Stanley Baldwin

Stanley Baldwin

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 Samuel recommended that the Government subsidy should be withdrawn and the miners' wages should be reduced.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.

Primary Sources

(1) Henry (Chips) Channon, diary entry (28th November, 1936)

The Battle for the Throne has begun. On Wednesday evening (I know all that follows to be true, though not six people in the Kingdom are so informed), Mr Baldwin spent one hour and forty minutes at Buckingham Palace with the King and gave him his ultimatum that the Government would resign, and that the press could no longer be restrained from attacking the King, if he did not abandon all idea of marrying Mrs Simpson. Mr Baldwin had hoped, and thought to frighten the Monarch, but found him obstinate, in love and rather more than a little mad; he refused point blank, and asked for time to consult his friends. 'Who are they?' Mr Baldwin demanded. The audience was not acrimonious, but polite, sad and even affectionate, I am told.

(2) Resolution passed by the British Battalion on 27th March 1937.

We the members of the British working class in the British Battalion of the International Brigade now fighting in Spain in defence of democracy, protest against statements appearing in certain British papers to the effect that there is little or no interference in the civil war in Spain by foreign Fascist Powers.

We have seen with our own eyes frightful slaughter of men, women, and children in Spain. We have witnessed the destruction of many of its towns and villages. We have seen whole areas which have been devastated. And we know beyond a shadow of doubt that these frightful deeds have been done mainly by German and Italian nationals, using German and Italian aeroplanes, tanks, bombs, shells, and guns.

We ourselves have been in action repeatedly against thousands of German and Italian troops, and have lost many splendid and heroic comrades in these battles.

We protest against this disgraceful and unjustifiable invasion of Spain by Fascist Germany and Italy; an invasion in our opinion only made possible by the pro-Franco policy of the Baldwin Government in Britain. We believe that all lovers of freedom and democracy in Britain should now unite in a sustained effort to put an end to this invasion of Spain and to force the Baldwin Government to give to the people of Spain and their legal Government the right to buy arms in Britain to defend their freedom and democracy against Fascist barbarianism. We therefore call upon the General Council of the T.U.C. and the National Executive Committee of the Labour party to organise a great united campaign in Britain for the achievement of the above objects.

We denounce the attempts being made in Britain by the Fascist elements to make people believe that we British and other volunteers fighting on behalf of Spanish democracy are no different from the scores of thousands of conscript troops sent into Spain by Hitler and Mussolini. There can be no comparison between free volunteers and these conscript armies of Germany and Italy in Spain.

Finally, we desire it to be known in Britain that we came here of our own free will after full consideration of all that this step involved. We came to Spain not for money, but solely to assist the heroic Spanish people to defend their country's freedom and democracy. We were not gulled into coming to Spain by promises of big money. We never even asked for money when we volunteered. We are perfectly satisfied with our treatment by the Spanish Government; and we still are proud to be fighting for the cause of freedom in Spain. Any statements to the contrary are foul lies.

(3) Hugh Dalton, diary entry (18th December, 1940)

Stanley Baldwin desired only not to be troubled with foreign affairs at all. He left his successive Foreign Secretaries completely free. (There was, I recall, though I do not mention it tonight, the famous case of Hoare proceeding to Paris to negotiate the Hoare-Laval Pact, and Baldwin, asked in Cabinet by some of the younger Tories whether all was well, and whether there should not be some discussion now before irrevocable decisions were taken, said, 'I think we all have confidence in Sam; we can safely leave it in his hands.'

Halifax relates that Baldwin, in the year of the Abdication, took three months' holiday (repeat three months), at the end of which he asked Eden, then Foreign Secretary, "Have you had many telegrams about the King?" Eden said no. Then Baldwin said, "I have had a great many, some from the most extraordinary people. I foresee that I shall have a lot of trouble over this. I hope that you will not bother me with foreign affairs during the next three months." Yet these were mois mouvementes in foreign affairs. Hitler was arming, arming, arming, day by day. But Baldwin was focused on the tactics of the Abdication.

(4) Henry (Chips) Channon, diary entry (15th December, 1947)

The death of Lord Baldwin is announced. He died in his sleep at his Worcestershire home. He was a grand old man, humane, and remarkably tolerant of human weakness ... He looked like a stalwart old oak, seemed unapproachable and seldom talked to anybody in the House of Commons. He had an odd habit of tearing up his Order Papers, and of grunting. Lazy and ill informed about anything outside England, he was in a way typical of his age, and accurately reflected the English people. Smuts once told me-one night he was dining at Belgrave Square - that probably the world had rated Baldwin too high when he was at the zenith of his power, and certainly in more recent years had rated him too low. History, he said, would surely restore the balance. Later, in the House, many tributes were paid to Lord Baldwin - the most impressive, because it was so unexpected, came from the comic Communist Gallacher; an emotional hush fell on the Chamber as he sat down, and the House adjourned as a mark of respect to the dead Prime Minister.