In the two and a half years following Neville Chamberlain’s succession to the premiership, the international situation (and especially relations between Britain and Germany) deteriorated very rapidly. As an issue of concern, foreign affairs was the dominant topic—to such an extent that one Conservative area chairman complained in early 1938 that it was ‘the only thing which seems to exercise the minds of people’. 1 Historians have repeatedly scrutinised the methods and mechanisms which the British government adopted in its search to secure peace. 2 What this chapter proposes to assess is the reaction of the Conservative party to these policies, both from the perspective of the parliamentary backbenchers and those at grassroots level. What will be shown is that Chamberlain’s policies were less universally acclaimed by the party than is commonly supposed. While publicly Conservatives were prepared generally to support appeasement, in private there were increasing doubts. The other theme explored is, unsurprisingly, the mounting distrust with which Conservatives regarded Germany and her territorial ambitions. Once again, one can distinguish between public and private observations of Germany. Working chronologically through the events between May 1937 and September 1939, this chapter will demonstrate how the Conservative party reversed its position of isolation and allowed Britain to become entangled in a European war for the second time in less than three decades.
It was widely anticipated that Chamberlain’s accession to Number Ten would mark a new departure in foreign policy. It was a field in which the ‘drift’ of the Baldwin years would be reversed and redirected. Anthony Eden, who retained the post of Foreign Secretary in the new cabinet, welcomed Chamberlain’s succession and looked forward to working