Baldwin, Stanley

views updated Jun 11 2018

Baldwin, Stanley (1867–1947). Prime minister. Educated at Harrow and Cambridge, Baldwin entered the family ironmaster's business but on his father's death in 1908 was elected to succeed him as Conservative MP for Bewdley (Worcs.), thus entering Parliament at a comparatively late age. Baldwin served in the Lloyd George coalition governments from 1917 to 1922, but became increasingly alarmed at the amorality and adventurism associated with the later years of Lloyd George's premiership. Baldwin made the key speech at the Carlton Club meeting of Conservative backbenchers in 1922 that brought down Lloyd George, after which he served as chancellor of the Exchequer in the short-lived Conservative administration of the dying Andrew Bonar Law, succeeding to the premiership in May 1923. Baldwin's industrial experience told him that free trade had had its day, and, acting more from impulse than from guile, he determined on its abolition. But he had already told a Conservative conference that he was not ‘a clever man’ and knew ‘nothing of political tactics’. The truth of this was demonstrated by his decision to call a general election almost at once on the issue of protection. The Conservatives lost their overall majority, thus permitting the formation of the first Labour government.

But while Baldwin lacked Lloyd George's political cunning, he preserved in public life values of probity, charity, and conciliation which struck chords with British public opinion. He was known to be a man of simple country pleasures who had, during the Great War, donated one-fifth of his private fortune to reduce the size of the war loan. In a political atmosphere heavy with the rhetoric of class antagonism, Baldwin's conciliatory spirit and appeal to moderation seemed far preferable to a Labour Party tinged with extremism and a Liberal Party in a state of civil war. Following the general election of 1924, which saw the Liberal Party reduced to 40 seats, the Conservatives emerged with a majority of over 200 in the Commons. Baldwin was once more prime minister.

The composition of the cabinet was not, however, conducive to the pursuit of the policy of national unity which Baldwin had preached. In order to make peace with the Conservative free traders, Baldwin gave the Exchequer to Winston Churchill, and in order to appease the Tory evangelical moralists he appointed as home secretary William Joynson-Hicks, a man who held deep anti-Jewish prejudices. His one inspired appointment was to put Neville Chamberlain in charge of the Ministry of Health. Churchill's return to the gold standard (1925) had a very predictable effect on employment, and the cabinet took an equally predictable line on the General Strike the following year. Baldwin brushed aside George V's advice to pursue a military solution (packing the king off to Sandringham), and appealed instead to the quietist instincts of the British public and to the moderate elements within the Labour movement. This policy paid handsome dividends, since the Trades Union Congress abandoned the miners and called off the industrial action. However, in 1927, and against his own better judgement, the cabinet pushed through the vindictive Trade Disputes Act, by which the principle of ‘contracting out’ of the political levy collected by trade unions was replaced by ‘contracting in’. It was hoped that this provision would reduce Labour Party membership and income, which it did, but the Act did Baldwin's government little credit, and may have played a part in the Conservative defeat at the polls in 1929.

Between 1929 and 1931 Baldwin fought a bitter duel with the empire free traders, led by the press barons Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere. The experience of 1924 lay heavily upon him. The age of free trade was clearly drawing to a close, but Baldwin understood better than most the sensitivities this issue aroused within his party, and he grew ever more indignant at the challenge which the protectionists were mounting to his leadership. On 17 March 1931 he made a dramatic appeal to the Conservative public to choose between him and ‘the engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes, personal likes and personal dislikes of two men … What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, but power without responsibility—the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.’

Baldwin survived, and his leadership of the Conservative Party was never again seriously challenged. In 1931 he agreed to serve under Ramsay MacDonald as lord president of the council, succeeding MacDonald as prime minister in 1935. Baldwin was not slow in perceiving the vital necessity of a programme of rearmament in the face of international aggression. But he overestimated the strength of pacifism within British society, wrongly fearing the effect of a policy of rearmament on his own popularity, and (through higher taxation) on economic recovery. The result was a strategy as hypocritical as it was cynical, and does not redound to Baldwin's credit. In November 1935 he called a general election, during the course of which he protested his support for the League of Nations. The election resulted in a resounding Conservative victory, but Baldwin's advocacy of the League was in fact a sham. Baldwin knew that the League's sanctions against Italy (which had invaded Abyssinia) would not be effective if they excluded oil; it was precisely for this reason that he supported them. When his foreign secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, signed an agreement with Pierre Laval, the French prime minister, proposing the cession of Abyssinian territory to Italy, Baldwin forced him to resign, though in the view of many he ought to have resigned himself.

Baldwin's handling of the abdication crisis, the following year, cannot be faulted. In advising Edward VIII against a morganatic marriage to Mrs Simpson he acted with the utmost constitutional propriety, and with the backing of the Labour leader Clement Attlee, and of the dominion prime ministers. The smoothness of George VI's succession was due primarily to Baldwin's calm assuredness. He stayed in office long enough to attend the new king's coronation; two weeks later, aged almost 70, he resigned, accepting the customary earldom.

Stanley Baldwin, pipe in hand, was an avuncular figure, the epitome of British middle-class moderation against a turbulent and menacing European backcloth. He also symbolized the inter-war Conservative Party's suspicion of intellectuals and preference for second-class minds. Baldwin cannot be called a great thinker, or a great statesman: he is dwarfed by Lloyd George who preceded him and Winston Churchill who came afterwards, and in his own premiership was outclassed by his chancellor, Neville Chamberlain. Yet he could act decisively (witness the speedy passage of the 1936 Public Order Act, to curb the pseudo-military provocations of the British Union of Fascists) and he was more honourable than most politicians of his generation. Perhaps for this reason he and Clement Attlee had a high regard for each other. There is much truth in the view that Baldwin helped ‘tame’ the Labour Party, and that the triumph of constitutionalism within its ranks, and its increasing respectability within British society (leading, ultimately, to Labour's 1945 election victory), owed something to Baldwin's patronage.

Geoffrey Alderman


Baldwin, A. W. , My Father (1955);
Jenkins, R. , Baldwin (1987);
Middlemass, R. K.,, and Barnes,, and A. J. L. , Baldwin (1969);
Williamson, P. , Stanley Baldwin (Cambridge, 1999).

Stanley Baldwin

views updated May 29 2018

Stanley Baldwin

Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley (1867-1947), was three times prime minister of Great Britain. He was involved in the settlement of the general strike of 1926 and in the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.

Stanley Baldwin was born on Aug. 3, 1867, at Lower Park, Bewdley, Worcestershire. An only child, he was the son of Alfred Baldwin, an ironmaster, and Louisa Macdonald, the daughter of a Wesleyan minister. Baldwin attended Harrow and then Trinity College, Cambridge, where his record was undistinguished. He entered his father's business and, characteristically, came to know every workman in the foundry. He became a magistrate and a member of local councils. In 1892 he married Lucy Ridsdale of Rottingdean; to them seven children were born.

In 1908 Baldwin entered Parliament as a Conservative from the Bewdley division of Worcestershire, succeeding his father. Baldwin spoke infrequently and attracted little attention. When the new War Cabinet was formed in 1916, Bonar Law, a friend of his father and chancellor of the Exchequer, asked Baldwin to be his parliamentary private secretary. He soon became joint financial secretary to the Treasury. In 1921 he entered the Lloyd George Cabinet as president of the Board of Trade.

Baldwin came to national attention in 1922 at the Carlton Club Conference, at which the Conservatives in the House of Commons, after a stormy meeting, voted to end the coalition under David Lloyd George. Baldwin's passionate attack on Lloyd George materially influenced the result and brought Baldwin the chancellorship of the Exchequer. He successfully negotiated the settlement of the American war debt and, because of Bonar Law's illness, was, in effect, leader of the House of Commons. In a series of speeches Baldwin's appeal became clear—a plain earnestness of manner, an unashamed morality and patriotism, an absence of showmanship, and a certain provincialism. His plea for "tranquility" and a return to normalcy reached the average voter. In 1923, on Bonar Law's retirement, the King, on the advice of elder statesmen, selected Baldwin as prime minister, passing over Lord Curzon because he was in the House of Lords.

In an effort to reunite the Conservatives, Baldwin proposed a protective tariff and plunged the country into a general election in 1923, which brought Conservative defeat and the first Labour government. Before the end of the following year another election returned the Conservatives to power with Baldwin as prime minister. In the coal crisis and the general strike of 1926 Baldwin acted firmly but with conciliation. But just when his influence was at its height, he failed to deal with the basic issues in the coal industry. His administration proved a disappointment even to some members of his government, for he produced no policy to deal with unemployment, gave no lead to education, and made no important contribution in foreign or colonial affairs. Social legislation was enacted only on the initiative of Neville Chamberlain, the minister of health. Baldwin himself was content to rest on the slogans "Safety First" and "Trust Baldwin" in the election of 1929, which brought defeat to the Conservatives.

In the financial and political crisis of 1931 Baldwin readily acquiesced in the formation of a national government under the Labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald, with Baldwin himself taking the post of lord president of the council. For 4 years he was content to remain in the background, where in fact he was the real power. But in the crucial area of foreign affairs his role was unimaginative, and, like most of his countrymen, he was slow to see the necessity for rearmament in the face of Nazi and Fascist power.

In 1935 Baldwin replaced MacDonald. In this, Baldwin's third, administration he was at once confronted with the Abyssinian crisis, which was settled in Italy's favor and sharply lowered his prestige. His reputation was not revived in 1936 by the policy of nonintervention in the Spanish Civil War—a fiction so far as Continental powers were concerned. But 1936 was also the year of his greatest triumph— his masterful handling of the constitutional crisis over the proposed marriage of Edward VIII, the new king, to Mrs. Wallis Simpson. In his opposition Baldwin had the country behind him, as he knew he would.

Baldwin resigned in 1937. He was created an earl. He largely withdrew from public affairs, spending his declining years at Astley Hall in Worcestershire, where he died on Dec. 14, 1947.

Further Reading

Keith Middlemas and John Barnes, Baldwin: A Biography (1969), is the authoritative work. G. M. Young's brilliant but unsympathetic Stanley Baldwin (1952) was answered by D. C. Somervell, Stanley Baldwin: An Examination of Some Features of Mr. G.M. Young's Biography (1953), and by Arthur W. Baldwin, My Father: The True Story (1955). Background information is in Charles L. Mowat, Britain between the Wars 1918-1940 (1955).

Additional Sources

Jenkins, Roy, Baldwin, London: Papermac, 1995. □

Baldwin, Stanley, 1st Earl of Bewdley

views updated May 23 2018

Baldwin, Stanley, 1st Earl of Bewdley (1867–1947) British Conservative statesman and prime minister (1923–24, 1924–29, 1935–37). He entered Parliament in 1908, and was chancellor of the exchequer (1922–23) before succeeding Bonar Law as prime minister. Baldwin responded to the General Strike (1926) by passing the Trades Disputes Acts (1927), which made any subsequent general strikes illegal. Baldwin opposed Edward VIII's marriage to Wallis Simpson and secured the King's abdication (1936). Baldwin's appeasement of European fascism is often cited as a cause of Britain's lack of preparedness at the start of World War II.

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