Young Brutes

R.W. Johnson

  • Speaking for England: Leo, Julian and John Amery: The Tragedy of a Political Family by David Faber
    Free Press, 612 pp, £20.00, October 2005, ISBN 0 7432 5688 3

Leo Amery, who lived and breathed the British Empire and could claim to have invented the Commonwealth, would doubtless find it sad that he is chiefly remembered for helping to bring down Neville Chamberlain. When, in September 1939, Arthur Greenwood, the acting Labour leader, rose to reply to Chamberlain’s ludicrously inadequate response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, he began by saying he would speak for the Labour Party, but Amery, unable to control himself, burst out with ‘Speak for England!’ (In Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On this becomes ‘Speak for England, Arthur,’ but witnesses all say there were three words, not four.) Greenwood spoke well but the House, still stunned by Amery’s intervention, then broke up in confusion. Eight months later, appalled at Chamberlain’s mismanagement of the war, Amery made the speech of his life, quoting Cromwell at every turn and ending with his famous words to the Long Parliament: ‘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.’ At the end of the debate, 42 Tories voted against Chamberlain, another 36 abstained and, almost immediately, despite Chamberlain’s frantic attempts to hang on, the age of Churchill began.

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