‘Cato’, Guilty Men, First published 1940. Helpful notes for Appeasement
Introduction by John Stevenson, 1998.
CHURCHILL BECOMES PRIME MINISTER
‘Cato’ was a pseudonym for three Evening Standard journalists (including Michael Foot, later Labour Cabinet Minister and party leader, and its editor Frank Owen). The Standard was owned by Beaverbook, who was a strong Churchill supporter in the 1930s, but there is no evidence that he knew that his own journalists had written the book.
The ‘Guilty Men’ of the title are the politicians responsible for appeasement. The book was published by the left-wing publisher Gollancz just after Dunkirk and the fall of France, and sold in the thousands. 50,000 in a few days, 200,000 copies by the end of 1940, and went through 21 “impressions” (new printings) in eleven weeks. It “caught a genuine tide of opinion”.
From John Stevenson’s introduction:
The story told in the Guilty Men - a polemic - is that “almost a decade of complacency and mismanagement which had brought the country to the brink of catastrophe and placed it in dire peril was laid at the door of those in charge of pre-war foreign policy”. It set an agenda for a debate on appeasement that lasted long past the war.
- the failure of the Norway campaign allowed to put a vote of no-confidence to the House. Chamberlain had a majority of 81 (281:200) but 41 Conservatives voted with the Opposition and 60 abstained. Conservative rebels refused to join the Government unless Labour and Liberals were brought in, but neither Lab nor Lib would serve under Chamberlain. All of which was enough for Chamberlain decide to stand down.
- Halifax the most obvious choice, but he declined on the grounds that he was a peer (in the House of Lords, not the Commons). Churchill became the choice by default, but was mistrusted by many Conservatives.
- Chamberlain’s Private sec., John…