Sitting it Out: Economic Recovery and Political Apathy, 1931-1935
THE history of the National government was one long diminuendo. From its triumph in 1931 it shambled its unimaginative way to its fall in 1940, when the failure of the campaign in Norway and the Nazi invasion of the Low Countries brought Great Britain to the crisis of the new world war. Its origin was an emergency which was financial and domestic; its tasks were to overcome a series of catastrophes which were international and military. Its responses were not bold. It retreated before aggression; it rearmed, but at first too slowly. In fact it was not unsuccessful in its economic policies but fatally narrow in its political conduct. Failure in the latter sphere darkened' its reputation in the former; in retrospect it has been blamed for all the misfortunes of the time, partly because its opponents rose to power by reiterating their version of its history and its period.
The mood of the early thirties was not heroic. Gone was the hopeful internationalism of the twenties, the return to the gold standard, the restoration of world trade. Britain, beset by depression, turned inward, like every other country, and concentrated on internal problems and domestic solutions. In time the mood changed, but the government remained the same; 1935 was the year of decision. Other countries might have new and adventurous governments: Germany the Third Reich, France the Popular Front, the United States the New Deal, Russia another Five-Year Plan. Only in Britain did the Conservatives remain in power; hence the Second World War, restoring conservatism in other countries, could only dethrone it in Great Britain.
That the National government was in harmony with the national mood could not be doubted. MacDonald and Baldwin, having alternated in office in the twenties, shared it in the thirties, and combined their talents for calming the passions and rubbing