Neville Chamberlain

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Neville Chamberlain

Chamberlain in 1921
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
28 May 1937 – 10 May 1940
MonarchGeorge VI
Preceded byStanley Baldwin
Succeeded byWinston Churchill
Leader of the Conservative Party
In office
27 May 1937 – 9 October 1940
Preceded byStanley Baldwin
Succeeded byWinston Churchill
Cabinet offices
Lord President of the Council
In office
10 May 1940 – 3 October 1940
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded byThe Earl Stanhope
Succeeded bySir John Anderson
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
5 November 1931 – 28 May 1937
Prime Minister
Preceded byPhilip Snowden
Succeeded bySir John Simon
In office
27 August 1923 – 22 January 1924
Prime MinisterStanley Baldwin
Preceded byStanley Baldwin
Succeeded byPhilip Snowden
Minister of Health
In office
25 August 1931 – 5 November 1931
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byArthur Greenwood
Succeeded byHilton Young
In office
6 November 1924 – 4 June 1929
Prime MinisterStanley Baldwin
Preceded byJohn Wheatley
Succeeded byArthur Greenwood
In office
7 March 1923 – 27 August 1923
Prime Minister
Preceded bySir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen
Succeeded byWilliam Joynson-Hicks
Parliamentary offices
Member of Parliament
for Birmingham Edgbaston
In office
30 May 1929 – 9 November 1940
Preceded bySir Francis Lowe
Succeeded bySir Peter Bennett
Member of Parliament
for Birmingham Ladywood
In office
14 December 1918 – 10 May 1929
Preceded byConstituency created
Succeeded byWilfrid Whiteley
Personal details
Arthur Neville Chamberlain

(1869-03-18)18 March 1869
Edgbaston, Birmingham, England
Died9 November 1940(1940-11-09) (aged 71)
Heckfield, Hampshire, England
Resting placeWestminster Abbey
Political partyConservative
ParentsJoseph Chamberlain (father)
Alma materMason College
SignatureA neatly written "Neville Chamberlain"

Arthur Neville Chamberlain FRS (/ˈmbərlɪn/; 18 March 1869 – 9 November 1940) was a British politician who was Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Chancellor of the Exchequer and finally Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1940.

Early life[change | change source]

Neville was born in Edgbaston, a district of Birmingham, England. His father was Joseph Chamberlain, an important politician. His half-brother (they had different mothers), Austen Chamberlain, also became a politician.

Neville went to Rugby School. [1] He became interested in botany (plants), birds and fishing. He also loved music and literature (reading). He studied metallurgy at Mason College,[2] which his father later made part of the University of Birmingham. Later, Neville became an apprentice in an accounting company.[3]

He became a successful manager in a manufacturing company. [4] He fell in love with Anne Cole and married her in 1910, when was 40. [5] In 1911, when he was 42, the people of Birmingham elected (chose) Neville Chamberlain to be part of the city council. [6] On the council, he had the job of planning improving the city, the same kind of work that his father had done.[7] Neville planned new council housing for poor people.[8] In 1915, he became Lord Mayor of Birmingham, also as his father had been. In that position, Neville worked to improve the city, including by starting the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Member of Parliament and in government[change | change source]

In 1916, Prime Minister David Lloyd George asked Chamberlain to become the director of conscription to force civilians to join the British Armys during the First World War. [9] Chamberlain and Lloyd George often argued and soon did not like each other. [10] Chamberlain left his job the next year. [11] Instead, he entered the 1918 general election and became the Conservative Member of Parliament for Ladywood in Birmingham.

In 1923, Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law made Chamberlain the health minister. [12] In that position, Chamberlain did more work to help poor people. For example, he had a law passed to connect rent prices to how good a building was. He was later Chancellor of the Exchequer, in charge of the economy, for a short time. [13]

After the 1924 general election, he became health minister again, and he stayed there until the Conservatives lost the 1929 general election. Between 1924 and 1929, Chamberlain helped to make many new laws to help poor people, including a pensions system, which helped to make Britain's welfare state after the Second World War.

In 1929, the Conservatives lost the general election, and Ramsay MacDonald became the new Labour prime minister. The Conservative Party was trying to put tariffs (taxes) on imports to make trade in the British Empire stronger. Other people, including Lord Beaverbrook, a businessman who owned a lot of newspapers, disagreed by saying that trade should be free of tariffs. Beaverbrook started a new political party to fight the Conservatives. Chamberlain fought Beaverbrook's part in an election and won. That made him very popular in the Conservative party.

An economic crisis in 1931 led to another general election. Then, Chamberlain became Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1932, he was able to start a tariff system. His father had spent a long time working for a stronger British Empire when he was foreign secretary and also worked hard but failed for a tariff system because he believed it would make the empire economically independent. Neville was pleased that he had finally made his father's wishes come true.

By 1934, Chamberlain felt that the economy had recovered. However, many important people, including Chamberlain's half-brother Austen and Winston Churchill, were warning that Nazi Germany was rearming (reuilding its military). The men said that Britain must rearm, too. In July 1934, the government told Parliament that it had a plan to make the Royal Air Force much stronger.

However, not everybody was happy to see an arms race (a competition to build a bigger military) with Germany. The First World War was still in people's memories, and there was a strong pacifist movement in the country. Chamberlain, who had lost his cousin and best friend, Norman Chamberlain, during the war advised (suggested) Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to talk about rearmament during the 1935 general election. Baldwin was worried people that would not vote for them if they talked about making the military stronger, and Labour Party was strongly against rearmament. That made Baldwin talk about housing and unemployment instead.

Chamberlain worked hard to help improve the slow economy. The government bought factories that were not being used and spent money on making them new again. That idea helped after the war started because Britain had the most modern equipment. When he announced (told the public about) his budget (plan for the economy) in 1935, the Labour Party said that he wanted war, but other people still said that he was not doing enough to build the military. In 1936, the government announced plans to build the Royal Navy.

Prime Minister[change | change source]

Baldwin retired in 1937, and Chamberlain became the new prime minister on 28 May. Chamberlain is mostly remembered for being the prime minister as Europe moved into the Second World War, but as prime minister, he also made some important changes to Britain. He made laws that made working conditions better. He limited working hours for women and children. He introduced paid holiday for a large part of the population. He introduced laws to try to improve the population's health by exercising and medical inspection. Many other changes were planned, but the start of the war stopped them from happening.

In the 1930s, the Irish taoiseach (similar to a prime minister) was Éamon de Valera, who worked to make a new constitution (set of laws) for Ireland and wanted to make Ireland independent from Britain. Ireland had its own government, but Britain still controlled Northern Ireland and had naval ports (called treaty ports) in Ireland, which de Valera wanted to end. Chamberlain wanted Ireland to support Britain if there was a war because he knew that without Irish help, defending the Atlantic Ocean would be more difficult. Chamberlain and his Secretary of State, Malcolm MacDonald, made an agreement to give the treaty ports back to Ireland, but they hoped that British warships might use them in the war.

Many Conservatives, including Winston Churchill, who had made the agreement to have the treaty ports in 1921, disagreed strongly with the plan. The agreement, together with a plan to limit the number of Jews moving into Palestine, which was controlled by Britain, made Chamberlain unpopular with some people, even in his own party.

Munich Agreement[change | change source]

Chamberlain returned home with Hitler's promise not to invade other countries.

Although many people warned about the threat of Nazi Germany, Chamberlain chose ministers who agreed with him and wanted to avoid another war. Chamberlain, like many other people of the same age, were very worried about war. They believed that people like Adolf Hitler were in power because their countries felt that their situation was unfair. The Germans felt that the Treaty of Versailles, an agreement to end the First World War, had been unfair. When Germany invaded (took control of) Austria and the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia with many Germans), Chamberlain tried to keep the peace, especially since most people there were Germans and to wanted to become part of Germany.

In September 1938, he flew to Munich to speak with Hitler. Together with French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier and the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, Chamberlain made an agreement with Hitler, who was allowed to take the Sudetenland but had to agree not to use his military to solve future disputes (disagreements). When Chamberlain returned home, many people said he had done a wonderful job. Chamberlain was very pleased and said that the agreement meant "peace for our time" because most people feared another world war.

War[change | change source]

In March 1939, the German military moved in and invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, against the Munich Agreement. Chamberlain realised that his attempts to control Hitler had failed. He started to get Britain ready for war by using the new factories that had been built. Many new weapons were built, including the Supermarine Spitfire (a fighter aircraft) and radar.

After the Germans invaded Poland on 1st September 1939, the British and the French talked together and decided to declare war on Germany on the 3rd. Chamberlain spoke on the radio and told the British people that war had begun.

Chamberlain made a new government and included Winston Churchill. After the Germans had invaded Norway in April 1940, the British sent the Royal Navy to fight them. The plan failed, however, and Parliament no longer supported Chamberlain even though Churchill was mostly to blame for the failure. On 10 May 1940, Chamberlain resigned (quit), and Churchill became the prime minister. However, Chamberlain stayed in the government. Later in May, Germany offered conditions for peace (things that they would accept to stop fighting). Most of the government, including Chamberlain, wanted to agree with Germany and to stop fighting. Churchill did not want to agree. He spoke with Chamberlain, who soon began to agree with Churchill. The result was that Britain stayed in the war.

Death[change | change source]

In the summer of 1940, Chamberlain became sick. In July, he had surgery on his stomach to treat cancer there. He tried to return to work but became too weak and so had to retire. He died on 9 November 1940 of bowel cancer and was 71 years old. Churchill spoke to Parliament to tell it about Chamberlain's death.

Legacy[change | change source]

Historians disagree about Chamberlain. Some think that his actions were wrong because he did not stop Hitler and Germany. Other people say that he gave Britain and France more time to get ready for the war.

Biographies[change | change source]

  • Dilks, David. Neville Chamberlain, volume 1: Pioneering and Reform, 1869-1929 Cambridge University Press, 1984.
  • Dutton, David. Neville Chamberlain. Hodder Arnold, 2001
  • Feiling, Keith. The Life of Neville Chamberlain. Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1946.
  • Gilbert, Martin. The Roots of Appeasement. New American Library, 1966.
  • Self, Robert. Neville Chamberlain: A Biography. Ashgate, 2006
  • Wheeler-Bennett, John Munich : Prologue to Tragedy, New York : Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1948.
  • The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Notes[change | change source]

  1. Smart 2010, pp. 2–3.
  2. Smart 2010, pp. 5–6.
  3. Smart 2010, pp. 6–8.
  4. Smart 2010, p. 33.
  5. Self 2006, pp. 33–35.
  6. Smart 2010, p. 53.
  7. Self 2006, pp. 40–41.
  8. Self 2006, p. 41.
  9. Smart 2010, p. 67.
  10. Smart 2010, p. 70.
  11. Smart 2010, pp. 77–79.
  12. Self 2006, p. 89.
  13. Smart 2010, pp. 106–07.

References[change | change source]

  • Self, Robert (2006). Neville Chamberlain: A Biography. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-5615-9.
  • Smart, Nick (1999). The National Government. St Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-22329-8.
  • Smart, Nick (2010). Neville Chamberlain. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-45865-8.

Other websites[change | change source]