16 July, 2008

Stanley Baldwin

Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, was a British statesman and three times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

He was born at Lower Park House, Lower Park, Bewdley in Worcestershire, England. Baldwin was educated at St Michael's School, Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. His university career was blighted by the presence, as Master of Trinity, of a former schoolmaster who had punished him at Harrow for writing a piece of schoolboy smut. He was asked to resign from the Magpie & Stump (the Trinity College Debating Society) for never speaking, and after receiving a third-class degree in history went into the family business. As a young man he served very briefly as a Second Lieutenant in the Artillery Volunteers.

He proved to be very adept at the family business of iron manufacturing, and acquired a reputation as a modernising industrialist. Later he inherited £200,000 and a directorship of the Great Western Railway upon the death of his father Alfred Baldwin in 1908.

In the 1906 general election he contested Kidderminster but lost amidst the Conservative landslide defeat after the party split on the issue of free trade. In 1908 he succeeded his father as Member of Parliament (MP) for Bewdley. During the First World War he became Parliamentary Private Secretary to Conservative leader Andrew Bonar Law and in 1917 he was appointed to the junior ministerial post of Financial Secretary to the Treasury where he sought to encourage voluntary donations by the rich in order the repay the United Kingdom's war debt, notably writing to The Times under the pseudonym 'FST'. He personally donated one fifth of his quite small fortune. He served jointly with Sir Hardman Lever, who had been appointed in 1916, but after 1919 Baldwin carried out the duties largely alone. He was appointed to the Privy Council in the 1920 Birthday Honours. In 1921 he was promoted to the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade.

In late 1922 dissatisfaction was steadily growing within the Conservative Party over its coalition with the Liberal David Lloyd George. At a meeting of Conservative MPs at the Carlton Club in October Baldwin announced that he would no longer support the coalition and famously condemned Lloyd George for being a "dynamic force" that was bringing destruction across politics. The meeting chose to leave the coalition, against the wishes of most of the party leadership. As a result Bonar Law, the new Conservative leader, was forced to search for new ministers for his Cabinet and so promoted Baldwin to the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the November 1922 general election the Conservatives were returned with a majority in their own right.

The King turned to Baldwin to become Prime Minister. Initially Baldwin was also Chancellor of the Exchequer whilst he sought to recruit the former Liberal Chancellor Reginald McKenna to join the government. When this failed he appointed Neville Chamberlain.

The Conservatives now had a clear majority in the House of Commons and could govern for five years before holding a general election, but Baldwin felt bound by Bonar Law's pledge at the previous election that there would be no introduction of tariffs without a further election. With the country facing growing unemployment in the wake of free-trade imports driving down prices and profits, Baldwin decided to call an early general election in December 1923 to seek a mandate to introduce protectionist tariffs and thus drive down unemployment. Protection was not universally popular in the Conservative Party: "one must speak of the election being fought by a divided party." The election outcome was inconclusive: the Conservatives had 258 MPs, Labour 191 and the reunited Liberals 159. Whilst the Conservatives retained a plurality in the House of Commons, they had been clearly defeated on the central election issue of tariffs. Baldwin remained Prime Minister until the opening session of the new Parliament in January 1924, at which time the government was defeated in a motion of confidence vote. He resigned immediately.

Baldwin successfully held onto the party leadership despite calls for his resignation by some in the party. For the next ten months, an unstable minority Labour government under Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald held office. On 13 March the Labour government was defeated for the first time in the Commons, although the Conservatives decided to vote with Labour later that day against the Liberals. The general election held in October 1924 brought a landslide majority of 223 for the Conservative party, primarily at the expense of the now terminally declining Liberals. Baldwin campaigned on the "impracticability" of socialism, the Campbell Case, the Zinoviev Letter and the Russian Treaties. In a speech during the campaign Baldwin said:

It makes my blood boil to read of the way which Mr. Zinoviev is speaking of the Prime Minister today. Though one time there went up a cry, "Hands off Russia", I think it's time somebody said to Russia, "Hands off England".

Baldwin's new Cabinet now included many former political associates of Lloyd George: former Coalition Conservatives Austen Chamberlain (as Foreign Secretary), Lord Birkenhead (Secretary for India) and Arthur Balfour (Lord President after 1925), and the former Liberal Winston Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer. This period included the General Strike of 1926, a crisis that the government managed to weather, despite the havoc it caused throughout the UK. Baldwin created the Organization for the Maintenance of Supplies, a volunteer body of those opposed to the strike which was intended to complete essential work.

In 1929 Labour returned to office, the largest party in the House of Commons despite obtaining fewer votes than the Conservatives. In opposition, Baldwin was almost ousted as party leader by the press barons Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook, whom he accused of enjoying "power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages".

By 1931 Baldwin and the Conservatives entered into a coalition with Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. This decision led to MacDonald's expulsion from his own party, and Baldwin, as Lord President of the Council became de facto Prime Minister deputizing for the increasingly senile MacDonald, until he once again officially became Prime Minister in 1935. His government then secured with great difficulty the passage of the landmark Government of India Act 1935, in the teeth of opposition from Winston Churchill, whose views enjoyed much support among rank-and-file Conservatives.

Baldwin did not advocate total disarmament but believed that "great armaments lead inevitably to war". However he came to believe that, as he put it on 9 November, 1932: "the time has now come to an end when Great Britain can proceed with unilateral disarmament".

With the second part of the Disarmament Conference starting in January 1933, Baldwin attempted to see through his hope of air disarmament. On 6 October Baldwin, in a speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, pleaded for a Disarmament Convention.

On 14 October Germany left the League of Nations. The Cabinet decided on 23 October that Britain should still attempt to cooperate with other states, including Germany, in international disarmament. In late 1933 and early 1934 he rejected an invitation from Hitler to meet him, believing that visits to foreign capitals were the job of Foreign Secretaries. On 8 March 1934 Baldwin defended the creation of four new squadrons for the Royal Air Force against Labour criticisms.

On 29 March 1934 Germany published its defense estimates' which showed a total increase of one-third and an increase of 250% in its air force.

With MacDonald's physical powers failing him, he and Baldwin changed places in June 1935; Baldwin was now Prime Minister, MacDonald Lord President of the Council. In October that year Baldwin called a general election. Neville Chamberlain advised Baldwin to appeal to the country on a defense program against Labour, and to make it the leading issue in the election because to announce a rearmament program after the election would be more damaging due to it being perceived as deceiving the people. However Baldwin did not make rearmament the central issue in the election. He said he would support the League of Nations, modernize Britain's defenses and remedy deficiencies but also said: "I give you my word that there will be no great armaments". The main issues in the election were housing, unemployment and the special areas of economic depression. The election gave 430 seats to National government supporters (386 of these Conservative) and 154 seats to Labour.

On 31 July 1934 the Cabinet approved a report that called for expansion of the Royal Air Force to the 1923 standard by creating 40 new squadrons over the following five years. In April 1935 the Air Secretary reported that although Britain's strength in the air would be ahead of Germany for at least three years, air rearmament needed to be increased so the Cabinet agreed to the creation of an extra 39 squadrons for home defense by 1937. However, on 8 May 1935 the Cabinet heard that it was estimated that the RAF was inferior to the Luftwaffe by 370 aircraft and that in order to reach parity the RAF must have 3,800 aircraft by April 1937—an extra 1,400 on the existing air program. It was learnt that Germany was easily able to out build this revised program as well. On 21 May 1935 the Cabinet agreed to expanding the home defense force of the RAF to 1,512 aircraft (840 bombers and 420 fighters).

On 25 February 1936 the Cabinet approved a report calling for expansion of the Royal Navy and the re-equipment of the British Army, along with the creation of "shadow factories" built by public money and managed by industrial companies. These factories came into operation in 1937. In February 1937 the Chiefs of Staff reported that by May 1937 the Luftwaffe would have 800 bombers compared to the RAF's 48.[39]

On 28 November 1934 Churchill moved an amendment to the vote of thanks for the King's Speech, which read: "...the strength of our national defenses, and especially our air defenses, is no longer adequate".

The Labour Party strongly opposed the rearmament program. Clement Attlee said on 21 December 1933: "For our part, we are unalterably opposed to anything in the nature of rearmament".

He faced the abdication crisis of King Edward VIII. With the abdication successfully weathered he retired after the coronation of King George VI and was created Earl Baldwin of Bewdley.

Baldwin's years in retirement were quiet. In June 1945 Baldwin's wife Lucy died. Baldwin himself by now suffered with arthritis and needed a stick to walk. When he made his final public appearance in London in October 1947 at the unveiling of a statue of King George V a crowd of people recognized and cheered him, but by this time he was deaf and asked: "Are they booing me?" Having been made Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1930, he continued in this capacity until his death in his sleep at Astley Hall, near Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, on 14 December 1947. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes buried in Worcester Cathedral.


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