This study has been both an analysis of how the Conservative party responded to the deteriorating international situation from 1935 and a consideration of how the party sought to influence the responses of its leadership. It is apparent that contemporary Conservatives perceived both diplomacy and rearmament as the tandem mechanisms by which to respond to the dictators’ increased belligerence. The fascist regimes were like a lintel being prevented from smashing down on the foundations of the British Empire by the twin pillars of diplomacy and rearmament. If one of these supports failed then the remaining one was expected to shoulder the entire burden. A strong defence programme would enable the government to negotiate, whilst if that negotiation languished, an adequately prepared defence scheme would repel the initial aerial assault and ultimately ensure military victory. The doubts about the ability of diplomacy to restrain the dictators became privately evident from September 1938. However, by the end of that year the party’s concerns about defence were proving more divisive and potentially damaging than those concerning foreign affairs—purely because this debate was being conducted with greater publicity.
In theory, policy issues are decided by the leader and handed down to the party. 1 But this classical analysis of the party structure places too great a stress upon the written constitution. In reality, although the party is based largely upon deference, it is accepted that the evolution of policy is subject to unwritten constraints. The leader is reliant on the support and goodwill of the party, and as a consequence the attitudes and preferences of four sectors of the organisation have an input into policy formulation. The leader needs to carry the front bench if a particular policy is to be successfully advocated. The views of the wider parliamentary party need to be accounted for. If not, there is a risk of presenting an image of disunity to the electorate and of