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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Philip Williamson

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

Author(s) from Durham


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.


© Cambidge University Press 2004.