Nicholas Shakespeare BOOKtalk


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Nicholas Shakespeare

Mark D'Arcy in discussion with author Nicholas Shakespeare about his book Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister.


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John Reith had long funded who

profile -- had long funded air who

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profile career, despite the fact

that his father told him it was full

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of snares and as abutments.

He was

invited to become Minister of

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information, and a safe seat was

found for him at Southampton. He

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later admitted to Churchill that he

was rather frightened of the House

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of Commons. Not nearly so frightened

as they are of you, Churchill

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replied. Still, he didn't mind

sitting for Southampton. He said, I

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would much rather have Southampton

than Bournemouth or any other place

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with no special interest. He was

returned unopposed, and entered the

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House in February 19 40. He enjoyed

being a new member, and he thought

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certain aspects of politics most

revolting, like the necessity of

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keeping in with one's constituents.

Luckily for him, after a few months

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and just one major speech, he was

kicked upstairs to the Lords in a

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re-shuffle. No more constituents.

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It is deeply embedded in Britain's

national consciousness, the image of

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a country standing alone against

Nazi Germany galvanised by the

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leadership of Winston Churchill.

There wasn't anything inevitable

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about his arrival in Downing Street.

It took a complex set of events to

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force out his predecessor and to put

Churchill in his place. There was

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defeat and fatal misjudgment,

unravelled by my guest in his new

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minute. Set the scene for us. The

Second World War is under way,

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Poland has been overrun by the Nazis

but it has gone quiet.

Chamberlain

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thought he could strangle Germany by

an economic blockade. He hoped by

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April, May the war would be over.

Churchill who he had brought into

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his cabinet, in September, as first

Lord of the Admiralty was constantly

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arguing, he wanted action against

Germany, and at every cabinet

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meeting he brought up the idea of

mining the entrants to the area in

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Norway providing all The Iron ore

and finally, in April, the Cabinet

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gave him the go-ahead to mine the

entrance to the area and the next

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day Germany invaded Norway and

Denmark, suddenly church isles great

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plan for dramatic action became the

first kind of next action after the

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invasion of Poland, and church,

having promoted it directed this

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disastrous military campaign which

lasted about three weeks, in which

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he sent ships from England to

Norway, they landed, in three

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different parts of Norway, and

within two weeks, we were, three

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weeks before Dunkirk we are

evacuating our army from Norway.

He

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is the author of an debacle.

It is

Prso the worst military catastrophe

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since the Crimea, Parliament,

suddenly, the ministers had been led

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to believe this was a great military

victory, trumpeted in the press, we

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have landed, taken it suddenly the

public and the politicians woke up

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to the fact that we were evacuating

our army, and Parliament was

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assembled to ostensibly, it was a

procedure for the holiday to have

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ten days of holiday, so the

opposition and the rebel Tory MPs

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decided to use this two day debate

to try and unseat Chamberlain, but

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he had a majority of 21. He was

unseatable. Nobody when the debate

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begins to examine the causes of this

debacle. Churchill is going to wind

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up for it. The first time he has

wound up for a debate in 11 year, he

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will wind up to try and explain the

catastrophe of which he was the

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architect, Chamberlain is going to

open it. Nobody hen he got up on

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Tuesday 7th May at 3.30 to explain

this catastrophe, believed that the

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Government would be unseated.

When

we look at the Norway debate, what

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some people call the hinge of fate,

the moment Britain decided to change

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its leadership, the two main

protagonist are Neville Chamberlain

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and Winston Churchill. They are not

debating against each other, they

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are supposedly on the same side.

Chamberlain is almost dismissed as

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the weak man who was Hitler's, he

manned to pull the wool over his

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eyes, what was Chamberlain really

like as a Prime Minister? Minister?

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Husband he as whack a figure as

people believe?

What was gripping to

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me, I approached this through church

hill's lens, the official version is

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written by Churchill eight years

later Theth Gaerring Storm we see he

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is a dupe, a weak, stubborn

individual, weak, vain and Churchill

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dominated the procedure, again, you

put the wool over this, and they got

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on much better than history or

Churchill allowed at the time, and

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there is evidence that Chamberlain

thought he was in, Churchill was

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incredibly loyal to him, which isn't

something we necessarily feel about

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him. He has twice crossed the floor

of the House of Commons and

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reratted. And during this period I

think it is Churchill's loyalty that

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allows him to slip into

Chamberlain's shoes, and when

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Churchill becomes Prime Minister

Chamberlain is the person who allows

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him to fight the Battle of Britain,

Chamberlain instead of what happened

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in 1916 when Asquith is taken over,

he goes off in a huff and Lloyd

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George has to kind of rule without

the help of what Churchill had the

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Chief Whip helping him because...

He

had his back.

It is Chamberlain's

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Spitfires and hurricanes are winning

the Battle of Britain. Churchill

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argued for bomber, he said I will

never find such a colleague again.

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That is after May when came were

lain is holding the fort when

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Churchill is in France.

Let us look

at the transition that happens

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during this debate. It is an

electric moment in the end, but it

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starts off low-key, everyone expects

the Government to have a rough ride

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and suddenly things boil up. What

happened to make that occur?

There

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is a moment at which Admiral Keys

who had argued, a great friend of

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chup hill but he argued to --

Churchill to go into Norway, become

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a swashbuckling as he has done in

Zeebrugge in 1918. Suddenly, he

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hears that the Navy, the reputation

of the Navy has been traduced.

The

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Navy is coming the blame.

He is so

outraged. He gets up and he is a bad

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speaker and he suddenly giving what

many people say is the most

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devastating speech they have heard.

He attacks Churchill, he attacks the

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Admiralty. Up to that moment I think

the government were going to get

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away with it. Suddenly, here is a

staunch supporter and hitherto of

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the Government attacking it. The

next later that night, another

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member gets up. A great friend of

Churchill. A fellow constituency for

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30 years, adjacent to Chamberlain.

He is the Godfather of Chamberlain

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's son. They train every day. He

gets up and delivers the most

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devastating attack, even more

devastating than Geoffrey Howe's

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attack on Margaret Thatcher, to a

colleague. He ends it with a speech

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from Cromwell addressing the long

Parliament, in the game of God go.

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This is one of the most dramatic

moments I think in it is accepted in

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Parliamentary history. What is

curious, act the fact the entire

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eyes and ears of the nation are on

it and that Parliament is full,

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no-one knows whether Chamberlain was

present to hear it. It is so

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gripling even though I love the

expression, the darkest place is

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always underneath the lamp. Here,

no-one has gone over this with with

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more forensic attention than all the

historians of the last 50 years but

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we don't know if Chamberlain is in

the room.

One of the fascinating

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things is this photograph of that

debate, with Chamberlain on his

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feet, it is blurred. It is out of

focus. It is underexposed but you

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can kind of make out some some of of

the main players. It is thought one

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of the blobs at the back is Amy

jabbing his finger at Chamberlain.

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That seems to me, these photographs

were taken Ellis Italily. You

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weren't allowed to take picture,

there are no pictures of Chamberlain

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in the old House of Commons which

was bombed in 1941. These are the

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only ones that exist of these two

famous important individuals in our

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history. As you say they are like

jellyfish, blurred and they are

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taken by a Conservative MP who

Churchill later makes a minister,

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with a spy camera he gets from

Latvia, and he takes them, and you

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are not allowed he would have been

expelled from the chamber and

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suspended. The sergeant at arms

suspects he is taking them, he slips

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him a note and brings out a

cigarette lighter which he rubs

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along his nose. These photographs

when the House of Commons is bombed,

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many of the records were

obliterated. These were only

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discovered in the 60s and finally

printed up and they are the only

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real recordings of this event, and

again it showed me it was a metaphor

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to me that we think we know about

this stuff, it is so familiar but it

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is not. It is still new. I mean...

But to move on to the next big

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event. The two speeches from Admiral

Keys, the killer blow is

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administered by David Lloyd George.

Lloyd George gets up, he has gone up

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in a sulk. He has left the chamber

and so he misses this altercation

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between Chamberlain and Morrison,

until the second day of the debate,

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Labour are not going to divide the

house, because they don't feel, they

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think, what is going to happen to

them it will consolidate the

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Conservatives just as Jeremy Corbyn

was consolidated when there was a

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vote of no confidence. It will make

him stronger. They are not going to

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divide is House. On the second day

an intelligence officer comes back

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from Norway, who is a prospective

Conservative MP and he is so upset

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with what he has seen in Norway he

has written a memorandum, and he

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instead of going into the the House

of Commons in his combat fatigues to

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give it to the Chief Whip or the

Conservatives he gives it to at Lee.

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He says the Leader of the

Opposition, he says you have to act.

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This is what happened in Norway. It

was a disaster. If we still have

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these people in power. Soth Lee

reads this and decides to convene

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the Labour executive and Shea we are

going to diI vice the house. The

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Conservatives think they have got

away with it. Despite Keys and

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aimry, they think they will get

through this vote for Whit sun

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holiday, Herbert Morrison gets up to

speak for Labour. At the end he says

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we are going to divide the house.

Chamberlain makes this catastrophic

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responsibilities. He says we have

friends in the House. Using the

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Parliamentary term but it is

interpreted is this is a personal

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thing. I have friend who will back

me up so to speak. Speak. Lloyd

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George is absent but he has been

told about it. They say come down

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David. There is a great altercation

in Welsh from celeb meant Davis the

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liberal MP. Saying you have to come

down and attack Chamberlain because

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he is appealing to friends.

What did

he say?

He comes down, he gets up,

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he doesn't want to attack Churchill

his old friend, and Lloyd George

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gets up, and he says that this

period calls for sacrifice and the

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is no greater sacrifice that

Chamberlain must give up the seals

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of office.

El Is devastating. It is like eight

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years of of pent up criticism

against Chamberlain is uncorked.

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Churchill is overheard saying it is

difficult for me to end the debate.

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Churchill then goes down to wrap up

the debate, and there is endless cat

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calls from Labour. It is bedlam. He

is trying to defend an untenable

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position, and he is trying to defend

Chamberlain, who he would like to

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replace.

This is where we get to the

six minutes in May of this title. It

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denotes the time it took for the

vote. What happened in that vote,

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because it was just a vote to

adjourn. It was a purely technical

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motion. What happened?

One of the

grip things in researching this, I

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discovered that at the end of every

debate there is a Victorian egg

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timer, the clerks turn it over you

have six minutes for the politicians

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to go into the aye or the No lobby.

Then the doors are locked by the

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keepers and you can't vote after

that. So when the MP, the division

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is sounded, on Wednesday 8th May

about 11.13pm, still no-one really

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knows what is going to happen, the

majority of 213 seems unassailable,

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and so they cross the floor, people

like John Profumo who is the first

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debate he is going to vote in. He is

a Conservative MP and he goes into

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vote against the Government and he

is spat on by a government minister.

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People are watching which they are

going. Only as they come out of the

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lobbies does the yelling begin.

People are shouting trait efor or

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yes men, the teller come out. There

is silence and the Government have

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only got a majority of 81. Having

had a majority of 213, and this is

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one of the biggest you have to

remember that in Munich not a single

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Tory MP voted against that.

This

represents a haemorrhaging.

This is

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a haemorrhaging of support. He could

carry on. Chamberlain never goes

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back except for a brief period. And

then, the kind of argy-bargy begins,

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so the great favourite

It is a

fascinating account. Churchill

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ultimately wins it but does this

book to some grow pull him off his

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pedestal. He reveals he does

culpable in the military disaster.

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Subtitles resume on "Thursday

in Parliament" at 2300.

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