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The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England

by Lynne Olson

Pub Date: April 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-374-17954-9
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Strong account, by historian/journalist Olson (A Question of Honor, 2003, etc.), of the insurgency that ended Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.

By the time Chamberlain took chief executive power, writes Olson, his ways—and those of his Conservative whip and other lieutenants—had become un-Britishly tyrannical: He stifled the BBC and newspapers, demanded absolute loyalty of fellow party members and charged his Labour opponents with “damaging the national interest,” if not outright treason. But, writes Olson, the “troublesome young men” who entered the House of Commons in the 1930s were not ordinary Tories; some, like Harold Macmillan, had done frontline duty in WWI, others served poor constituencies and all hated fascism. Faced with the specter of their party leader’s negotiating with Hitler to betray yet another ally—first Czechoslovakia, perhaps next Poland—these young men, ideologically closer to the Labour left than the fuddy-duddy right of their own senior leadership, began to organize a long campaign to oust Chamberlain. One, a young military officer named Ronald Cartland, was so radicalized by the Tory majority’s refusal to speak up against the party’s head that, by the time of Dunkirk, he was telling his allies that “Neville Chamberlain and [Tory whip] David Margesson should be ‘hung upon lampposts.’ ” It did not come to that, but, through careful and politically dangerous maneuvering, Cartland, Macmillan, Leo Amery, Anthony Eden and other rebels were finally able to force a crisis-of-confidence vote in the wake of the ill-fated Norway expedition and to replace Chamberlain with the largely unpopular Winston Churchill, who then came into his own in heading the country during WWII. History—and Churchill, for that matter—did not treat many of the “troublesome young men” well, and most were all but forgotten in the postwar era, at least for their role in the insurgency; Olson does well in remembering their daring.

A patient study of what political foot soldiers can accomplish when the need to remove an unpopular boss arises.