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Stanley Baldwin

Stanley Baldwin Born: 3 August 1867 in Bewdley, Worcestershire

First entered Parliament: 2 March 1908

Age he became PM: 55 years, 292 days; 57 years, 93 days; 67 years, 308 days

Maiden Speech: 22 June 1908 on the Coal Miners Bill from the viewpoint of the employer and a manufacturer

Total time as PM: Seven years, 82 days

Died: 14 December 1947 at Astley Hall, near Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire

Mulitmedia

Baldwin appeals for support for the National Government

Baldwin appeals support for the National Government in 1931, arguing that the Labour Party (under Arthur Henderson) had disrupted the stability of the country. You can watch more history videos here .

Facts and figures

Education : Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge

Family: Baldwin was an only child. He was married to Lucy Ridsdale, and had four daughters and three sons (the first stillborn)

Interests: Literature, classical music, and a prodigious walker in the countryside and hills.

Biography

Midland Industrialist and Conservative

Stanley Baldwin had a double inheritance. His father’s family were substantial industrialists, and he helped his father create what was from 1902 one of the Britain’s largest iron and steel firms, Baldwins Ltd. His mother’s family had artistic and literary interests: his uncles included the artists Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Sir Edward Poynter, and Rudyard Kipling was a cousin.

His father, Alfred Baldwin, was also Conservative MP for West Worcestershire (Bewdley) from 1892. On Alfred’s death in 1908, Stanley succeeded him as MP. His business experience assisted his appointment as Financial Secretary of the Treasury in 1917, in Lloyd George’s wartime coalition government. Concerned at the financial costs of the war, under the pseudonym of ‘FST’ in a 1919 letter in The Times he appealed for voluntary donations by the rich to help reduce the war debt; he himself gave a fifth of his own wealth.

In 1921 he entered the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade, but in October 1922 he played a leading part in a Conservative rebellion which overthrew the coalition government and the premiership of Lloyd George. In Bonar Law’s Conservative government he became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Prime minister in the 1920s

When Bonar Law retired through illness in May 1923, Baldwin became prime minister. Determined to help reduce unemployment, in November he called a general election to seek support for a policy of trade protection. Failing to retain a majority, his government resigned in January 1924. Its replacement, the first Labour government also lacked an overall majority, and after it was defeated in another general election in October 1924, Baldwin returned as prime minister.

Baldwin refused to negotiate during the General Strike Baldwin’s second Conservative government was responsible for several notable achievements: the Locarno non-aggression pact, expansion of pensions and house building, local government reform and extending the right to vote to women aged over 21. Baldwin’s particular concern was to reduce social tensions and secure industrial peace. Although faced by the General Strike in May 1926, his combination of firmness and conciliation ensured its defeat.

After the Conservatives lost the May 1929 election Baldwin endured a severe party crisis, with attempts to force his resignation as party leader. Against considerable criticism from the main popular newspapers, Baldwin successfully fought back with a still-famous denunciation of the great ‘press lords’.

National government in the 1930s

During the 1931 financial and political crisis, Baldwin contributed to the formation of a ‘National’ coalition government, led by the former Labour prime minister, MacDonald. As Lord President of the Council, Baldwin at first sought to promote international disarmament, warning of the difficulty of defence against air attack: ‘the bomber will always get through’. But as the threat from Nazi Germany became obvious, he accepted the need for rearmament and introduced new defence programmes each year from 1934 to 1937, against Labour and Liberal opposition.

Baldwin became prime minister of the National government in June 1935. In the autumn he won a general election, promising to continue to strengthen national defences. When seeking to avoid war with Mussolini’s Italy over Abyssinia in order to focus effort against Hitler’s Germany, his Cabinet was embarrassed by premature disclosure of a compromise settlement (’the Hore-Laval pact’). In retrospect the National Government’s policy of combining armed deterrence with efforts to bind Hitler and Mussolini into a general European settlement seemed insufficient, and after the Second World War broke out in 1939 Baldwin became a leading target for those - especially Churchill - who thought more could have been done to accelerate rearmament and prevent war.

Faced in late 1936 with King Edward VIII’s proposed marriage to the twice-divorced Mrs Wallis Simpson, which met widespread disapproval, Baldwin took the lead in making it plain that if the King persisted he should abdicate. His management of this abdication crisis was highly praised. On his retirement from government and party politics in May 1937 he was created Earl Baldwin of Bewdley.

Baldwin’s most notable aspect was his advocacy of parliamentary democracy during times when revolution and dictatorship were common European experiences. In the 1920s he sought to prevent class conflict and integrate the Labour movement into the party system, and in the 1930s he became an international figure in the defence of democratic and Christian values. In 1938-9 he led a major appeal to provide financial assistance for Jewish refugees from Nazi brutality. His post-1939 reputation as a ‘guilty man’ who ‘failed’ to ‘resist’ Hitler or to ‘rearm’ persists as a popular myth, but has been overtaken by modern historical scholarship.

Quote unquote

“‘There is no country … where there are not somewhere lovers of freedom who look to this country to carry the torch and keep it burning bright until such time as they may again be able to light their extinguished torches at our flame. We owe it not only to our own people but to the world to preserve our soul for that”

Did you know?

Baldwin was a cousin of the author and journalist Rudyard Kipling.

Extract from Baldwin’s speech on the ethic of service, 1923l

“I am just one of yourselves, who has been called to special work for the country at this time. I never sought the office. I never planned out or schemed my life. I have but one idea, which was an idea that I inherited, and it was the idea of service - service to the people of this country…. all my life I believed from my heart the words of Browning, “All service ranks the same with God”. It makes very little difference whether a man is driving a tramcar or sweeping streets or being Prime Minister, if he only brings to that service everything that is in him and performs it for the sake of mankind”

Wife

Lively, outgoing and a keen sportswoman in her youth, Lucy Ridsdale had a notable public career of her own as a campaigner for improved maternity care. She was a leading figure in the National Birthday Trust Fund and the founder of the Anaesthetics Fund, concerned to reduce the dangers and pain of childbirth, and her lobbying contributed to the establishment of a national midwifery service.

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