On May 26, 1955 the Conservatives achieved a notable victory in the General Election under a new leader, who was considerably more popular than the previous one. I know that some readers are going to spit with anger at that comment but it happens to be the truth: Churchill became popular only in the last ten years of his life when he had finally retired from politics.
The DNB entry for Anthony Eden, under whose leadership the party increased its majority from seventeen to sixty and winning the popular vote as well, is interesting in that it explains the situation in the mid-fifties when many in the party and the country thought that Churchill should finally retire and hand over the leadership to the man seen as his successor for some years. Some people thought that Churchill should have retired immediately after the war and the landslide defeat by the Labour Party under Attlee. One can argue about that as about Eden's own strengths and weaknesses - oddly enough, his political career was destroyed by foreign affairs, which were supposed to be his strength. (The Wiki entry is, as usual, less outspoken about the problems and the achievements.)
Eden was unusual in one respect. Normally, leaders who take over in the middle of a Ministry go to the end of the mandate, calling an election as late as they can, in order to impose their own personality on government and Parliament. Eden, became leader on April 7, 1955 and called an election for May 26.
It is, undoubtedly, interesting to look at the results in 1951 and 1955:
In 1951 302 Conservative MPs were elected on 12,659,712 votes, 295 Labour MPs on 13,948,883 votes and 19 Liberal National MPs (on 1,058,138 votes) who were in alliance with the Conservatives, thus increasing the government's strength. There were also 6 Liberal, 2 Independent Nationalist and 1 Irish Labour MPs.
In 1955 there were 345 Conservative MPs on 13,310,891 votes, 277 Labour MPs on 12,405,254 votes, 6 Liberal and 2 Sinn Féin MPs.
It was also the last time the Conservatives won an absolute majority of both seats and votes in Scotland.
How sad then, that the Ministry did not live up to the expectations of that day sixty-five years ago when the results were proclaimed.
Martin Edwards's book that is undoubtedly seminal in the study of detective fiction, The Golden Age of Murder, is proving to be as fascinating as it is important. Yes, TH managed to borrow a copy from London Library within two weeks of publication. There is already a queue forming for it among that august institution's members but returning it in time will not be a problem.
Actually, the book needs a proper long review and it shall be done but first, an interesting point analyzed by Mr Edwards and that is the concept of "justified murder" in the writings of the Golden Age authors. It was Julian Symons who was largely responsible for the literary assumption that traditional detective fiction was somehow inferior to the more recent crime books, not least in its social and political conservatism and refusal to look beyond accepted norms in life and writing. (This is a rough and not entirely fair summary but then Symons was not entirely fair to many of the writers he had analyzed.)
There have, of course, been critics who have shown that view to be nonsensical but, unfortunately, the more popular books on the subject, including, sad to say, one by the late, lamented Baroness James, have stuck to a limited view, which ignored most of the writers of the period and a good many books and themes.
The Golden Age of Murder is a study of the Detection Club and its members about whom Mr Edwards has unearthed an astonishing amount of information as well as a study of their writings, which are, as anyone who has bothered to read at all widely knows, considerably more complex and varied in attitude than popular opinion would have it.
So we come to "justified murder", theoretically an anathema to detective fiction writers but a surprisingly frequent theme. It is inevitable that people who spend a lot of time thinking and writing about crime, especially murder, who are also fascinated by real-life crime, especially the unsolved or dubious cases, should sooner or later turn to the question of whether murder can ever be justified. In addition, the mid and late thirties saw the growth and strengthening of extremely unpleasant dictators and the appearance of would-be dictators in other countries, even Britain.
Then again, as this blog has pointed out before, a true conservative would dislike those dictators, real or tin-pot as radical, statist and socialist but that gets us on to the "are fascists right-wing?" discussion, which will, undoubtedly come up again.
Hitler and Mussolini came to power or held on to power through revolutionary means (despite those elections in Germany in 1932 and 1933), changing the political and constitutional structures of their countries as well as attempting to change the social ones. In this they did not succeed nearly as well as their contemporary Joseph Stalin did but none of them can be called conservative or reactionary. By the time Dictator's Way was written (late 1937 or early 1938 as the book came out in 1938) Mosley had put himself outside the political establishment and the couple of disdainful references to him in the book sum up quite well the general attitude towards him. The Labour Party and the trade unions, on the other hand, were by this time an integral part of that establishment and it was hardly radical to support them.Was the murder of such a person justified? Debates about tyrannicide go back a long way and many people thought that the killing of, say, Hitler would bring much good to the world. Would the killing of a Mosley-like figure do the same? That depended, largely, on how dangerous one thought the man to be and by the end of the thirties it became obvious that unpleasant posturers though they were, the British Union of Fascists were not really a threat. (Little did they know that the real threat to democracy came from the other lot, the Communist Party of Great Britain and, even more, from the secret agents who worked for the party's paymaster without ever really acknowledging their political allegiance.)
Moving on from there, is the murder of an unpleasant person who is making other people's lives a misery or is simply a wasteful, useless individual (the theme of one novel by Anthony Berkeley) justified? This was not a new idea in the late thirties either. Sherlock Holmes refuses to investigate on murder (he actually knows who the perpetrator is) and lets three other killers go because he sees the crimes in question as more or less justified.
Detection Club members wrestled with the problem in various ways. Gladys Mitchell subscribed to the idea strongly enough to make her detective Beatrice Lestrange Bradley (later Dame Beatrice) a murderer in at least two novels, E. R. Punshon, Margery Allingham and, especially, Anthony Berkeley used the concept in various ways and clearly approved of it, Sayers has Wimsey agonize over it only to come down on the side of law and order or, at least, conventional morality. Christie, so often dismissed by people who have not read her books as the writer of the most predictably "cosy" village murders that end with God being in His heaven and all being well with the world, based three of her best books on the idea that murder can be justified. (No, TH is not going to say which ones as readers should work it out for themselves.)
It was, however, Christie who gave the best answer to anyone who might get too carried off with the notion. Hercule Poirot who in most of his cases refuses to acknowledge that there is such a thing as justified murder, explains at least once why he holds that view. Yes, the world is better off without some people and, quite possibly, it might be a good idea to take the law into one's own hands. But what of the murderer? What will happen to him or her? For once somebody gets away with one "justified" murder and a bad person is destroyed for the good of the rest of humanity or a small part of it will the temptation to repeat that not be too strong? Who is to define precisely the extent to which harmfulness or uselessness deserves death and when will the "justified murderer" become an unhinged serial killer? For good reasons Christie's own "justified murderers" will not be carrying out any more crimes. Neither she nor the other writers who experimented with the idea solved the conundrum but Poirot's objections stand.
Tory Historian, naturally, wishes to congratulate the Conservative Party on its victory and, more specifically, the new Members of Parliament and the slowly emerging members of the Cabinet. TH is convinced that Lady Knightley, a great heroine of this blog, would have been delighted to find that a third of those now in the House of Commons are women and several Cabinet members are. When the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association (CUWFA) was founded in 1908 and she became its first President, this could not have been even a distant dream. But she would not have been too surprised to find out that the first sitting woman MP was a Conservative as was the first woman Prime Minister.
Tory Historian has been a little busy and has therefore been remiss in welcoming the new Princess of Cambridge. Of course, TH is delighted that she will be known as Princess Charlotte - an excellent name that has not been used by the royal family for a little while,perhaps because of the sad fate of an earlier princess of that name, daughter of George IV. Let us not forget, though, how popular she was.
Welcome, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana.
Working on an article about Lady Knightley, Dame of the Primrose League, Conservative suffragist and an important political activist (mentioned on this blog here, here and here), I am re-reading Mitzi Auchterlonie's excellent Conservative Suffragists. Repeatedly she discusses the difference between the Conservative women's approach to the question of suffrage and of female participation in active politics and that of the Liberals' (other parties at that point not being important enough to discuss in detail).
These paragraphs sum up the different approach and the advantages and disadvantages of both.
The Primrose League was considerably more successful in bringing women into the political realm than its rivals. The fact that women and men worked side by side was a restraining factor but also a liberating one - although the League women were pressured into a position of self-censorship on issues like female suffrage they were able to demonstrate heir competence in political work, with the result that the men became increasingly dependent on their support.There is a long article by Dr Auchterlonie on the subject in this issue of the Conservative History Journal.
Single-sex organisations gave Liberal women the freedom to discuss and pursue their own political interests, but they experienced more diviseness and arguably were no less marginalised by their party than Conservative women. The choices that women made about how they wanted to pursue their political activities were influenced by many factors but they invariably centred on whether their party or their concerns as women came frist. It could be argued that the pursuit of a self-consciously separate 'feminist' agenda was not necessarily a better strategy than the encouragement of a more 'domestic-centred politics' within the mainstream, if the latter ultimately led to a greater 'feminisation' of the political discourse.
Those of us who complained in the past that detective stories are not taken seriously enough in this country or the US (two countries that have been in the forefront of producing the actual literature) ought to be pleased with the amount of academic interest displayed in the genre in the last couple of decades. All Tory Historian can say is that one must beware of what one wishes for as it might just come true.
The rest of this long posting is on the secondary Conservative History blog.