The MP3 above was produced from the EKCO disc entitled “Ramsey McDonald” and dated 24th May 1932. It is an extraordinary recording of my grandfather praising appeasement Prime Minister Ramsey McDonald as he broadcasts a speech from his home on “Empire Day”.
McDonald refers to the Dominions of the British Empire, which had been granted independent legal status by the Statute of Westminster the previous year. This statute acted upon the 1926 Imperial Conference of British Empire where it was declared that the United Kingdom and the Dominions were ...
"... autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. ..."
But McDonald’s idealistic dreams of Empire leave no echo today, as if removed from history or taken from an alternate one. Our perception of pre-WW2 history is polarised by the prism of the war. King George VI is a stoic survivor of the London Blitz. Edward VIII is an exiled Nazi-sympathizer. Churchill is the greatest ever Briton. But like Neville Chamberlain, MacDonald is another naive politician who failed to foresee the inevitable. He imperilled us in the face of Nazism so we consign him to oblivion.
We judge pre-war politicians even by our use of language. But they were not pre-war or inter-war. They were just politicians of that time. They did not know war was guaranteed by rising political extremism and militancy in Europe. Our judgements are distorted by hindsight, which itself may be distorted by misplaced nostalgia and false myths.
The myth of the "post-war economic miracle" implies that the war itself contributed to our prosperity today but there is no evidence for this. Few economic factors influencing the growth of modern industrialised nations can be advanced by conflict between them. Useful material resources may be obtained by seizure or colonisation (bold). But it is unclear WW2 distributed much resource to the allied nations except the USA and the USSR (who raced each other to acquire Nazi Germany's military technologies).
Telecommunications, electronics and computers
Domestic labour saving devices and consumer products
Agriculture, medical care and health
Physical obtainment of energy sources or raw materials including land
New synthetic materials, chemicals and sources of energy
Increased human resource, social mobility, urbanisation, women’s liberation and education
Engineering advances in construction, exploration, mining, transportation, manufacturing, mass production and automation
Tolerance to global impacts elsewhere
Furthermore there is no reason why the useful spin-off technologies developed in war would not have developed during an alternative peace. Technologies are owed to our ever advancing science along with our tolerance to their global impact. The evidence of the trends is that this advance continued despite the war and not because of it.
In the alternate world where European politics remained moderate and war avoided, prosperity would not be decreased. Instead British prosperity would be increased by the avoidance of wartime losses and national debt repayments. Perhaps in this world Ramsey McDonald is more sympathetically remembered and “Empire Day” still commemorated.
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England