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The Butterfly Effect: A British AAR by El Pip


London, July - December 1935

Stanley Baldwin's third term as Prime Minister was ill fated from the start and in hindsight it is surprising it lasted as long as it did. The first crisis for Baldwin started less than a month after he had moved into No.10, a problem that begat an accusation that would haunt and ultimately end his premiership. The issue was the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and the accusation was that he appeased dictators rather than stand up to them

The British representative, Sir John Simon, had walked out on the talks when the German delegation refused to negotiate and stated they would accept their terms or nothing. Despite this dictation of terms Baldwin had been willing to sign the agreement to improve relations with Hitler and had order Simon to sign the next day. Overnight however the terms of the treaty were leaked to the press just in time for the morning papers first editions.

While the main terms were controversial, allowing the German fleet to reach one third the size of the Royal Navy and Germany resumption of U-boat construction, the outrage was reserved for the 'Sphere's of influence' clauses. These specified that the Royal Navy would completely withdraw from the Baltic Sea, leaving Germany the dominant naval power in the region. The Royal Navy's lead over other nation's navies may have declined since the Great War, but to the average citizen Britannia still ruled the waves. To be 'Thrown out of the Baltic' as the Daily Express put it was an insult to national pride and a betrayal of Scandinavia in general and Norway in particular. Under intense pressure both internally and from his own party Baldwin refrained from signing the agreement and sent the German delegation home empty handed.

Joachim von Ribbentrop, perhaps a better negotiator may have been able to force through a deal. While the German Foreign Minister, Konstantin von Neurath, had actually 'negotiated' the Pact, Ribbentrop was assigned by Hitler to get it signed. While Baldwin would probably have agreed to a very similar, but lower profile, deal that would not attract such public comment, Ribbentrop's insistence on the original form or nothing killed any chance of the deal being resurrected.​


With his standing, both in the nation and in his own party, severely damaged it is a credit to Baldwin's determination, but not his political astuteness, that he pressed ahead with the Government of India Act when Parliament returned from the summer recess.


The Act, a convoluted and cumbersome piece of legislation even at the committee stage, was further laden down with amendments and modifications as it progressed through the Commons. The key problem was the lack of an aim for the Act beyond a vague aim for a federal, British controlled, India. With Baldwin lacking the personal authority to push the Act through the legislation failed and was sent back to the committee stages.

The death blow to Baldwin's government was the Hoare-Laval pact, the proposal deal to transfer the best parts of Abyssinia to direct Italian control with the rest of the country reduced to an Italian puppet. The leaking of the pact in French newspapers, combined with the simultaneous revelations in the British papers of the Italian use of chemical weapons to attack not only troops but civilians, was enough to bring down both the French and British governments.


Stanley Baldwin, the only British Prime Minister to lose two motions of no confidence. Baldwin's mistake, if it can be called that, was that he too closely followed the national mood, or what he believed the mood to be. Baldwin's view had been shaped by the Fulham East by-election of 1933, where a pro-rearmament Conservative candidate had lost a safe seat due to a massive 30% swing to the pacifist Labour candidate. This stinging defeat had convinced him to shelve his re-armament plans and take a pacifist, even appeasing, foreign policy line, leaving him badly exposed when the public mood swung the other way.

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