Stanley Baldwin, the son of the industrialist, Alfred Baldwin, was born in Bewdley on 3rd August 1867. After being educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, he joined the family iron and steel business.
In the 1906 General Election, Baldwin was elected as Conservative MP for Bewdley. In December 1916, Baldwin became Private Parliamentary Secretary to Andrew Bonar Law, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the government led by David Lloyd George, Baldwin served as Junior Lord of the Treasury, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and President of the Board of Trade.
In October 1922 Baldwin organised the plot that ousted David Lloyd George as Prime Minister of the coalition government. The new Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, appointed Stanley Baldwin Chancellor of the Exchequer in October 1922. When ill-health forced Bonar Law to resign in May 1923 Baldwin became the new Prime Minister.
In 1925 Baldwin had to deal with the crisis in the coal industry. When the mine-owners announced that they intended to reduce the miner's wages. The General Council of the Trade Union Congress responded to this news by promising to support the miners in their dispute with their employers. Baldwin decided to intervene, and his government supplied the necessary money to bring the miners' wages back to their previous level. However, Baldwin stated that this subsidy to the miners' wages would only last 9 months. In the meantime he set up a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Sir Herbert Samuel, to look into the problems of the Mining Industry.
The Samuel Commission published its report in March 1926. Samuel recommended that the Government subsidy should be withdrawn and the miners' wages should be reduced. The Trade Union Congress called a General Strike but continued to negotiate with the government. The main figure involved in these negotiations was Jimmy Thomas. Talks went on until late on Sunday night, and according to Thomas, they were close to agreement when Baldwin broke off negotiations. The reason for his action was that printers at the Daily Mail had refused to print a leading article attacking the proposed General Strike.
On 3rd May the Trade Union Congress called out workers in the key industries - railwaymen, transport workers, dockers, printers, builders, iron and steel workers - a total of 3 million men (a fifth of the adult male population).
Baldwin arranged for Sir Herbert Samuel to meet the leaders of the Trade Union Congress. Without telling the miners, the TUC negotiating committee met Samuel and worked out a set of proposals to end the General Strike. These included: (1) a National Wages Board with an independent chairman; (2) a minimum wage for all colliery workers; (3) workers displaced by pit closures to be given alternative employment; (4) the wages subsidy to be renewed while negotiations continued.
However, Samuel warned that subsequent negotiations would probably mean a reduction in wages. These terms were accepted by the TUC negotiating committee, but were rejected by the executive of the Miners' Federation. On the 11th May, at a meeting of the Trade Union Congress General Committee, it was decided to accept the terms proposed by Herbert Samuel and to call off the General Strike.
On 21st June 1926, Baldwin's Government introduced a Bill into the House of Commons that suspended the miners' Seven Hours Act for five years - thus permitting a return to an 8 hour day for miners. In July the mine-owners announced new terms of employment for miners based on the 8 hour day.
In 1927 Baldwin's Government passed the Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act. This act made all sympathetic strikes illegal, ensured the trade union members had to voluntarily 'contract in' to pay the political levy, forbade Civil Service unions to affiliate to the TUC, and made mass picketing illegal.
Baldwin lost the 1929 General Election. The election of the Labour Government coincided with an economic depression and Ramsay MacDonald was faced with the problem of growing unemployment. MacDonald asked Sir George May, to form a committee to look into Britain's economic problem. When the May Committee produced its report in July, 1931, it suggested that the government should reduce its expenditure by £97,000,000, including a £67,000,000 cut in unemployment benefits. MacDonald, and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, accepted the report but when the matter was discussed by the Cabinet, the majority voted against the measures suggested by Sir George May.
Ramsay MacDonald was angry that his Cabinet had voted against him and decided to resign. When he saw George V that night, he was persuaded to head a new coalition government that would include Conservative and Liberal leaders as well as Labour ministers. Most of the Labour Cabinet totally rejected the idea and only three, Philip Snowden, Jimmy Thomas and John Sankey agreed to join the new government.
MacDonald was determined to continue and his National Government introduced the measures that had been rejected by the previous Labour Cabinet. Labour MPs were furious with what had happened and MacDonald was expelled from the Labour Party. Stanley Baldwin was invited to join the National Government formed by Ramsay MacDonald in August 1931 and served as President of the Council.
The 1931 General Election was a disaster for the Labour Party with only 46 members winning their seats. MacDonald, now had 556 pro-National Government MPs and had no difficulty pursuing the policies suggested by Sir George May. However, disowned by his own party, he was now a prisoner of the Conservative Party, and in June 1935 he was gently eased from power. Baldwin now became Prime Minister.
Baldwin was criticised for his policy of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War and his reluctance to rearm against the growing threat from Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. It has also been claimed that his policies were also partly responsible for prolonging the economic depression in the 1930s.
In 1936 the Conservative government feared the spread of communism from the Soviet Union to the rest of Europe. Baldwin shared this concern and was fairly sympathetic to the military uprising in Spain against the left-wing Popular Front government.
Leon Blum, the prime minister of the Popular Front government in France, initially agreed to send aircraft and artillery to help the Republican Army in Spain. However, after coming under pressure from Baldwin and Anthony Eden in Britain, and more right-wing members of his own cabinet, he changed his mind.
Baldwin and Blum now called for all countries in Europe not to intervene in the Spanish Civil War. A Non-Intervention Agreement was drawn-up and was eventually signed by 27 countries including the Soviet Union, Germany and Italy. However, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini openly ignored the agreement and sent a large amount of military aid, including troops, to General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces.
The Labour Party originally supported the government's non-intervention policy. However, when it became clear that Hitler and Mussolini were determined to help the Nationalists win the war, Labour leaders began to call for Britain to supply the Popular Front with military aid. Some members of the party joined the International Brigades and fought for the Republicans in Spain.
Of the 2,000 British citizens who served with the Republican Army, the majority were members of the Communist Party. Although some notable literary figures volunteered (W. H. Auden, George Orwell, John Cornford, Stephen Spender, Christopher Caudwell), most of the men who went to Spain were from the working-class, including a large number of unemployed miners.
To stop volunteers fighting for the Republicans, the British government announced on 9th January, 1937, that it intended to invoke the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870. It also passed the Merchant Shipping (Carriage of Munitions to Spain) Act.
Praised for his handling of the abdication crisis in 1936 Baldwin resigned from office following the successful coronation celebrations of George VI in May 1937. After retiring from the House of Commons he was granted the title Earl Baldwin of Bewdley.
Stanley Baldwin died on 14th December 1947.