|Date of birth||Bewdley, Wyre Forest, Worcestershire, West Midlands|
|Date of death||Dec 14, 1947 Bewdley, Wyre Forest, Worcestershire, West Midlands|
|Education||Trinity College, University of Birmingham, Harrow School|
|Political party||Conservative Party|
|Authority||NNDB id ISNI id VIAF id Library of congress id|
Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, KG, PC, JP, FRS (3 August 1867 – 14 December 1947) was a British Conservative politician who dominated the government in his country between the two world wars. Three times Prime Minister, he is the only premier to have served under three monarchs (George V, Edward VIII and George VI).
Baldwin first entered the House of Commons in 1908 as the Member of Parliament for Bewdley, in succession to his father Alfred Baldwin. He held government office in the coalition ministry of David Lloyd George. In 1922, Baldwin was one of the prime movers in the withdrawal of Conservative support from Lloyd George; he subsequently became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Bonar Law's Conservative ministry. Upon Bonar Law's resignation due to health reasons in May 1923, Baldwin became Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader. He called an election on the issue of tariffs and lost the Conservatives' majority, after which Ramsay MacDonald formed a minority Labour government.
After winning the 1924 General Election Baldwin formed his second government, which saw important tenures of office by Sir Austen Chamberlain (Foreign Secretary), Winston Churchill (at the Exchequer) and Neville Chamberlain (Health). The latter two ministers strengthened Conservative appeal by reforms in areas formerly associated with the Liberal Party. They included industrial conciliation, unemployment insurance, a more extensive old-age pension system, slum clearance, more private housing, and expansion of maternal and child care. However, continuing sluggish economic growth and declines in mining and heavy industry weakened his base of support and, although Baldwin was supportive of Labour politicians forming minority governments at Westminster, his government also saw the General Strike in 1926 and the 1927 Trades Disputes Act to curb the powers of trade unions.
Baldwin narrowly lost the 1929 General Election and his continued leadership of the party was subject to extensive criticism by the press barons Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook. In 1931, Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald formed a National Government, most of whose ministers were Conservatives and which won an enormous majority at the 1931 General Election. As Lord President of the Council, and one of four Conservatives among the small ten-member Cabinet, Baldwin took over many of the Prime Minister's duties due to MacDonald's failing health. This government saw an Act delivering increased self-government for India, a measure opposed by Churchill and by many rank-and-file Conservatives. The Statute of Westminster 1931 gave Dominion status to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, while establishing the first step towards the Commonwealth of Nations. As party leader, Baldwin made many striking innovations, such as clever use of radio and film, that made him highly visible to the public and strengthened Conservative appeal.
In 1935, Baldwin replaced MacDonald as Prime Minister of the National Government, and won the 1935 General Election with another large majority, which still remains as the last time when a political party has received over 50% of the popular vote in a UK General Election. During this time, he oversaw the beginning of the rearmament process of the British military, as well as the very difficult abdication of King Edward VIII. Baldwin's third government saw a number of crises in foreign affairs, including the public uproar over the Hoare–Laval Pact, remilitarization of the Rhineland and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Baldwin retired in 1937 and was succeeded by Neville Chamberlain. At that time, Baldwin was regarded as a popular and successful prime minister, but for the final decade of his life, and for many years afterwards, he was vilified for having presided over high unemployment in the 1930s and as one of the "Guilty Men" who had tried to appease Adolf Hitler and who had – supposedly – not rearmed sufficiently to prepare for the Second World War.
By 2004, however, historians generally painted a more positive portrait of his governments. Stuart Ball says:
- Baldwin is now seen as having done more than most and perhaps as much as was possible in the context, but the fact remains that it was not enough to deter the aggressors or ensure their defeat. Less equivocal was his rediscovery as a moderate and inclusive Conservative for the modern age, part of a 'one nation tradition'.
Modern scholars generally rank him in the upper half of British Prime Ministers.
Early life: family, education and marriage
Baldwin was born at Lower Park House, Lower Park, Bewdley in Worcestershire, England to Alfred Baldwin and Louisa Baldwin (née MacDonald), and through his Scottish mother was a first cousin of the writer and poet Rudyard Kipling, with whom he was close for their entire lives. The family was prosperous, and owned the eponymous iron and steel making business that in later years became part of Richard Thomas and Baldwins.
Baldwin's schools were St Michael's School, at the time located in Slough, Berkshire, followed by Harrow School. He later wrote that "all the king's horses and all the king's men would have failed to have drawn me into the company of school masters, and in relation to them I once had every qualification as a passive resister." Baldwin then went on to the University of Cambridge, where he studied history at Trinity College. His time at university was blighted by the presence, as Master of Trinity, of Montagu Butler, his former headmaster 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, he went into the family business of iron manufacturing. His father sent him to Mason College (the future University of Birmingham) for one session of technical training in metallurgy as preparation. As a young man he served briefly as a Second Lieutenant in the Artillery Volunteers at Malvern, and in 1897 became a JP for the county of Worcestershire.
Baldwin married Lucy Ridsdale on 12 September 1892. The couple had six children.
Baldwin proved to be adept as a businessman, and acquired a reputation as a modernising industrialist. He inherited £200,000, equivalent to £18,832,248 in 2015, and a directorship of the Great Western Railway on the death of his father in 1908.
Early political career
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 a by-election in 1908 he was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Bewdley, in which role he succeeded his father, who had died earlier that year. During the First World War he became Parliamentary Private Secretary to the party leader Bonar Law, a relative. 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 to repay the United Kingdom's war debt, writing letters to The Times under the pseudonym 'FST', many of which were published. He relinquished to the Treasury one fifth of his own fortune, estimated at own account as £580,000, held in the form of War Loan stock worth £120,000.
Although he entered politics at a relatively late age, his rise to the top leadership was very rapid. 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.
Chancellor of the Exchequer
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 direct result Bonar Law was forced to search for new ministers for a Cabinet which he would lead, 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.
Prime Minister: First term (1923–1924)
In May 1923 Bonar Law was diagnosed with terminal cancer and retired immediately; he died five months later. With many of the party's senior leading figures standing aloof and outside of the government, there were only two candidates to succeed him: Lord Curzon, the Foreign Secretary, and Baldwin. The choice formally fell to King George V acting on the advice of senior ministers and officials.
It is not entirely clear what factors proved most crucial, but some Conservative politicians felt that Curzon was unsuitable for the role of Prime Minister because he was a member of the House of Lords. Curzon was strong and experienced in international affairs, but his lack of experience in domestic affairs, his personal character quirks and his huge inherited wealth and many directorships at a time when the Conservative Party was seeking to shed its patrician image were all deemed impediments. Much weight at the time was given to the intervention of Arthur Balfour.
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 to that position.
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. Thus Baldwin turned towards a degree of protectionism which would remain a key party message during his lifetime. 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 which, he hoped, would drive down unemployment and spur an economic recovery. He expected to unite his party but he divided it, for protectionism proved a divisive issue. The election was inconclusive: the Conservatives elected 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 issue: 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.
Leader of the Opposition
Baldwin successfully held on to the party leadership amid some colleagues' calls for his resignation. For the next ten months, an unstable minority Labour government under Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald held office. On 13 March 1924, 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.
During a debate on the naval estimates the Conservatives opposed Labour but supported them on 18 March in a vote on cutting expenditure on the Singapore military base. Baldwin also cooperated with MacDonald over Irish policy to stop it becoming a party-political issue.
The Labour government was negotiating with the Soviet government over intended commercial treaties -- 'the Russian Treaties' -- to provide most favoured nation privileges and diplomatic status for the UK trade delegation; and a treaty that would settle the claims of pre-revolutionary British bondholders and holders of confiscated property, after which the British government would guarantee a loan to the Soviet Union. Baldwin decided to vote against the government over the Russian Treaties, which brought the government down on 8 October.
The general election held in October 1924 brought a landslide majority of 223 for the Conservative party, primarily at the expense of an unpopular Liberal Party. Baldwin campaigned on the "impracticability" of socialism, the Campbell Case, the Zinoviev Letter (which Baldwin thought was genuine, and the conservatives leaked to the Daily Mail at a most damaging time to the labour campaign, considerable doubt now exist to the letters authenticity.) 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".
Prime Minister: Second term (1924–1929)
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 Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, a volunteer body of those opposed to the strike which was intended to complete essential work.
At Baldwin's instigation Lord Weir headed a committee to "review the national problem of electrical energy". It published its report on 14 May 1925 and in it Weir recommended the setting up of a Central Electricity Board, a state monopoly half-financed by the Government and half by local undertakings. Baldwin accepted Weir's recommendations and they became law by the end of 1926.
The Board was a success. By 1939 electrical output was up fourfold and generating costs had fallen. Consumers of electricity rose from three-quarters of a million in 1920 to nine million in 1938, with annual growth of 700,000 to 800,000 a year (the fastest rate of growth in the world).
One of his legislative reforms was a paradigm shift in his party. This was the Widows, Orphans and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act of 1925, which provided a pension of 10 shillings a week for widows with extra for children, and 10 shillings a week for insured workers and their wives at 65. This transformed Toryism, away from its historic reliance on community (particularly religious) charities, and towards acceptance of a humanitarian welfare state which would guarantee a minimum living standard for those unable to work or who took out national insurance. In 1927, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Leader of the Opposition
In 1929 Labour returned to office as the largest party in the House of Commons (although without an overall majority) 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".
Ramsden argues that Baldwin made dramatic permanent improvements to the organisation and effectiveness of the Conservative Party. He enlarged the headquarters with professionals, professionalised the party agents, raised ample funds, and was an innovative user of the new mass media of radio and film.
Lord President of the Council
By 1931, as the economy headed towards crisis, both in Britain and around the world, with the onset of the Great Depression, 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, deputising for the increasingly senile MacDonald, until he once again officially became Prime Minister in 1935.
One central and vitally important agreement was the Statute of Westminster 1931, which conferred full self-government upon the Dominions Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, while preparing the first steps towards the eventual Commonwealth of Nations, and away from the designation 'British Empire'. In 1930, the first British Empire Games sports competition was held successfully among Empire nations in Hamilton, Canada.
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, spokesman for the die-hard imperialists who filled the Conservative ranks.
Baldwin did not advocate total disarmament but believed that, as Sir Edward Grey had stated in 1925, "great armaments lead inevitably to war". However he came to believe that, as he put it on 10 November 1932: "the time has now come to an end when Great Britain can proceed with unilateral disarmament". On 10 November 1932 Baldwin said:
I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through, The only defence is in offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves...If the conscience of the young men should ever come to feel, with regard to this one instrument [bombing] that it is evil and should go, the thing will be done; but if they do not feel like that – well, as I say, the future is in their hands. But when the next war comes, and European civilisation is wiped out, as it will be, and by no force more than that force, then do not let them lay blame on the old men. Let them remember that they, principally, or they alone, are responsible for the terrors that have fallen upon the earth.
This speech was often used against Baldwin as allegedly demonstrating the futility of rearmament or disarmament, depending on the critic.
With the second part of the Disarmament Conference starting in January 1933, Baldwin attempted to see through his hope of air disarmament. However he became alarmed at Britain's lack of defence against air raids and German rearmament, saying it "would be a terrible thing, in fact, the beginning of the end". In April 1933 the Cabinet agreed to follow through with the construction of the Singapore military base.
On 15 September 1933 the German delegate at the Disarmament Conference refused to return to the Conference and Germany left altogether in October. On 6 October Baldwin, in a speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, pleaded for a Disarmament Convention and then said:
when I speak of a Disarmament Convention I do not mean disarmament on the part of this country and not on the part of any other. I mean the limitation of armaments as a real limitation...and if we find ourselves on some lower rating and that some other country has higher figures, that country has to come down and we have to go up until we meet.
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. However between mid-September 1933 and the beginning of 1934 Baldwin's mind changed from hoping for disarmament to favouring rearmament, including parity in aircraft. 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 and said of international disarmament:
If all our efforts for an agreement fail, and if it is not possible to obtain this equality in such matters as I have indicated, then any Government of this country—a National Government more than any, and this Government—will see to it that in air strength and air power this country shall no longer be in a position inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores.
On 29 March 1934 Germany published its defence estimates, which showed a total increase of one-third and an increase of 250% in its air force.
A series of by-elections in late 1933 and early 1934 with massive swings against government candidates—most famous was Fulham East with a 26.5% swing— convinced Baldwin that the British public was profoundly pacifist. Baldwin also rejected the "belligerent" views of those like Churchill and Robert Vansittart because he believed that the Nazis were rational men who would appreciate the logic of mutual and equal deterrence. He also believed war to be "the most fearful terror and prostitution of man's knowledge that ever was known".
Prime Minister: Third term: (1935–1937)
With MacDonald's health in decline, 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 make rearmament the leading issue in the election campaign against Labour, saying that if a rearmament programme were not announced until after the election, his government would be seen as having deceived the people. However, Baldwin did not make rearmament the central issue in the election. He said he would support the League of Nations, modernise Britain's defences and remedy deficiencies; but he 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.
Baldwin's younger son A. Windham Baldwin, writing in 1955, argued that his father Stanley planned a rearmament programme as early as 1934, but had to do so quietly to avoid antagonising the public whose pacifism was revealed by the Peace Ballot of 1934–35 and endorsed by both the Labour and the Liberal oppositions. His thorough presentation of the case for rearmament in 1935, the son argues, defeated pacifism and secured a victory that allowed rearmament to move ahead.
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. On 26 November 1934, six days after receiving the news that the German air force would be as large as the RAF within one year, the Cabinet decided to speed up air rearmament from four years to two. 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 defences, and especially our air defences, is no longer adequate". His motion was known eight days before it was moved, and a special Cabinet meeting decided how to deal with this motion; it dominated two other Cabinet meetings. Churchill said Germany was rearming; he requested that the money spent on air armaments be doubled or tripled in order to deter an attack; and that the Luftwaffe was nearing equality with the RAF. Baldwin responded by denying that the Luftwaffe was approaching equality and said it was "not 50 per cent" of the RAF. He added that by the end of 1935 the RAF would still have "a margin of nearly 50 per cent" in Europe. After Baldwin said the government would ensure the RAF had parity with the future German air force Churchill withdrew his amendment. In April 1935 the Air Secretary reported that although Britain's strength in the air would be ahead of Germany's 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 defence 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 above the existing air programme. It was learnt that Germany was easily able to outbuild this revised programme as well. On 21 May 1935, the Cabinet agreed to expanding the home defence force of the RAF to 1,512 aircraft (840 bombers and 420 fighters). On 22 May 1935 Baldwin confessed in the Commons: "I was wrong in my estimate of the future. There I was completely wrong."
On 25 February 1936, the Cabinet approved a report calling for expansion of the Royal Navy and the re-equipment of the British Army (though not its expansion), 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.
In the debate in the Commons on 12 November 1936, Churchill attacked the government on rearmament as being "decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. So we go on, preparing more months and years – precious, perhaps vital, to the greatness of Britain – for the locusts to eat". Baldwin replied:
I put before the whole House my own views with an appalling frankness. From 1933, I and my friends were all very worried about what was happening in Europe. You will remember at that time the Disarmament Conference was sitting in Geneva. You will remember at that time there was probably a stronger pacifist feeling running through the country than at any time since the War. I am speaking of 1933 and 1934. You will remember the election at Fulham in the autumn of 1933...That was the feeling of the country in 1933. My position as a leader of a great party was not altogether a comfortable one. I asked myself what chance was there...within the next year or two of that feeling being so changed that the country would give a mandate for rearmament? Supposing I had gone to the country and said that Germany was rearming and we must rearm, does anybody think that this pacific democracy would have rallied to that cry at that moment! I cannot think of anything that would have made the loss of the election from my point of view more certain...We got from the country – with a large majority – a mandate for doing a thing that no one, twelve months before, would have believed possible.
Churchill wrote to a friend: "I have never heard such a squalid confession from a public man as Baldwin offered us yesterday". In 1935 Baldwin wrote to J. C. C. Davidson (in a letter now lost) saying of Churchill: "If there is going to be a war – and no one can say that there is not – we must keep him fresh to be our war Prime Minister". Thomas Dugdale also claimed Baldwin said to him: "If we do have a war, Winston must be Prime Minister. If he is in [the Cabinet] now we shan't be able to engage in that war as a united nation". The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Walter Citrine, recalled a conversation he had had with Baldwin on 5 April 1943: "Baldwin thought his [Churchill's] political recovery was marvellous. He, personally, had always thought that if war came Winston would be the right man for the job".
The Labour Party strongly opposed the rearmament programme. Clement Attlee said on 21 December 1933: "For our part, we are unalterably opposed to anything in the nature of rearmament". On 8 March 1934 Attlee said, after Baldwin defended the Air Estimates, "we on our side are out for total disarmament". On 30 July 1934 Labour moved a motion of censure against the government because of its planned expansion of the RAF. Attlee spoke for it: "We deny the need for increased air arms...and we reject altogether the claim of parity". Sir Stafford Cripps also said on this occasion that it was fallacy that Britain could achieve security through increasing air armaments. On 22 May 1935, the day after Hitler had made a speech claiming that German rearmament offered no threat to peace, Attlee asserted that Hitler's speech gave "a chance to call a halt in the armaments race". Attlee also denounced the Defence White Paper of 1937: "I do not believe the Government are going to get any safety through these armaments".
Abdication of Edward VIII
The accession of King Edward VIII, and the ensuing abdication crisis, brought Baldwin's last major test in office. The new monarch was "an ardent exponent of the cause of Anglo-German understanding", and had "strong views on his right to intervene in affairs of state," but the "Government's main fears ... were of indiscretion." The King proposed to marry Wallis Simpson, an American woman who was twice divorced. The high-minded Baldwin felt that he could tolerate her as "a respectable whore," so long as she stayed behind the throne, but not as "Queen Wally". Mrs. Simpson was also distrusted by the government for her known pro-German sympathies, and she was believed to be in "close contact with German monarchist circles".
During October and November 1936, Baldwin joined the Royal Family in trying to dissuade the King from that marriage, arguing that the idea of having a twice-divorced woman as the Queen would be rejected by the government, by the country, and by the Empire; and that "the voice of the people must be heard." As the public standing of the King would be gravely compromised, the Prime Minister gave him time to reconsider the notion of this marriage. According to the historian Philip Williamson, "The offence lay in the implications of [the King's] attachment to Mrs. Simpson for the broader public morality and the constitutional integrity which were now perceived—especially by Baldwin—as underpinning the nation's unity and strength."
News of the affair was broken in the newspapers on 2 December. There was some support for the wishes of the King, especially in and around London. The romantic royalists Churchill, Mosley, and the press barons, Lord Beaverbrook of the Daily Express and Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail, all declared that the king had a right to marry whichever woman he wished. This crisis assumed a political dimension when Beaverbrook and Churchill tried to rally support for the marriage in Parliament. However, the King's party could only muster 40 Members of Parliament in support, and majority opinion sided with Baldwin and his Conservative government. The Labour leader, Clement Attlee, told Baldwin "that while Labour people had no objection to an American becoming Queen, [he] was certain they would not approve of Mrs. Simpson for that position", especially in the provinces and in the Commonwealth countries. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, held that the King, as the head of the Church of England, should not marry a divorcée, while The Times argued that the monarchy's prestige would be destroyed if "private inclination were to come into open conflict with public duty and be allowed to prevail."
While some recent critics have complained that "Baldwin refused the reasonable request for time to reflect, preferring to keep the pressure on the King – once again suggesting that his own agenda was to force the crisis to a head", and that he "never mentioned that the alternative [to the marriage] was abdication", the House of Commons immediately and overwhelmingly came out against this marriage. The Labour and Liberal parties, the Trades Union Congress, and the Dominions of Australia and Canada, all joined the British cabinet in rejecting the King's compromise, originally made on 16 November, for a morganatic marriage. The crisis threatened the unity of the British Empire, since the King's personal relationship with the Dominions was their "only remaining constitutional link."
Baldwin still hoped that the King would choose the throne over Mrs. Simpson. For the King to act against the wishes of the cabinet would have precipitated a constitutional crisis. Baldwin would have had to resign, and no other party leader would have served as the Prime Minister under this King, with the Labour Party having already having indicated that it would not form a ministry to uphold impropriety. Baldwin told the Cabinet one Labour MP had asked, "Are we going to have a fascist monarchy?" When the Cabinet refused the morganatic marriage, King Edward decided on his own volition to abdicate.
The King's final plea, on 4 December, that he should broadcast an appeal to the nation, was rejected by the Prime Minister as too divisive. Nevertheless, at his final audience with King Edward on 7 December, Baldwin offered to strive all night with the King's conscience, but he found him to be determined to go. Baldwin announced the King's abdication in the Commons on 10 December. Harold Nicolson, an MP who witnessed Baldwin's speech, wrote in his diary:
There is no moment when he overstates emotion or indulges in oratory. There is intense silence broken only by the reporters in the gallery scuttling away to telephone the speech...When it was over...[we] file out broken in body and soul, conscious that we have heard the best speech that we shall ever hear in our lives. There was no question of applause. It was the silence of Gettysburg...No man has ever dominated the House as he dominated it tonight, and he knows it.
After the speech, the House adjourned and Nicolson bumped into Baldwin as he was leaving, who asked him what he thought of the speech. Nicolson said it was superb, to which Baldwin replied: "Yes...it was a success. I know it. It was almost wholly unprepared. I had a success, my dear Nicolson, at the moment I most needed it. Now is the time to go".
The King abdicated on 11 December, and he was succeeded by his brother, George VI. Edward VIII was assigned the title of the Duke of Windsor by his brother, and then he married Mrs. Simpson in France in June 1937, after her divorce from Ernest Simpson had become final.
Baldwin had defused a political crisis by turning it into a constitutional question. His discreet resolution met with general approval and restored his popularity. He was praised on all sides for his tact and patience, and was not in the least put out by the protestors' cries of "God save the King—from Baldwin!" "Flog Baldwin! Flog him!! We—want—Edward."
Leaving office and peerage
After the coronation of George VI, Baldwin announced on 27 May 1937 that he would resign the premiership the next day. His last act as Prime Minister was to raise the salaries of MPs from £400 a year to £600 and to give the Leader of the Opposition a salary. This was the first rise in MPs' wages since their introduction in 1911 and it particularly benefited Labour MPs. Harold Nicolson wrote in his diary that it "was done with Baldwin's usual consummate taste. No man has ever left in such a blaze of affection". Baldwin was knighted as a Knight of the Garter (KG) on 28 May and ennobled as Earl Baldwin of Bewdley and Viscount Corvedale, of Corvedale in the County of Salop on 8 June.
Attitude to appeasement
Baldwin supported the Munich Agreement and said to Chamberlain on 26 September 1938: "If you can secure peace, you may be cursed by a lot of hotheads but my word you will be blessed in Europe and by future generations". Baldwin made a rare speech in the House of Lords on 4 October where he said he could not have gone to Munich but praised Chamberlain's courage and said the responsibility of a Prime Minister was not to commit the country to war until he was sure that it was ready to fight. If there was a 95% chance of war in the future, he would still choose peace. He also said he would put industry on a war footing tomorrow as the opposition to such a move had disappeared. Churchill said in a speech: "He says he would mobilise tomorrow. I think it would have been much better if Earl Baldwin had said that two and a half years ago when everyone demanded a Ministry of Supply".
Two weeks after Munich, Baldwin said (prophetically) in a conversation with Lord Hinchingbrooke: "Can't we turn Hitler East? Napoleon broke himself against the Russians. Hitler might do the same".
Baldwin's years in retirement were quiet. After Chamberlain's death in 1940, Baldwin's perceived part in pre-war appeasement made him an unpopular figure during and after World War II. With a succession of British military failures in 1940, Baldwin started to receive critical letters: "insidious to begin with, then increasingly violent and abusive; then the newspapers; finally the polemicists who, with time and wit at their disposal, could debate at leisure how to wound the deepest." He did not have a secretary and so was not shielded from the often unpleasant letters sent to him. After a bitterly critical letter was sent to him by a member of the public, Baldwin wrote: "I can understand his bitterness. He wants a scapegoat and the men provided him with one". His biographers Middlemas and Barnes claim that "the men" almost certainly meant the authors of Guilty Men.
Letter to Lord Halifax
After Lord Halifax made a speech on the strength of prayer as the instrument which could be invoked by the humblest to use in their country's service, Baldwin wrote to him on 23 July 1940:
With millions of others I had prayed hard at the time of Dunkirk and never did prayer seem to be more speedily answered to the full. And we prayed for France and the next day she surrendered. I thought much, and when I went to bed I lay for a long time vividly awake. And I went over in my mind what had happened, concentrating on the thoughts that you had dwelt on, that prayer to be effective must be in accordance with God's will, and that by far the hardest thing to say from the heart and indeed the last lesson we learn (if we ever do) is to say and mean it, ‘Thy will be done.’ And I thought what mites we all are and how we can never see God's plan, a plan on such a scale that it must be incomprehensible. And suddenly for what must have been a couple of minutes I seemed to see with extraordinary and vivid clarity and to hear someone speaking to me. The words at the time were clear, but the recollection of them had passed when I seemed to come to, as it were, but the sense remained, and the sense was this. ‘You cannot see the plan’; then ‘Have you not thought there is a purpose in stripping you one by one of all the human props on which you depend, that you are being left alone in the world? You have now one upon whom to lean and I have chosen you as my instrument to work with my will. Why then are you afraid?’ And to prove ourselves worthy of that tremendous task is our job.
Iron gates crisis
In September 1941, Baldwin's old enemy, Lord Beaverbrook, asked all local authorities to survey their area's iron and steel railings and gates that could be used for the war effort. Owners of such materials could appeal for an exemption on grounds of artistic or historic merit, which would be decided by a panel set up by local authorities. Baldwin applied for exemption for the iron gates of his country home on artistic grounds and his local council sent an architect to assess them. In December, the architect advised that they be exempt, but, in February 1942, the Ministry of Supply overruled this and said all his gates must go except the ones at the main entrance. A newspaper campaign hounded him for not donating the gates to war production. The Daily Mirror columnist Cassandra denounced Baldwin:
Here was the country in deadly peril with half the Empire swinging in the wind like a busted barn door hanging on one hinge. Here was Old England half smothered in a shroud crying for steel to cut her way out, and right in the heart of beautiful Worcestershire was a one-time Prime Minister, refusing to give up the gates of his estate to make guns for our defence – and his. Here was an old stupid politician who had tricked the nation into complacency about rearmament for fear of losing an election.... Here is the very shrine of stupidity.... This National Park of Failure....
There were fears that if the gates were not taken by the proper authorities, "others without authority might". Thus, months before any other collections were made, Baldwin's gates were removed except for those at the main entrance. Two of Beaverbrook's friends after the war claimed that this was Beaverbrook's decision despite Churchill saying, "Lay off Baldwin's gates". At Question Time in the House of Commons the Conservative MP Captain Alan Graham said: "Is the honourable Member aware that it is very necessary to leave Lord Baldwin his gates in order to protect him from the just indignation of the mob?"
Comments on politics
During the war, Winston Churchill consulted him only once, in February 1943, on the advisability of his speaking out strongly against the continued neutrality of Éamon de Valera's Ireland. Baldwin saw the draft of Churchill's speech and advised against it, which advice Churchill followed. A few months after this visit to Churchill, Baldwin told Harold Nicolson, "I went into Downing Street... a happy man. Of course it was partly because an old buffer like me enjoys feeling that he is still not quite out of things. But it was also pure patriotic joy that my country at such a time should have found such a leader. The furnace of the war has smeltered out all base metals from him". To D. H. Barber, Baldwin wrote of Churchill: "You can take it from me he is a really big man, the War has brought out the best that was in him. His head isn't turned the least little bit by the great position he occupies in the eyes of the world. I pray he is spared to see us through".
In private, Baldwin defended his conduct in the 1930s:
the critics have no historical sense. I have no Cabinet papers by me and do not want to trust my memory. But recall the Fulham election, the peace ballot, Singapore, sanctions, Malta. The English will only learn by example. When I first heard of Hitler, when Ribbentrop came to see me, I thought they were all crazy. I think I brought Ramsay and Simon to meet Ribbentrop. Remember that Ramsay's health was breaking up in the last two years. He had lost his nerve in the House in the last year. I had to take all the important speeches. The moment he went, I prepared for a general election and got a bigger majority for rearmament. No power on earth could have got rearmament without a general election except by a big split. Simon was inefficient. I had to lead the House, keep the machine together with those Labour fellows.
In December 1944, strongly advised by friends, Baldwin decided to respond to criticisms of him through a biographer. He asked G. M. Young, who accepted, and asked Churchill to grant permission to Young to see Cabinet papers. Baldwin wrote:
I am the last person to complain of fair criticism, but when one book after another appears and I am compared, for example, to Laval, my gorge rises; but I am crippled and cannot go and examine the files of the Cabinet Office. Could G. M. Young go on my behalf?
Last years and death
In June 1945, Baldwin's wife Lucy died. Baldwin himself by now suffered from 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 George V, a crowd of people recognised and cheered him, but by this time he was deaf and asked: "Are they booing me?" Having been made Chancellor of the University of Cambridge 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.
Baldwin was a member of the Oddfellows and Foresters Friendly Society.
Styles of address
- 1867–1897: Mr Stanley Baldwin
- 1897–1908: Mr Stanley Baldwin JP
- 1908–1920: Mr Stanley Baldwin MP JP
- 1920–1927: The Rt Hon Stanley Baldwin MP JP
- 1927–1937: The Rt Hon Stanley Baldwin MP JP FRS
- 1937: The Rt Hon Sir Stanley Baldwin KG MP JP FRS
- 1937–1947: The Rt Hon The Earl Baldwin of Bewdley KG PC JP FRS
Upon his retirement in 1937, he had received a great deal of praise; the onset of World War II would change his public image for the worse. Rightly or wrongly, Baldwin, Chamberlain and MacDonald were held responsible for the United Kingdom's military unpreparedness on the eve of war in 1939. Peter Howard, writing in the Sunday Express (3 September 1939), accused Baldwin of deceiving the country of the dangers that faced it in order not to re-arm and so win the 1935 general election. During the ill-fated Battle of France, in May 1940, Lloyd George in conversation with Winston Churchill and General Ironside railed against Baldwin and said "he ought to be hanged". In July 1940, a bestseller Guilty Men appeared, which blamed Baldwin for failing to re-arm enough. In May 1941 Hamilton Fyfe wrote an article ("Leadership and Democracy") for Nineteenth Century and After which also laid these charges against Baldwin. In 1941, A. L. Rowse criticised Baldwin for lulling the people into a false sense of security; as a practitioner in "the art of taking the people in":
what can this man think in the still watches of the night, when he contemplates the ordeal his country is going through as the result of the years, the locust years, in which he held power?
Churchill firmly believed that Baldwin's conciliatory stance toward Hitler gave the German dictator the impression that Britain would not fight if attacked. Though known for his magnanimity toward political rivals such as Chamberlain, Churchill had none to spare for Baldwin. "I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill," Churchill said when declining to send him 80th birthday greetings in 1947, "but it would have been much better had he never lived." Churchill also believed that Baldwin, rather than Chamberlain, would be most blamed by subsequent generations for the policies that led to "the most unnecessary war in history". An index entry in the first volume of Churchill's "History of the Second World War" (The Gathering Storm) records Baldwin "admitting to putting party before country" for his alleged admission that he would not have won the 1935 election if he had pursued a more aggressive policy of rearmament. Churchill selectively quoted a speech in the Commons by Baldwin that gave the false impression that Baldwin was speaking of the general election when he was speaking of the Fulham by-election in 1933, and omits Baldwin's actual comments about the 1935 election: "We got from the country, a mandate for doing a thing [a substantial rearmament programme] that no one, twelve months before, would have believed possible". In his speech on Baldwin's death, Churchill paid him a double-edged yet respectful tribute: "He was the most formidable politician I ever encountered in public life".
In 1948, Reginald Bassett published an essay disputing the claim that Baldwin "confessed" to putting party before country, and claimed that Baldwin was referring to 1933/34 when a general election on rearmament would have been lost.
In 1952, G. M. Young published a biography of Baldwin, which Baldwin had asked him to write. He asserted that Baldwin united the nation and helped moderate the policies of the Labour Party. However he accepted the criticism of Baldwin; that he failed to re-arm early enough and that he put party before country. Young contends that Baldwin should have retired in 1935. Churchill and Beaverbrook threatened to sue if certain passages in the biography were not removed or altered. With the help of lawyer Arnold Goodman an agreement was reached to replace the offending sentences, and the publisher Rupert Hart-Davis had the "hideously expensive" job of removing and replacing seven leaves from 7,580 copies.
In response to Young's biography, D. C. Somervell published Stanley Baldwin: An examination of some features of Mr. G. M. Young's biography in 1953 with a foreword by Ernest Brown. This attempted to defend Baldwin against the charges made by Young. Both Young and Somervell were criticised by C. L. Mowat in 1955, who claimed they both failed to rehabilitate Baldwin's reputation.
In 1956, Baldwin's son A. W. Baldwin published a biography entitled My Father: The True Story. It has been written that his son "evidently could not decide whether he was answering the charge of inanition and deceit which grew out of the war, or the radical "dissenters" of the early 1930s who thought the Conservatives were warmongers and denounced them for rearming at all".
In an article written to commemorate the centenary of Baldwin's birth, in The Spectator ("Don't Let's Be Beastly to Baldwin", 14 July 1967) Rab Butler defended Baldwin's moderate policies which, he claimed, helped heal social divisions. In 1969 the first major biography of Baldwin appeared, of over 1,000 pages, written by Keith Middlemas and John Barnes, both Conservatives who wished to defend Baldwin.
In 1999, Philip Williamson published a collection of essays on Baldwin which attempted to explain his beliefs and defended his policies as Prime Minister. Williamson asserted that Baldwin had helped create "a moral basis for rearmament in the mid 1930s" that contributed greatly to "the national spirit of defiance after Munich". His defenders counter that the moderate Baldwin felt he could not start a programme of aggressive re-armament without a national consensus on the matter. Certainly, pacifist appeasement was the dominant mainstream political view of the time in Britain, France, and the United States. Williamson admits that there was a clear postwar consensus that repudiated and denigrated all inter-war governments: Baldwin was targeted with the accusation that he had failed to rearm Britain in the 1930s despite Hitler's threat. Williamson says the negative reputation was chiefly the product of partisan politics, the bandwagon of praise for Churchill, selective recollections, and the need for scapegoats to blame for Britain's very close call in 1940. Only during the 1960s did political distance and then the opening of government records lead to more balanced historical assessments; yet the myth had become so central to larger myths about the 1930s and 1940s that it persists as conventional wisdom about the period.
By 2004 Ball could report that among historians, "The pendulum has swung almost completely towards a positive view." He says "Baldwin is now seen as having done more than most and perhaps as much as was possible in the context, but the fact remains that it was not enough to deter the aggressors or ensure their defeat. Less equivocal was his rediscovery as a moderate and inclusive Conservative for the modern age, part of a 'one nation tradition'."
Baldwin's governments as Prime Minister
First Government, May 1923 – January 1924
- Stanley Baldwin – Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons
- Lord Cave – Lord Chancellor
- Lord Salisbury – Lord President of the Council
- Lord Robert Cecil – Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood from 28 December 1923)
- William Clive Bridgeman – Home Secretary
- Lord Curzon of Kedleston – Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the House of Lords
- The Duke of Devonshire – Secretary of State for the Colonies
- Lord Derby – Secretary of State for War
- Lord Peel – Secretary of State for India
- Sir Samuel Hoare – Secretary of State for Air
- Lord Novar – Secretary for Scotland
- Leo Amery – First Lord of the Admiralty
- Sir Philip Lloyd-Greame – President of the Board of Trade
- Sir Robert Sanders – Minister of Agriculture
- Edward Frederick Lindley Wood – President of the Board of Education
- Sir Anderson Montague-Barlow – Minister of Labour
- Neville Chamberlain – Minister of Health
- Sir William Joynson-Hicks – Financial Secretary to the Treasury
- Sir Laming Worthington-Evans – Postmaster-General
- August 1923 – Neville Chamberlain took over from Baldwin as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Sir William Joynson-Hicks succeeded Chamberlain as Minister of Health. Joynson-Hicks' successor as Financial Secretary to the Treasury was not in the Cabinet.
Second Cabinet, November 1924 – June 1929
- Stanley Baldwin – Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Commons
- Lord Cave – Lord Chancellor
- Lord Curzon of Kedleston – Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords
- Lord Salisbury – Lord Privy Seal
- Winston Churchill – Chancellor of the Exchequer
- Sir William Joynson-Hicks – Home Secretary
- Sir Austen Chamberlain – Foreign Secretary and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons
- Leo Amery – Colonial Secretary
- Sir Laming Worthington-Evans – Secretary of State for War
- Lord Birkenhead – Secretary of State for India
- Sir Samuel Hoare – Secretary for Air
- Sir John Gilmour – Secretary for Scotland
- William Clive Bridgeman – First Lord of the Admiralty
- Lord Cecil of Chelwood – Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
- Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister – President of the Board of Trade
- Edward Frederick Lindley Wood – Minister of Agriculture
- Lord Eustace Percy – President of the Board of Education
- Lord Peel – First Commissioner of Works
- Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland – Minister of Labour
- Neville Chamberlain – Minister of Health
- Sir Douglas Hogg – Attorney-General
- April 1925 – On Curzon's death, Lord Balfour succeeded him as Lord President. Lord Salisbury became the new Leader of the House of Lords, remaining also Lord Privy Seal.
- June 1925 – The post of Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs was created, held by Leo Amery in tandem with Secretary of State for the Colonies.
- November 1925 – Walter Guinness succeeded E.F.L. Wood as Minister of Agriculture.
- July 1926 – The post of Secretary of Scotland was upgraded to Secretary of State for Scotland.
- October 1927 – Lord Cushendun succeeded Lord Cecil of Chelwood as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
- March 1928 – Lord Hailsham (former Sir D. Hogg) succeeded Lord Cave as Lord Chancellor. Hailsham's successor as Attorney-General was not in the Cabinet.
- October 1928 – Lord Peel succeeded Lord Birkenhead as Secretary of State for India. Lord Londonderry succeeded Peel as First Commissioner of Public Works
Third Cabinet, June 1935 – May 1937
- Stanley Baldwin – Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Commons
- Lord Hailsham – Lord Chancellor
- Ramsay MacDonald – Lord President of the Council
- Lord Londonderry – Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords
- Neville Chamberlain – Chancellor of the Exchequer
- Sir John Simon – Home Secretary and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons
- Sir Samuel Hoare – Foreign Secretary
- Malcolm MacDonald – Colonial Secretary
- J.H. Thomas – Dominions Secretary
- Lord Halifax – Secretary for War
- Lord Zetland – Secretary of State for India
- Lord Swinton – Secretary of State for Air
- Sir Godfrey Collins – Secretary of State for Scotland
- Bolton Eyres-Monsell – First Lord of the Admiralty
- Walter Runciman – President of the Board of Trade
- Walter Elliot – Minister of Agriculture
- Oliver Stanley – President of the Board of Education
- Ernest Brown – Minister of Labour
- Sir Kingsley Wood – Minister of Health
- William Ormsby-Gore – First Commissioner of Works
- Anthony Eden – Minister without Portfolio with responsibility for League of Nations Affairs
- Lord Eustace Percy – Minister without Portfolio with responsibility for government policy
- November 1935 – Malcolm MacDonald succeeded J.H. Thomas as Dominions Secretary. Thomas succeeded MacDonald as Colonial Secretary. Lord Halifax succeeded Lord Londonderry as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords. Duff Cooper succeeded Halifax as Secretary for War. Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister became Viscount Swinton and Bolton Eyres-Monsell became Viscount Monsell, both remaining in the Cabinet.
- December 1935 Anthony Eden succeeded Sir Samuel Hoare as Foreign Secretary and was not replaced as Minister without Portfolio.
- March 1936 – Sir Thomas Inskip entered the Cabinet as Minister for the Coordination of Defence. Lord Eustace Percy left the Cabinet.
- May 1936 – William Ormsby-Gore succeeded J.H. Thomas as Colonial Secretary. Lord Stanhope succeeded Ormsby-Gore as First Commissioner of Works.
- June 1936 – Sir Samuel Hoare succeeded Lord Monsell as First Lord of the Admiralty.
- October 1936 – Walter Elliot succeeded Collins as Scottish Secretary. William Shepherd Morrison succeeded Elliot as Minister of Agriculture. Leslie Hore-Belisha entered the Cabinet as Minister of Transport.