but rather a calculated and necessary tactic to buy time so that Britain could rearm against the Nazi menace. Hitler's Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and following the debacle of the British expedition to Norway in April of 1940, Chamberlain found himself under siege in the House of Commons. On 7 May, Leo Amery delivered a devastating indictment in the Norway Debate of Chamberlain's conduct of the war. In concluding his speech he quoted the words of Oliver Cromwell to the Long Parliament; 'You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.'

Resignation

On 10 May, coincidentally the same day as the invasion of The Netherlands, Belgium and France, finding it impossible to retain the support of the House of Commons, he resigned as prime minister to allow Winston Churchill to form a new national government. He retained his leadership of the Conservative Party and announced in his resignation broadcast that he would remain in government as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House. The Labour and Liberal leaders (and many Tories) were reluctant to serve in a government in which Chamberlain retained such power, and Churchill appointed him as Lord President of the Council instead. A broken man, his health soon deteriorated and in July he was operated on for stomach cancer. On 3 October, the cancer forced his resignation as Tory leader and Lord President. He died on 9 November, aged 71.