Political technique

Posted by Helen Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Re-reading Harold Nicolson’s diaries for 1938 as part of separate research, I came across the entry for June 27:

“Anthony Crossley [Conservative MP for Oldham] takes me to task for being so anti-Chamberlain. He says I am working for his fall. He says that the Conservatives realise this and simply hate me. I say, ‘But surely, Anthony, they are always so polite when I meet them?’ ‘Yes,’ he answers, ‘that is part of their technique.’”
Nicolson is generally acknowledged to be one of three members of the House (Churchill and Leo Amery being the other two) who opposed consistently the Munich Agreement and refused to cheer when the Prime Minister reported back on it.

According to Derek Drinkwater who published in 2005 a book, entitled “Sir Harold Nicolson and International Relations – The Practitioner as Theorist”, which, in many people’s opinion, lays too much emphasis on HN’s political thinking, much of his argument against the Munich agreement was based on the old-fashioned one that it destroyed the balance of power in Europe.

In actual fact, he felt an almost personal responsibility for Czechoslovakia and its existence, having been on the committee of the Paris Peace Conference that prepared the clauses of the Treaty of St Germain, which defined the frontiers of Czechoslovakia.

He distrusted Germany and Hitler, in particular, but still found it difficult to advocate a war against it, if necessary. He also found himself undermined, as so many did, on ideological grounds, as this entry for September 15 shows:
“How difficult it is to decide! Vita takes the line that the Sudeten Germans are justified in claiming self-determination and the Czechs would be happier without them in any case. But if we give way on this, then the Hungarians and the Poles will also claim self-determination, and the result will be that Czechoslovakia will cease to exist as an independent State.

Vita says that if it is as artificial as all that, then it should never have been created. That may be true, although God knows how we could have refused to recognise her existence in 1918. It all seemed such a reality in those days.”
By and large Vita Sackville-West was not interested in politics and could not be bothered to work her way through the various arguments often reacting emotionally to events. In this case, however, she managed to articulate the argument that was used by many people and quietly approved of by many more.


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. From Nicolson's diaries it is clear that one of the reasons people were happy with Munich, or at least ready to allow Hitler to get away with so much, was fear about Stalin, the USSR and Communism. Nicolson himself was described as "pinkish" by the woman who was to be Queen (subsequently our Queen Mother), so possibly underestimated the motives for this fear.

  3. Helen Says:
  4. Nicolson was certainly quite chummy with Maisky, the Soviet ambassador after Litvinoff's recall and seemed to quote him without any questioning. Eden's attitude to the Soviet Union remained largely naive.

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