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Baldwin's reputation: politics and history, 1937-1967

Williamson, P.

Baldwin's reputation: politics and history, 1937-1967 Thumbnail


P. Williamson


In one fundamental sense, a British post-war consensus certainly existed: repudiation and denigration of interwar governments and their leaders. Stanley Baldwin was the chief victim, as it became widely believed during the 1940s that he had ‘failed to rearm’ the nation in the 1930s. Examination of the history of Baldwin's reputation after his retirement – precisely why and how it collapsed – reveals a striking case of the contingent construction of historical interpretation. Partisan politics, legitimation of a new regime, a Churchillian bandwagon, self-exoneration, and selective recollection together reinforced hindsight and a wartime appetite for scapegoats to create a public myth, which despite manifest evidence to the contrary was accepted as historical ‘truth’ by historians and other intellectuals. The main indictment was accepted even by Baldwin's appointed biographer, who added a further layer of supposed psychological deficiencies. Attempts to establish an effective defence were long constrained by official secrecy and the force of Churchill's post-war prestige. Only during the 1960s did political distance and then the opening of government records lead to more balanced historical assessments; yet the myth had become so central to larger myths about the 1930s and 1940s that it persists in general belief.


Williamson, P. (2004). Baldwin's reputation: politics and history, 1937-1967. Historical Journal, 47(1), 127-168.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Mar 8, 2004
Publication Date Mar 8, 2004
Deposit Date Mar 5, 2013
Publicly Available Date Mar 5, 2013
Journal Historical Journal
Print ISSN 0018-246X
Electronic ISSN 1469-5103
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 47
Issue 1
Pages 127-168
Keywords Post-war Britain, Historical interpretation


Published Journal Article (668 Kb)

Copyright Statement
© Copyright Cambridge University Press 2004. This paper has been published by Cambridge University Press in 'Historical journal' (47 (2004) 127-168)

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