Cabinet Conspiracy 2
ANTHONY EDEN Foreign Secretary, but Chamberlain had contacts behind his back with MUSSOLINI, via Sir Joseph Ball and Count Grandi.
Department of Dirty Tricks
It was during the notorious "Zinoviev Letter" affair (when the Daily Mail ran a faked letter to create a "red scare", hitting Labour and scaring Ramsay Macdonald out of his wits) that JC Davidson, liaising between Conservative Central Office and the security services, met Major Joseph Ball, then with MI5. By 1927, he was at Central Office as director of publicity.
In 1929, responding ostensibly to those Conservatives who had been saying they needed a department to develop social policy, the Party set up the Conservative Research Department. With Joseph Ball in charge, the approach to social and political problems was a distinctly secret service one.
"With Joseph Ball I ran a little intelligence service of our own, quite separate from the Party organisation. We had agents in certain key centres and we also had agents actually in the Labour Party headquarters, with the result that we got their reports on political feeling in the country as well as our own. We also got advance 'pulls' of their literature. This we arranged with Odhams Press who did most of the Labour Party printing, with the result that we frequently received copies of their first leaflets and pamphlets before they
reached Transport House. This was of enormous value to us because we were able to study Labour
Party policy in advance, and in the case of the leaflets we could produce a reply to appear simultaneously with their production." (Davidson, in Memoirs of a Conservative)
From 1929 until his death in late 1940, Neville Chamberlain was chairman of the Conservative Research Department. In February 1938, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden returned from holiday to find that, in his absence, Prime Minister Chamberlain had rejected overtures from President Roosevelt for international security efforts, preferring the "wonderful chance" of an agreement with Mussolini. He was further upset to find that Italian ambassador Grandi appeared to know more than he did about British intentions. Chamberlain and the Italian almost seemed to have an understanding already.
Behind Eden's back, the Prime Minister had been in regular contact with fascist Italy, through irregular channels. One of them was Sir Joseph Ball, "the confidential agent of Chamberlain, who since the month of October last year has been functioning as a direct 'secret link' between myself and Chamberlain", as Grandi boasted to Count Ciano, Italy's Foreign Minister, on 19 February 1938. Eden resigned on 20 February.
In October 1937, Ciano had signed a secret treaty in Berlin, pledging war on "communism" and the Spanish Republic; the beginning of the Axis. In February 1938, while sweetening the British with promises to respect their interests in Spain, Mussolini gave the green light to Hitler for the Anschluss, the invasion of Austria.
March 1938, on the streets of Vienna, grinning Nazi thugs assault and humiliate elderly Jews, making them kneel and scrub pavements with caustic lye, or perform press-ups for the amusement of the mob. April 1938, in Rome, to mark the signing of an Anglo-Italian agreement, an English Jew comes to grovel on behalf of His Majesty's government. Leslie Hore-Belisha says it gives him "great joy" to meet Signer Mussolini and see his achievements.
Having helped see through the agreement with Italy, Chamberlain's "confidential agent" Ball had more to do. 'The mood of the House was one of confidence in Chamberlain rather than Eden, and Joseph Ball of the Conservative Research Department set to work to ensure that the Party in the country would take the same view," says JA Ramsden in his History of the Conservative Party: the age of Balfour and Baldwin 1902-1940. The Beaverbrook and Rothermere press were both pro-appeasement (the latter, for example the Daily Mail, had backed Mosley and still admired Mussolini) and both were "well briefed by Downing Street", so it was not too hard. (Chamberlain's Downing Street press officer, George Seward, also served for confidential contact with the German embassy.)
Besides press control and manipulation, the government was alive to the importance of other media. In March 1935, Isador Ostrer of Gaumont British agreed to help the National Publicity Bureau organise itself for propaganda. At British Movietone, Sir Gordon Craig and Sir Malcolm Campbell were ardent Tories. Editor Gerald Sanger advised the Tory Party on film propaganda.
"I have cultivated some close personal contacts with the leaders of the British film industry," Ball reported confidentially to Chamberlain in June 1938, "and I am satisfied that I can count upon most of them for their full support to any reasonable degree." Stressing the importance of exploiting the screens of the ordinary cinemas, seen by 20 million people each week, Ball said: "I have already prepared the way for this with all the big circuits among exhibitors ... with Korda among the producers, and with the chairmen of the five big newsreel companies."
An interview with Labour leader Attlee on Eden's resignation was cut from Paramount news within hours of filming. During the Munich crisis, MPs opposed to Chamberlain were censored. Newsreel coverage of the Spanish Civil War had a pro-Franco bias that was remarked upon Government control might also help explain the bland treatment of Nazi Germany in pre-war newsreels.
Ball used other techniques too. A group of rebel Tory MPs had begun meeting at the Queen Anne's Gate home of Ronald Tree. He noticed odd clicks on his telephone. An American journalist friend told him it was being tapped. He said: "Some time later, during the war, I came across Sir Joseph Ball at the Ministry of Information, a dislikeable man with an unenviable reputation for doing some of Chamberlain's 'behind-the-scenes' work. . He had the gall to tell me that he himself had been responsible for having my telephone tapped."
According to one-time Central Office worker Percy Cohen, interviewed by Arnold Beichman, Ball "meddled in all kinds of affairs, some secret, some open. He was a man who was always intriguing and who new how to make contacts. If Chamberlain wanted a job done, it was always through Ball."
Did they do a job on Leslie Hore-Belisha, using the antisemitic Truth magazine? How closely was this foul little weekly connected with high-ranking members of the Conservative Party?