United Empire Party

In the 1929 General Election the Conservative Party won 8,656,000 votes (38%), the Labour Party 8,309,000 (37%) and the Liberal Party,309,000 (23%). However, the bias of the system worked in Labour's favour, and in the House of Commons the party won 287 seats, the Conservatives 261 and the Liberals 59. Ramsay MacDonald now became the new prime minister of a minority government. Rothermere was furious with the result and blamed Baldwin for his weak and uninspiring leadership. (1)

Lord Rothermere, the owner of a large number of newspapers including the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Evening News, and Sunday Dispatch, believed that Stanley Baldwin did badly in the election because he was too left-wing and probably a "crypto-socialist". Rothermere was especially concerned about the government's attitude towards the British Empire. Rothermere agreed with Brendan Bracken when he wrote: "This wretched Government, with the aid of the Liberals and some eminent Tories, is about to commit us to one of the most fatal decisions in all our history, and there is practically no opposition to their policy". Bracken believed that with the support of the Rothermere and the Beaverbrook newspaper empires it would be possible "to preserve the essentials of British rule in India". (2)

Lord Beaverbrook, the other significant press baron at the time (Daily Express and Evening Standard) agreed and as he explained to Robert Borden, the former Canadian prime minister : "The Government is trying to unite Mohammedan and Hindu. It will never succeed. There will be no amalgamation between these two. There is only one way to govern India. And that is the way laid down by the ancient Romans - was it the Gracchi, or was it Romulus, or was it one of the Emperors? - that is Divide and Rule". (3)

Media Campaign against Stanley Baldwin

Lord Rothermere agreed to join forces with Lord Beaverbrook, in order to remove Baldwin from the leadership of the Conservative Party. According to one source: "Rothermere's feelings amounted to hatred. He had backed Baldwin strongly in 1924, and his subsequent disenchantment was thought to be connected with Baldwin's unaccountable failure to reward him with an earldom and his son Esmond, an MP, with a post in the government. By 1929 Rothermere, a man of pessimistic temperament, had come to believe that with the socialists in power the world was nearing its end; and Baldwin was doing nothing to save it. He was especially disturbed by the independence movement in India, to which he thought both the government and Baldwin were almost criminally indulgent." (4)

Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin

Rothermere and Beaverbrook believed the best way to undermine Baldwin was to campaign on the policy of giving countries within the British Empire preferential trade terms. This would have of course meant adding tariffs to imported goods from non-Empire countries. Beaverbrook began the campaign on 5th December, 1929, when he announced the establishment of the Empire Free Trade movement. On the 10th December, the Daily Express front page had the banner headlines: "JOIN THE EMPIRE CRUSADE TODAY" and called on its readers to register as supporters. It also proclaimed that "the great body of feeling in the country which is behind the new movement must be crystallised in effective form". The appeal for "recruits" was repeated in Beaverbrook's other newspapers such as the Evening Standard and the Sunday Express. All his newspapers told those who had already registered their support to "enroll your friends... we are an army with a great task before us." (5)

Empire Free Trade

In January, 1930, Rothermere's newspapers came out in support of Empire Free Trade. George Ward Price, a faithful Rothermere mouthpiece, wrote in the Sunday Dispatch, that "no man living in this country today with more likelihood of succeeding to the Premiership of Great Britain than Lord Beaverbrook". (6) The Daily Mail also called on Baldwin to resign and be replaced the press baron. Beaverbrook responded by describing Rothermere as "the greatest trustee of public opinion we have seen in the history of journalism." (7)

Beaverbrook wrote to Sir Rennell Rodd explaining why he had joined forces with Rothermere to remove Baldwin: "I hope you will not be prejudiced about Rothermere. He is a very fine man. I wish I had his good points. It (working with Rothermere) would make the Crusade more popular among the aristocracy - the real enemies in the Conservative Party... It is time these people were being swept out of their preferred positions in public life and their sons and grandsons being sent to work like those of other people." (8)

Rothermere now joined the campaign of Empire Free Trade: "British manufacturers and British work people are turning out the best goods to be bought in the world. They are far ahead of their competitors in two of the most important factors - quality and durability. The achievement of our industrialists and workers in the more impressive because they are handicapped in so many ways. Whereas in foreign countries politicians are considerate of industry and do all that is in their power to aid it, here the politicians will not even condescend to tell those few trades which have some slight vestige of tariff protection whether that protection is going to be continued or abolished." (9)

Beaverbrook had a meeting with Baldwin about the Conservative Party adopting his policy of Empire Free Trade. Baldwin rejected the idea as it would mean taxes on non-Empire imports. Robert Bruce Lockhart, who worked for Lord Beaverbrook, wrote in his diary: "In evening saw Lord Beaverbrook who will announced his New Party on Monday, provided Rothermere comes out in favour of food taxes. It is a big venture." Beaverbrook's plan was to run candidates at by-elections and general elections. This "would wreck the prospects of many Tory candidates, thus destroying Baldwin's hopes of a majority in the next Parliament". (10)

United Empire Party

On 18th February, 1930, Beaverbrook announced the formation of the United Empire Party. The following day Lord Rothermere gave his full support to the party. A small group of businessmen, including Beaverbrook and Rothermere, donated a total of £40,000 to help fund the party. The Daily Express also asked its readers to send in money and in return promised to publish their names in the newspaper. Beaverbrook presented Conservative MPs with an implied ultimatum: "No MP espousing the cause of Empire Free Trade will be opposed by a United Empire candidate. Instead, he shall have, if he desires it, our full support. If the Conservatives split, they will do so because at last the true spirit of Conservatism has a chance to find expression." (11)

In the Daily Mail Rothermere ran stories about the new party on the front page for ten days in succession. According to the authors of Beaverbrook: A Life (1992): "With their combined total of eight national papers, and Rothermere's chain of provincial papers, the press barons were laying down a joint barrage scarcely paralleled in newspaper history." Rothermere told Beaverbrook that "this movement is like a prairie fire". Leo Amery described Beaverbrook "bubbling over with excitement and triumph". (12)

Beaverbrook later admitted that as a press baron he had the right to bully the politician into pursuing courses he would not otherwise adopt. (13) Baldwin was badly shaken by these events and in March 1930 he agreed to a referendum on food taxes, and a detailed discussion of the issue at an imperial conference after the next election. This was not good enough for Rothermere and Beaverbrook and they decided to back candidates in by-elections who challenged the official Conservative line. (14)

Ernest Spero, the Labour MP, for West Fulham, was declared bankrupt and was forced to resign. Cyril Cobb, the Conservative Party candidate in the by-election, declared that he supported Empire Free Trade and this gave him the support of the newspapers owned by Rothermere and Beaverbrook. On 6th May, 1930, Cobb beat the Labour candidate, John Banfield, with a 3.5% swing. The Daily Express presented it as a win for Beaverbrook, with the headline: "CRUSADER CAPTURES SOCIALIST SEAT". (15)

Rothermere and Beaverbrook wanted Neville Chamberlain to replace Baldwin. They entered into negotiations with Chamberlain who expressed concerns about the long-term consequences of this attack on the Conservative Party. He was especially worried about the cartoons by David Low, that were appearing in the Evening Standard. Chamberlain argued that before a deal could be arranged: "Beaverbrook must call off his attacks on Baldwin and the Party, cease to include offensive cartoons and paragraphs in the Evening Standard, and stop inviting Conservatives to direct subscriptions to him in order that they might be used to run candidates against official Conservatives." (16) Beaverbrook told one of Chamberlain's friends that "nothing will shift us from the advocacy of duties on foodstuffs". (17)

In October 1930, Vice-Admiral Ernest Taylor was selected to stand for the United Empire Party in the Paddington South by-election. Herbert Lidiard, the Conservative Party candidate, declared that he was a Baldwin loyalist. Beaverbrook told the nation that the contest was now between a "Conservative Imperialist" (Taylor) and a "Conservative Wobbler" (Lidiard). (18)

Baldwin was warned that the Conservative Party was in danger of losing the seat and if that happened he might be removed as leader. He decided to hold a meeting of Conservative peers, MPs and candidates before the election took place. Beaverbrook made a speech attacking the resolution expressing confidence in Baldwin was carried by 462 votes to 116. Baldwin claimed that Beaverbrook came out very badly out of the meeting: "The Beaver would not have spoken but Francis Curzon challenged him to speak. He was booed and made a poor speech.. and said that he didn't care two-pence who was leader as long as his policy was adopted!" (19)

Lord Beaverbrook making a speech during the Paddington South by-election.
Lord Beaverbrook making a speech during the Paddington South by-election.

With the support of the Rothermere and Beaverbrook press, Taylor defeated the official Conservative Party candidate by 1,415 votes. Beaverbrook wrote: "What a life! Excitement (being howled down at the party meeting), depression (being heavily defeated by Baldwin), exaltation (being successful at South Paddington." (20) Beaverbrook wrote to his good friend, Richard Smeaton White, the publisher of The Montreal Gazette: "I believe the Empire Crusade controls London. And we can, I am sure, dominate the Southern counties of Surrey, Sussex, and Kent, and we will dominate Baldwin too, for he must come to full acceptance of the policy." (21)

Rothermere and Beaverbrook became convinced that the way to remove Baldwin was to fight the official Conservative candidate in by-elections. Beaverbrook wrote to Rothermere: "I am going out entirely for by-elections this year, and shall exclude all other forms of propaganda. I shall make the by-elections the occasions for my propaganda." (22) Rothermere replied: "If you are going to build up a real organisation with full intentions of fighting all by-elections, go ahead and you will find me with you." (23)

Beaverbrook and Rothermere Defeated

In February, 1931, a by-election occurred at East Islington after the death of Ethel Bentham. The Labour candidate was Leah Manning. The Conservatives selected Thelma Cazalet-Keir and Air Commodore Alfred Critchley represented the United Empire Party. Beaverbrook spoke at eleven meetings in support of Critchley. One Tory said that "Lord Beaverbrook comes to East Islington and it compared to an elephant trumpeting in the jungle or a man-eating tiger. I am inclined to compare him to a mad dog running along the streets and yapping and barking." Despite this effort, Critchley only split the Conservative vote and the seat was won by Manning. (24)

The next by-election took place in Westminster St George. Lord Beaverbrook selected Ernest Petter, a Conservative industrialist "who will stand in opposition to Mr Baldwin's leadership and policy." The official Conservative candidate was Duff Cooper. However, on the 1st March, 1931, the party's chief political agent reported that there was "a very definite feeling" that Baldwin was "not strong enough to carry the party to victory". On hearing the news Baldwin considered resigning, but was persuaded to wait until the by-election result was over. (25)

The Daily Mail made a crude and abusive attack on Cooper calling him a "softy" and "Mickey Mouse" and accusing him falsely of having made a speech in Germany attacking the British Empire. Geoffrey Dawson of The Times remained loyal to Baldwin and invited Cooper to let him know if "I can do anything... to correct misstatements which the 'stunt' papers decline to admit." The Daily Telegraph also gave their support to Cooper and he was told by its owner that "you will find all our people, editorial, circulation, and everybody doing their damndest for you." (26)

The Daily Mail now made a personal attack on Baldwin and implied that he was unfit for government because he had squandered the family fortune: "Baldwin's father... left him an immense fortune which so far as may be learned from his own speeches, has almost disappeared... It is difficult to see how the leader of a party who has lost his own fortune can hope to restore that of anyone else, or of his country." (27)

Stanley Baldwin considered taking legal action but instead made a speech at the Queen's Hall on the power of the press barons: He accused Rothermere and Beaverbrook of wanting "power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages" and using their newspapers not as "newspapers in the ordinary acceptance of the term", but as "engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes, personal likes and dislikes", enjoying "secret knowledge without the general view" and distorting the fortunes of national leaders "without being willing to bear their burdens". (28)

The attacks on Baldwin by Rothermere and Beaverbrook backfired. Duff Cooper won the seat easily. Beaverbrook struggled to come to terms with the result. He wrote: "I am horribly disappointed by the failure. It is much worse than I expected. I cannot believe that Press dictatorship was the reason for it." He told a friend that: "We lost St George's because of the strong cross-currents. It was a baffling contest and we were driven off course. We cannot take the result as a rejection of Empire Free Trade." (29)

Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere decided to bring the United Empire Party to an end. Rothermere, unlike Beaverbrook, did believe that Baldwin's attack on the press barons did have an impact on the result. He told one of his editors: "The amount of nonsense talked about the power of the newspaper proprietor is positively nauseating... Of course, I have long ceased to have any illusions on the point myself... How could I have any illusions on this score, after the way Baldwin managed to survive years of the most bitter newspaper attacks on his... muddle-headed policies." (30)

Primary Sources

(1) George Ward Price, Sunday Dispatch (5th January, 1930)

The conviction was fast spreading among Conservatives that their next leader must be found outside the established hierarchy... There is no man living in this country today with more likelihood of succeeding to the Premiership of Great Britain than Lord Beaverbrook.

Student Activities

Child Labour Simulation (Teacher Notes)

1832 Reform Act and the House of Lords (Answer Commentary)

The Chartists (Answer Commentary)

Women and the Chartist Movement (Answer Commentary)

Benjamin Disraeli and the 1867 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

William Gladstone and the 1884 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

Richard Arkwright and the Factory System (Answer Commentary)

Robert Owen and New Lanark (Answer Commentary)

James Watt and Steam Power (Answer Commentary)

Road Transport and the Industrial Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Canal Mania (Answer Commentary)

Early Development of the Railways (Answer Commentary)

The Domestic System (Answer Commentary)

The Luddites: 1775-1825 (Answer Commentary)

The Plight of the Handloom Weavers (Answer Commentary)

Health Problems in Industrial Towns (Answer Commentary)

Public Health Reform in the 19th century (Answer Commentary)


(66) S. J. Taylor, The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere and the Daily Mail (1996) page 271

(67) Brendan Bracken, letter to Lord Beaverbrook (14th January, 1931)

(68) Lord Beaverbrook, letter to Robert Borden (7th January, 1931)

(69) Anne Chisholm & Michael Davie, Beaverbrook: A Life (1992) page 289

(70) The Daily Express (5th, 10th, 11th and 12th December, 1920)

(71) George Ward Price, Sunday Dispatch (5th January, 1930)

(72) Anne Chisholm & Michael Davie, Beaverbrook: A Life (1992) page 292

(73) Lord Beaverbrook, letter to Sir Rennell Rodd (6th June, 1930)

(74) The Daily Mail (14th February, 1930)

(75) Robert Bruce Lockhart, diary entry (14th February, 1930)

(76) The Daily Express (18th, 19th, 20th and 26th February, 1930)

(77) Anne Chisholm & Michael Davie, Beaverbrook: A Life (1992) page 294

(78) Lord Beaverbrook, Politicians and the Press (1925) page 9

(79) Tom Driberg, Beaverbrook, A Study in Power and Frustration (1956) pages 206-207

(80) The Daily Express (7th May, 1930)

(81) Iain Macleod, Neville Chamberlain (1961) page 136

(82) Lord Beaverbrook, letter to Alfred Mond, 1st Lord Melchett (22nd September, 1930)

(83) Anne Chisholm & Michael Davie, Beaverbrook: A Life (1992) page 299

(84) Stanley Baldwin, letter to John C. Davidson (2nd November, 1930)

(85) A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook (1972) page 299

(86) Lord Beaverbrook, letter to Richard Smeaton White (12th November 1930)

(87) Lord Beaverbrook, letter to Lord Rothermere (13th January, 1931)

(88) Lord Rothermere, letter to Lord Beaverbrook (14th January, 1931)

(89) A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook (1972) page 304

(90) Anne Chisholm & Michael Davie, Beaverbrook: A Life (1992) page 303

(91) John Charmley, Duff Copper (1986) page 64

(92) Jeremy Dobson, Why Do the People Hate Me So? (2010) page 182

(93) The Times (18th March, 1931)

(94) Anne Chisholm & Michael Davie, Beaverbrook: A Life (1992) page 306

(95) S. J. Taylor, The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere and the Daily Mail (1996) page 274