As a new biography is about to come out, entitled 'Appeasment' , a word often associated with Neville Chamberlain, I have decided to write a brief history of the man who ruled Britain from 1937-1940. I'll aim to give you a summary of his career and then my verdict on him at the end of the article.
Arthur Neville Chamberlain was born on 18 March 1869 in Birmingham into a political family. In fact, I used to live close to where he and his brother were born! His father, Joseph, was an influential politician of the late 19th century and Neville's older half-brother Austen held many Conservative cabinet positions in the early 20th century and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Chamberlain was educated in Birmingham. After a successful career in business, in 1915 he was appointed lord mayor of Birmingham. In 1916, Prime Minister (PM) David Lloyd George appointed him director-general of the department of national service, but disagreements between them led Chamberlain to resign. In 1918, Chamberlain was elected Conservative member of parliament for Ladywood in Birmingham and was rapidly promoted. He served as both chancellor of the exchequer (1923 - 1924) and minister of health (1923, 1924 -1929, 1931). In 1937, he succeeded Stanley Baldwin as prime minister.
Like many in Britain who had lived through World War One, Chamberlain was determined to avert another war. His policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler culminated in the Munich Agreement in which Britain and France accepted that the Czech region of the Sudetenland should be ceded to Germany. Chamberlain left Munich believing that by appeasing Hitler he had assured 'peace for our time'. However, in March 1939 Hitler annexed the rest of the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, with Slovakia becoming a puppet state of Germany. Five months later in September 1939 Hitler's forces invaded Poland. Chamberlain responded with a British declaration of war on Germany.
In May 1940, after the disastrous Norwegian campaign, Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill became prime minister. Chamberlain served in Churchill's cabinet as lord president of the council. He died a few weeks after he left office, on 9 November 1940.
Whilst this is not an exhaustive account of his life it does give you an overview of him. As one of our iconic Prime Minister he is now often regarded as one of the worst leaders the UK has ever seen. This view has been challenged by many historians in recent times. He was actually, while he was Lord Mayor of Birmingham, a keen reformer. Once he was PM,even though he had a short tenure, he pushed through many key domestic reforms in the UK, such as improving working conditions for the lower classes and improving housing across the country. He inevitably got sucked into foreign affairs however, and even though he was tagged as "soft" on Adolf Hitler he did from the best intentions , in WWI he had himself lost several of his family members in the War, and threw himself energetically into resolving the European Crises started by Hitler in 1936 in the Rhineland. Mr Chamberlain pioneered the idea of modern shuttle diplomacy by travelling to several international summits in Munich and Rome.
In summary he might not have achieved all he set out to do, given his political pedigree, but he must not be overlooked are be judged unfairly for the unfortunate circumstances his leadership had to deal with from outside.