Leo Amery

Leo Amery

Leopold (Leo) Amery was born in Gorakhpur, India, on 22nd November, 1873. Educated at Harrow and Balliol College, Oxford, he worked as chief correspondent for The Times during the Boer War. He also edited seven volume, The Times History of the South African War (1900-09).

A member of the Conservative Party, in 1911 Amery was elected to represent Birmingham Sparkbrook, in the House of Commons. In the government headed by David Lloyd George, he served as under-secretary of state for the colonies (1919-21). This was followed by the post of First Lord of the Admiralty (1922-24) and then colonial secretary (1924-29).

Amery lost office when Ramsay MacDonald and the Labour Party formed the government in 1929. He remained out of office throughout the 1930s and emerged as one of the party's leading critics of the government's appeasement policy.

In 1940 Neville Chamberlain appointed Amery as secretary of state for India and Burma. His son, John Amery, made pro-Nazi broadcasts during the Second World War. He also made speeches in favour of Adolf Hitler in occupied Europe and after the war was executed for high treason.

After his retirement from politics Amery published his autobiography, My Political Life (1955). Leopold Amery died in London on 16th September, 1955.

Leo Amery (1921)
Leo Amery (1921)

Primary Sources

(1) Leo Amery, speech in the House of Commons (7th November, 1933)

Germany wants to rearm. Germany means to rearm. Germany is going to rearm, and nobody is going to stop her. The Disarmament Convention is dead and no one is going to be able to galvanize it into life.

That being so, had we not better ask ourselves: Is there not an alternative policy more worthy of following than one which is leading to nothing but irritation and failure? I believe there is. I believe that if only we would stop this wild-goose chase after mechanical, reach-me-down schemes of world disarmament and peace, and leave Europe to settle her own affairs, the profound desire of the peoples of Europe for peace, the economic forces which are bringing them together, will themselves, through the ordinary flexible adjustments of international intercourse, bring about a much more lasting and real solution.

(2) Leo Amery, My Political Life (1955)

The great debate on Munich opened on the 3rd with Duff Cooper's personal statement. In a deeply moving speech he affirmed his conviction that nothing short of much clearer statements on our part or an earlier mobilization of the Fleet could have made any impression on Hitler. It was not for Czechoslovakia that we should have been fighting, if Hitler had insisted on war, any more than it was for Serbia that we fought in 1914, but, as again and again in our history, to prevent Europe being dominated by brute force. He ended by saying that he had given up much, an office he loved, colleagues who were his friends, a leader whom he admired, but "I can still walk about the world with my head erect".

(3) Leo Amery, My Political Life (1955)

We met to rush through the Military Service Bill and were then told to wait for the Prime Minister's statement. It was nearly eight before Chamberlain came to tell us, in a flat, embarrassed voice, first of all that Mussolini's project for a conference could not be entertained while Poland was subject to invasion; secondly that we were discussing with the French within what time limit it would be necessary for our Governments to know whether the German Government were prepared to withdraw from Poland; in that case we should be willing to regard the position open for discussion between the Polish and German Governments on the understanding that Poland's vital interests were safeguarded and internationally guaranteed; finally that we did not recognize the reunion of Danzig to the Reich which the Reichstag had confirmed by law the day before.

The House was aghast. For two whole days the wretched Poles had been bombed and massacred, and we were still considering within what time limit Hitler should be invited to tell us whether he felt like relinquishing his prey! And then these sheer irrelevancies about the terms of a hypothetical agreement between Germany and Poland and the non recognition of the annexation of Danzig. Was all this havering the prelude to another Munich? A year before the House had risen to its feet to give Chamberlain an ovation when he announced a last-moment hope of peace. This time any similar announcement would have been met by a universal howl of execration.

Whatever lay behind Chamberlain's statement it was essential that someone should do what he had failed to do, or been unable to do - and some of us had some inkling of his difficulties with France. That was to voice the feelings of the House and of the whole country. Arthur Greenwood rose to speak for the Opposition. I dreaded a purely partisan speech, and called out to him across the floor of the House "Speak for England". No one could have done it better. Admitting that there might be reasons why instant action had not been taken, he went on to declare that every minute's delay in coming to a decision meant not only loss of life, but the imperilling of the very foundations of our national honour. The Government must be able to give a straight answer next day. There could be no more devices for dragging out what had been dragged out too long.

The Prime Minister rose again to say that the French Cabinet was actually in session, and that he hoped to know the result in a. few hours. He felt certain that he could make a statement next day, and anticipated that it could only have one purport. But he failed to correct the impression left by his original statement, and the House broke up in confusion and dismay.

(4) Leo Amery made a devastating attack on Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons during the debate on the Norwegian Campaign. (7th May, 1940)

The Prime Minister gave us a reasoned, argumentative case for our failure. It is always possible to do that after every failure. Making a case and winning a war are not the same thing. Wars are won, not by explanation after the event, but by foresight, by clear decision and by swift action. I confess that I did not feel there was one sentence in the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon which suggested that the Government either foresaw what Germany meant to do, or came to a clear decision when it knew what Germany had done, or acted swiftly or consistently throughout the whole of this lamentable affair.

The Prime Minister, both the other day and today, expressed himself as satisfied that the balance of advantage lay on our side. He laid great stress on the heaviness of the German losses and the lightness of ours. What did the Germans lose? A few thousand men, nothing to them, a score of transports, and part of a Navy which anyhow cannot match ours. What did they gain? They gained Norway, with the strategical advantages which, in their opinion at least, outweigh the whole of their naval losses. They have gained the whole of Scandinavia. What have we lost? To begin with, we have lost most of the Norwegian Army, not only such as it was but such as it might have become, if only we had been given time to rally and re-equip it.

We must have, first of all, a right organization of government. What is no less important today is that the Government shall be able to draw upon the whole abilities of the nation. It must represent all the elements of real political power in this country, whether in this House or not. The time has come when hon. and right hon. Members opposite must definitely take their share of the responsibility. The time has come when the organization, the power and influence of the Trades Union Congress cannot be left outside. It must, through one of its recognized leaders, reinforce the strength of the national effort from inside. The time has come, in other words, for a real National Government. I may be asked what is my alternative Government. That is not my concern: it is not the concern of this House. The duty of this House, and the duty that it ought to exercise, is to show unmistakably what kind of Government it wants in order to win the war. It must always be left to some individual leader, working perhaps with a few others, to express that will by selecting his colleagues so as to form a Government which will correspond to the will of the House and enjoy its confidence. So I refuse, and I hope the House will refuse, to be drawn into a discussion on personalities.

What I would say, however, is this: Just as our peace-time system is unsuitable for war conditions, so does it tend to breed peacetime statesmen who are not too well fitted for the conduct of war. Facility in debate, ability to state a case, caution in advancing an unpopular view, compromise and procrastination are the natural qualities - I might almost say, virtues - of a political leader in time of peace. They are fatal qualities in war. Vision, daring, swiftness and consistency of decision are the very essence of victory. In our normal politics, it is true, the conflict of party did encourage a certain combative spirit. In the last war we Tories found that the most perniciously aggressive of our opponents, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, was not only aggressive in words, but was a man of action. In recent years the normal weakness of our political life has been accentuated by a coalition based upon no clear political principles. It was in fact begotten of a false alarm as to the disastrous results of going off the Gold Standard. It is a coalition which has been living ever since in a twilight atmosphere between Protection and Free Trade and between unprepared collective security and unprepared isolation. Surely, for the Government of the last ten years to have bred a band of warrior statesmen would have been little short of a miracle. We have waited for eight months, and the miracle has not come to pass. Can we afford to wait any longer?

Somehow or other we must get into the Government men who can match our enemies in fighting spirit, in daring, in resolution and in thirst for victory. Some 300 years ago, when this House found that its troops were being beaten again and again by the dash and daring of the Cavaliers, by Prince Rupert's Cavalry, Oliver Cromwell spoke to John Hampden. In one of his speeches he recounted what he said. It was this:

'I said to him, "Your troops are most of them old, decayed serving men and tapsters and such kind of fellows." You must get men of a spirit that are likely to go as far as they will go, or you will be beaten still.'

It may not be easy to find these men. They can be found only by trial and by ruthlessly discarding all who fail and have their failings discovered. We are fighting today for our life, for our liberty, for our all; we cannot go on being led as we are.

I have quoted certain words of Oliver Cromwell. I will quote certain other words. I do it with great reluctance, because I am speaking of those who are old friends and associates of mine, but they are words which, I think, are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation:

"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go".

(5) A. J. P. Taylor, Origins of the Second World War (1961)

In the evening of 2 September Chamberlain was still entertaining the House of Commons with hypothetical negotiations: "If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces then His Majesty's Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier. That is to say, the way would be open to discussion between the German and Polish Governments on the matters at issue." This was too much even for loyal Conservatives. Leo Amery called to Arthur Greenwood, acting leader of the Opposition: "Speak for England", a task of which Chamberlain was incapable. Ministers, led by Simon, warned Chamberlain that the government would fall unless it sent an ultimatum to Hitler before the House met again.

Though Hitler blundered in supposing that the two Western Powers would not go to war at all, his expectation that they would not go to war seriously turned out to be correct. Great Britain and France did nothing to help the Poles, and little to help themselves.

(6) Leo Amery, My Political Life (1955)

At the last moment there was a serious hitch in the negotiations. That same evening Chamberlain, in a farewell broadcast, announced that he was staying on as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House, in effect Deputy Prime Minister. The Socialist leaders, who had not been consulted, were furious. They had hoped that Chamberlain would be kept out altogether, and now feared that at the Treasury and in the House the old combination of Chamberlain with Horace Wilson and Margesson, the Chief Whip, would continue to dominate the situation. They saw Churchill next morning, reluctantly accepting Chamberlain's inclusion in the War Cabinet, but protesting vehemently against the position assigned to him. The discussion was adjourned for a further meeting early in the afternoon. The Socialist objections were shared no less strongly by the Conservative Watching Committee and by my little group, some of whom had come round to see me. With them came Clem Davies to tell me of the exasperation of the Socialist leaders, and of their grave doubts whether they could join the Government after all. While we were discussing Cranborne rang up to find out what was happening and put me on to Salisbury to whom Davies and I explained the situation. Salisbury was deeply disturbed at the thought of Churchill's insistence on the retention of Chamberlain wrecking the prospect of a real National Government. He promised to ring up Churchill at once to convey the strong objection felt by himself and his Conservative associates, as well as by the Opposition, to the proposed arrangement. It was, no doubt, due to his intervention that, when the Socialist leaders returned to the charge, it was agreed that Chamberlain should drop out of the Exchequer and be President of the Council, while Churchill retained the Leadership in the House, Attlee subsequently becoming his deputy.