We are now at war and there is no further room for argument. Quiet living has ended; we are plunged into a new world of desperate hopes and fears. Yet for the last act none of us can have any regrets. There was no other way. Conciliation was open to the end. Hitler would have none of it. The British Government held its hand for a day and a half after its warning. The French Government gave even longer time for a final gesture from Germany. Italy played a part (not yet known in detail) in trying to secure a cessation of hostilities. It was all to no effect. The German Government let the sands run out. It had counted the risks and it took them. It deliberately chose to bring calamity on Europe. And now the darkness of war falls on us, broken only by occasional flashes of vital news, a darkness in which our part is to work with patience, trust, and energy. Nothing can give us more confidence than the manner in which in these last days Parliament has represented the spirit of the people. It has been the great justification of the democratic principle and of the liberty and freedom for which we have taken up arms.
The Prime Minister played his sad part with high dignity and restraint; responsibility tied him. But through the Opposition leaders the eager spirit of the nation was able to find less fettered expression. The Commons did credit to their history by their passionate demand that there should be no shadow of vacillation in our policy. There was none, of course, but it was well that the magnificent unity of the British people should be so clearly demonstrated. It was the same with all the war legislation – conscription and the rest – which Parliament put through with such speed. The thing has to be seen through.
Many of us might have liked to see this unity translated at once into the personnel of the Government. Evidently that stage has not yet come, and we may fully acknowledge that there are good arguments for the course that the Labour and Liberal parties are taking. They do not shirk responsibility, and it may well be that for some time at least they can be of better service as a co-operating but none the less critical Opposition than as parts of a single machine. Mr. Greenwood, in whom Labour has had a leader in this crisis of whom it and the country may be proud, put it well when he said that
so long as the relentless purpose is pursued with vigour, with foresight, and with determination by the Government, so long there will be a united nation. But should there be confused counsels, inefficiency, and wavering, then other men must be called to take their share.
Labour and Liberal do not refuse service, and, after the experience of the last war, we cannot doubt that ultimately they will assume a more active part in the direction of affairs. Meanwhile Mr. Chamberlain’s reconstructed Government must have its chance. It has the merit of bringing in three new men who will greatly strengthen it – Mr. Churchill (at the Admiralty), Lord Hankey (without portfolio), and Mr. Eden (at the Dominions). But as we found in the last war, the key to success is the War Cabinet. Mr. Chamberlain has not adopted the plan introduced by Mr. Lloyd George in 1916 of a War Cabinet of five or six without departmental interests, giving its whole time to direction and co-ordination. His War Cabinet is more like the War Committee of the Asquith Government. It consists of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, the four defence Ministers, with two unattached Ministers – Lord Hankey (the secretary of the first War Cabinet) and Sir Samuel Hoare. Until the mechanism is explained there must be some doubt as to how this rather large body is to work and what its relations with the rest of the Administration will be. It will plainly not be the purely executive body of 1917-18. It also appears deficient on the side of internal and economic affairs. With important problems of labour and manpower ahead it seems curious that National Service, Supply, Trade, and Civil Defence should be given no direct place. An exposition of the new system of administration is called for at once. Confidence in and understanding of it from the beginning are vital.
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