A Masterful Politician



Joseph Chamberlain is perhaps the most important political figure that Birmingham has ever produced.

Mayor of Birmingham for the period when the city became the model for the modern conurbation, leader of the Radical Liberals until 1886 when he was blamed as ‘the man who killed [Irish] Home Rule’, Colonial Secretary at the height of the ‘scramble for Africa’ and pioneer of modern politics, his influence lived on after his death in 1914 as his son Austen rose to be leader of the Conservative Party and his other son, Neville, became Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister. And yet, despite his sustained status in his adopted city, Chamberlain is not highly regarded outside the West Midlands.

Enoch Powell’s famous aphorism that ‘all political careers… end in failure’ first appears in his 1977 biography of Chamberlain. ‘Joe’ never held any of the major offices of state despite an active parliamentary career of thirty years, and his eight-year tenure of the Colonial Office was marred by the conspiracies surrounding the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War and the bungled and long drawn-out execution of that conflict.

Neither of his sons’ political reputations has fared much better: Austen was the only Conservative leader not to become Prime Minister in the twentieth century (apart from William Hague) and Neville’s reputation will always be blackened by the ‘Great’ Depression of the 1930s and his policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler.

KEYWORDS: Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham, Mayor, Political Machine, Ian Cawood, Books

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