18 Jan What happened behind the closed doors?
History TIDBITS – Maier Files
1939 – Prime minister Chamberlain continued to be Prime Minister despite the failure of his appeasement policies. His downfall came as result of a disaster caused by Churchill, then First Lord of the Admirality. In April 1940 Churchill’s plan was to capture the port of Narvik (Norway) and cut off the supply of iron ore to Germany – though doing so he was invading a neutral country. But the operation was bungled. German forces which had anticipated the move and invaded earlier repulsed the British expedition. The operation was a terrible blunder that caused the set up of a German puppet governement in Norway under Vidkun Quisling and threatened Swedish neutrality in favour of Hitler.
On the night of 7-8 May 1940 Chamberlain faced attacks from all sides of the House of Commons: even former friends and allies called for his resignation. A stormy session ended with a vote of no confidence and as the Labour Party refused to serve under him it was impossible to form a coalition governement. It was then the custom for an outgoing Conservative Prime Minister to name his successor. This time there were only 2 candidates: Lord Halifax and Winston Churchill.
Halifax was the favourite of the conservative party and the Establishment. If anything he was even more a supporter of negotiated peace than Chamberlain, continuing to press for talks even after war had broken out. Halifax was a close friend of George VI, and his wife was one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting. Churchill did have the support of Tory and the Labour Party and was popular among the people.
The momentous decision was made behind closed doors on 9 and 10 May 1940, and it is by no means clear exactly what when on! When they emerged it was announced that Halifax had declined the offer of becoming Prime Minister, claiming that as he was a peer he doubted whether he could govern adequately from the House of Lords. The outsider had won. Clearly something unexpected had happened in that meeting, but nobody knows exactly what is was. Perhaps there is a clue, however, in the diary of John Colville, the private secretary to both Chamberlain and Churchill, in his entry for 10 May: “Nothing can stop him [Churchill] having his way – because of his powers of blackmail – unless the King makes full use of his prerogative and sends for another man: unfortunately there is only one other, the unpersuadable Halifax.”
source: Colville & Double Standards