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".
Baldwin married Lucy Ridsdale on 12 September 1892. The couple had six children. One child, Betty, was severely injured by shrapnel in March 1941 as a result of a bombing raid which destroyed the Café de Paris nightclub she was attending and decapitated the famous bandleader Ken "Snakehips" Johnson. She required facial reconstruction surgery from the pioneering surgeon Archibald MacIndoe.
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.
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.
Baldwin first entered the House of Commons in 1908 as the Member of Parliament for Bewdley, succeeding 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.
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.
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.
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.
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; the letter is now widely believed to have been a forgery) and the Russian Treaties. In a speech during the campaign Baldwin said:
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.
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".
In private, Baldwin defended his conduct in the 1930s:
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.
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:
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".
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."
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.
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."
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.
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".
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":
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:
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:
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 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:
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.
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.
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'."
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 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."
Baldwin proved to be adept as a businessman, and acquired a reputation as a modernising industrialist. He inherited £200,000, equivalent to £19,163,681 in 2016, and a directorship of the Great Western Railway on the death of his father in 1908.