The Test of War: Inside Britain, 1939-45

By Robert Mackay | Go to book overview

Chapter Three

Politics

There was a general expectation that the outbreak of war would bring about an end to party government and its replacement by a crossparty coalition; the First World War had taught that nothing less than this was needed for the organization of the nation's resources for victory. But it was not to be. Chamberlain responded to the expectation by offering places to the opposition Labour Party in a re-constituted government. The offer was genuine enough but Chamberlain was relieved when it was refused, for he did not relish the prospect of working with those whom he despised and whose criticism of his failed appeasement policy he could not forgive. Personal animus against Chamberlain was part of the explanation for Labour's refusal but there was, too, a feeling that participation in a Chamberlain-led government would do little for them. It would not really amount to a power to influence policy and it would muffle Labour's ability to project its own distinctive view on the war effort and war aims. “Constructive opposition” was how the Labour leadership described its chosen stance. This promised Labour political gains from advancing the argument that a successful war effort required socialist measures, while avoiding the odium that in the minds of many of its supporters would attach to working with Chamberlain.

That normal politics were not wholly appropriate to the emergency or, indeed, practicable was, however, recognized in the parties' agreement to observe an “electoral truce”. By this arrangement, at least for the time being, they undertook not to contest byelections against the candidate of the party that held the seat at the start of the war.

-49-

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The Test of War: Inside Britain, 1939-45
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter One - Going to War 1
  • Chapter Two - Britain on the Eve of War 15
  • Notes 47
  • Chapter Three - Politics 49
  • Notes 66
  • Chapter Four - The Economy at War 68
  • Notes 94
  • Chapter Five - Aliens, Dissenters and Outlaws 96
  • Notes 112
  • Chapter Six - Defending the Land and the People 113
  • Notes 136
  • Chapter Seven - Morale 137
  • Notes 162
  • Chapter Eight - Adapting, Enduring, Escaping 164
  • Chapter Nine - Time for Change: the General Election 192
  • Chapter Ten - Taking Stock: Britain in 1945 204
  • Bibliography 236
  • Index 241
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