Monty Python had a sketch of a contest to find the greatest British upper-class twit of the year. Any such competition was a redundancy, for it should have been retired upon the death of Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the 7th Marquess of Londonderry. He had more than enough trappings of his descent from one of Britain's grandest families, he was a pillar of the Conservative Party, the King called him "Charley," his house in London was the center for grand parties, he was cousin to Winston Churchill, and he was appointed Air Minister in 1931. However, he was instinctively pro-German. In _Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry, The Nazis, and the Road to War_ (The Penguin Press), Ian Kershaw writes that Londonderry, "having attracted much obloquy in his lifetime, has passed into near historical oblivion." This is, of course, because Londonderry was a minor character and favored the wrong policy until World War II started. Kershaw, who has written a well-regarded and massive biography of Hitler, has turned to the topic of an infamous but minor character from the years when the rest of Europe was trying to understand Hitler and what to do with him. An objection could be made that Londonderry simply was not worth a biography of this length, depth, and obviously careful research, but Kershaw draws a full picture of the times and demonstrates that we see Londonderry as out of step only through hindsight; for years he represented a view held by many Britons, including members of the peerage. He was wrong, and was a silly little man, but his views were not a complete anomaly, and Kershaw's useful biography is fine at describing the confusion of the years before the war.
Like aristocrats of the time, Londonderry felt himself entitled to political power, and to his credit he had an eagerness to serve. He was a pilot, and was glad to be appointed Air Minister in 1931. He was not enough of a fighter, however, to muster financial resources for his ministry, and was sacked in 1935. Still, he insisted on having a role to play afterwards, as an activist private citizen. Unfortunately, he was impressed by the strides Mussolini was making in Italy and was even more impressed by how Hitler had achieved and held power. He went on to hobnob with Goering, Hess, and Hitler, and had Ribbentrop come to a hunting party at his place near Ulster. He wrote a book in 1938, _Ourselves and Germany_, which he hoped would influence the opinions of the British public and politicians, but he mailed it out also to his German pals. The one he sent to Hitler, he inscribed: "To the Fuhrer with my best wishes and my earnest hopes for a better and lasting understanding between our two countries." Eventually, when they realized that Londonderry really had no power, the Nazis stopped writing him back. Kershaw bends over backward to be fair to this gullible and flawed subject. He was no Nazi. He had the garden-variety anti-Semitic prejudice that was endemic to Britain's conservatives and aristocrats, but he was baffled by the Nazis making race a central part of their creed, and he knew that the brutal treatment of Jews could do nothing to help the German cause and his own. There were fascists like Oswald Mosley within Britain, but Londonderry had nothing to do with them. Kershaw writes that he was an anachronism, that even in dealing with Nazis, Londonderry was so idealistic as to presume that politics "were determined by goodwill, moral objectives, the gentleman's code of honour, the preservation of legal order".
Hitler's appetite for conquest eventually made clear, however, even to Londonderry that Hitler did not want peace. Once the war began, Londonderry showed impeccable patriotism, although he never stopped trying to vindicate himself as one whose views, if they had been followed, would have prevented the war. He had little insight about why he became a political pariah. It was even rumored that the government of Churchill (who at one point referred to his cousin as "that half-wit Charlie Londonderry") had locked him up for the duration of the war, a rumor that made Londonderry furious. Londonderry died in 1949, realizing that "I had backed the wrong horse," but also sure that he would be fully vindicated, even if the vindication was posthumous. There is little vindication in this volume. Kershaw does show that Londonderry's views drew from what was conventional political wisdom, and the details here put them in a useful and illuminating context.