In May 1940, eight months after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister after his parliamentary majority of 281 was reduced to eighty-one in a vote of confidence on his government’s prosecution of the Norway military campaign. In fact the Norway debate was more than simply a deliberation on the failure of one military campaign; it was seen as a referendum on the Chamberlain government’s whole war conduct. It proved to be the first twentieth-century example of a majority administration being forced out of office by a parliamentary vote. This chapter will consider how the Conservative party reacted to the Chamberlain government’s handling of the war effort between September 1939 and the German invasion of France in May 1940. An examination will be made of the mechanisms available within parliament and the party for its membership to communicate their concerns to the leadership. This period, which became known as the ‘phoney war’ or the ‘strange war’ because of the failure of allied forces to engage the axis enemy actively, was to prove crucial in the fall of the Chamberlain government. 1 After an initial show of unity immediately following the declaration of war (because of their belief that it was their patriotic duty), many Conservatives soon expressed disquiet with the prosecution of the war. This chapter analyses those areas of policy that caused Conservative disgruntlement, and asks to what extent Chamberlain’s fall from office was inevitable.
War had immediate implications for the continued functioning of the party organisation and the pursuit of party politics. Hacking, the party chairman, sent a circular to all constituency associations requesting on behalf of the authorities that they close down for the