Baldwin, Stanley, first Earl Baldwin of Bewdley 1867-1947, statesman and three times prime minister, was born at Lower Park, Bewdley, 3 August 1867, the only son of Alfred and Louisa Baldwin. His father's folk had been for centuries Shropshire yeomen who had settled as ironmasters within the Worcestershire border. Alfred Baldwin was the head of an old-fashioned business of the patriarchal type, a model employer. Among his ancestors were country parsons and Quaker missionaries to the American colonies. Louisa, Stanley Baldwin's mother, was one of the remarkable children of the Rev. George Browne Macdonald, a Wesleyan minister of Highland stock which settled in Northern Ireland after the forty-five and came under the influence of John Wesley. Macdonald married Hannah Jones, of Manchester, but Welsh from the Vale of Clwyd. They had two sons and five daughters who survived infancy. Louisa's eldest sister Alice was the mother of Rudyard Kipling; Georgiana was the wife of Sir Edward Burne-Jones [qv.]; Agnes of Sir Edward Poynter [qv.]
Stanley, an only child, was left much to himself and found his sustenance in the novels of Scott, the Morte d'Arthur, the Pilgrim's Progress, and the Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare. He was sent to Hawtrey's preparatory school, then in 1881 to Harrow, and in 1885 to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was placed in the third class in the historical tripos in 1888. He entered the family business and (apart from a visit to the United States, significantly at a time when McKinley was running on the protectionist ticket) for four years, until his marriage, he lived at home at Wilden where his father had built a church, a school, and a vicarage. He learnt to know every man in the works, became a parish and county councillor, a magistrate, and a member of the Oddfellows' and the Foresters' friendly societies. A farm was attached to the works and he learnt about pigs and cows. His experience in industry was of a phase which was passing swiftly. It was the last survivor of that type of works, and ultimately became swallowed up in one of those great combinations. In 1892 he married Lucy, the eldest daughter of Edward Lucas Jenks Ridsdale, of Rottingdean, a former assay master of the Mint. Three sons (the first stillborn) and four daughters were born to them
In 1906 Baldwin unsuccessfully contested Kidderminster and blamed his defeat on the failure of the Conservative Party to help the trade unions by reversing the Taff Vale judgement. His father had been member for the Bewdley, or West, division of Worcestershire from 1892 and on his death in 1908 he was succeeded by his son who was unopposed. Stanley Baldwin held the seat until he went to the Lords in 1937. His maiden speech (June 1908) was in opposition to the coal mines (eight hours) bill. In the years which followed he spoke seldom and attracted little attention. Andrew Bonar Law had known Alfred Baldwin and on the formation of the War Cabinet in 1916 welcomed the son as his parliamentary private secretary. In June 1917 Stanley Baldwin became joint financial secretary to the Treasury with Sir Hardman Lever [qv.] who was engaged in special duties in America and had no seat in the House. In the coupon election in 1918 Baldwin was unopposed and was reappointed to his post at the Treasury. On 24 June 1919 there appeared in The Times a letter signed F. S. T. (long afterwards revealed as an abbreviation for Financial Secretary to the Treasury) which appealed to the wealthy classes to tax themselves voluntarily and thus help to reduce the burden of war debt. The writer, having estimated his own estate at £580,000, had decided to realize 20 per cent. and purchase £150,000 of the War Loan for cancellation. The secret of the writer's identity was well kept for some years, even from (Sir) Austen Chamberlain [qv.] who was chancellor of the Exchequer at the time. It was the first revelation, though veiled, of Stanley Baldwin's unusual character
In April 1921 Baldwin, who had been made a privy counsellor in the previous year, entered the Lloyd George Cabinet as president of the Board of Trade and piloted through Parliament the safeguarding of industries bill. In a Cabinet of first-class brains he was inarticulate and uncomfortable. He was shocked by what he deemed the levity and cynicism of some of his colleagues and reflecting on his position while on holiday at Aix-les-Bains he wondered whether to resign. He was recalled to London (29 September 1922) at the time of the Chanak crisis. He was convinced that the country had been driven too near to the edge of war; and when he and other Conservatives realized that the party leaders—Austen Chamberlain [qv.], Balfour [qv.], and Birkenhead [qv.]—were prepared to face a general election under Lloyd George, they rebelled. A Carlton Club party meeting (19 October) brought the coalition to an end by the resolution that the Conservatives should fight as an independent party, with its own leader and its own programme. Baldwin's passionate speech revealed an intense distrust of Lloyd George: a dynamic force is a very terrible thing; it may crush you, but it is not necessarily right. The speech not only carried the Carlton Club meeting but, after the general election which followed, brought Baldwin himself to the chancellorship of the Exchequer, the limit, he had said, of his ambitions
His first major task was to arrange for the settlement of the American debt. He went to Washington (January 1923) with the governor of the Bank of England (Montagu, later Lord, Norman, qv.) and negotiated with Andrew Mellon who exacted terms more severe than were contemplated by Bonar Law, the British prime minister. Ultimately Baldwin agreed to recommend terms which would extinguish the debt in sixty-two years at an interest rate of 3% for the first ten years, 3—% thereafter, and 4—% for arrears. This was equivalent to an annual payment of £33 million for the first ten years, a tolerable sum in the view of the City. Unguarded words from Baldwin to newspaper reporters on his return home inflamed American opinion and made any reduction of the terms unlikely. On 31 January the Cabinet reluctantly approved them
In the months which followed Bonar Law was a sick man and in April Baldwin came to lead the House of Commons. He had made a remarkable speech on the Address (16 February) revealing his unexpected recipe for salvation for this country — Faith, Hope, Love and Work. The speech left a deep impression on a House unaware of Baldwin's stature and in a country which recognized a new note in its counsels. In April Baldwin introduced a budget which was well received and on 20 May Bonar Law, a dying man, resigned. To the acute disappointment of Lord Curzon [qv.] Baldwin, a man of the utmost insignificance, became prime minister on 22 May. But a week before Baldwin had been expressing the jocular hope of returning to Worcestershire to read the books I want to read, to live a decent life, and to keep pigs. The premiership was uncovenanted. The position of leader came to me when I was inexperienced, Baldwin told Asquith in 1926, before I was really fitted for it, by a succession of curious chances that could not have been foreseen. I had never expected it. Presently, wrote a colleague, there shaped itself in his mind the idea of what a Prime Minister ought to be. It was, to begin with, to be as unlike Lloyd George as possible—plain instead of brilliant; steady instead of restless; soberly truthful instead of romantic and imaginative; English and not Welsh. — Above all he must be patriotic; a lover of all his fellow-countrymen, of his country's history, of its institutions, its ancient monarchy, its great parliamentary tradition, its fairness, its tolerance. All these things were innate in his own disposition. But he steeped himself in them as the part which it was his duty to play as a Prime Minister, and they became more deeply ingrained in consequence
The seeming plainness and provincialism of Baldwin's character and his intense love of England were conveyed to the nation in a series of speeches which lodged him deep in its confidence. To an increasingly urban population he echoed a nostalgia for the English countryside from which it rooted, and he did this mainly in monosyllables. I speak, he said, not as the man in the street even, but as a man in a field-path, a much simpler person steeped in tradition and impervious to new ideas. The elaborated ordinariness of a pipe-smoking premier matched the unadventurous public mood which welcomed a quiet man at the top. Confidence may have been somewhat shaken when Baldwin returning from Aix met Poincaré in Paris (19 September 1923) and joined in a communiqué of surprising warmth considering the division of view about the occupation of the Ruhr and the payment of reparations. Baldwin never again willingly ventured into foreign affairs. Two months later confidence was certainly shaken when he suddenly plunged the country into a general election. It was a calculated—some thought an impetuous—decision to consolidate the still not reunited Conservative Party by outbidding Lloyd George, and to gain a mandate for protection which Baldwin held to be the essential remedy for unemployment. He felt it dishonourable to introduce a tariff policy without first consulting the electorate. I think Baldwin has gone mad, Birkenhead had written in August to Austen Chamberlain. He simply takes one jump in the dark; looks round; and then takes another. Now, in their differing phraseology, Balfour and Curzon agreed with Birkenhead's opinion. To Baldwin himself, however, the dissolution was deliberate and the result of long reflection
Instead of controlling a majority of 77 over all parties, the Conservatives were returned with 258 seats against Labour's 191 and the Liberals' 159. On Baldwin's defeat in the House, the King sent for Ramsay MacDonald and the first Labour Government took office. Baldwin's private secretary, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, retained the post under MacDonald, both retiring and incoming prime ministers agreeing that their positions would likely be reversed within nine months
Despite the electoral set-back Baldwin was re-elected to the leadership of the Conservative parliamentary party and with the return of Birkenhead to the fold its formal unity was achieved. The Government fell on 8 October 1924. The ensuing election in which the Zinoviev letter played its part, sent back the reunited Conservatives, now supported by the Beaverbrook and Rothermere press, with a firm majority: 419 seats to Labour's 151 and the Liberal 40. The Conservative leader became prime minister for the second time (4 November). Again might be noted a curious incoherence between Baldwin's political ideas and his actions and appointments. Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland [qv.] was appointed minister of labour, and to everyone's surprise, not least his own, (Sir) Winston Churchill went to the Exchequer. In his budget (28 April 1925) Churchill announced the crucial decision to return to the gold standard. In the previous month the prime minister had once more revealed his own unusual character, moved the House and impressed the country by closing a speech on the trade union (political fund) bill with the prayer Give peace in our time, O Lord: a note which he alone in public life would dare to strike and which put Baldwin once again in a position of unrivalled ascendancy as a national leader. There is only one thing, he had said in January, which I feel is worth giving one's whole strength to, and that is the binding together of all classes of our people in an effort to make life in this country better in every sense of the word. That is the main end and object of my life in politics.©2©2-0å2
The industrial situation was difficult and in many speeches he pleaded for conciliation. When in July 1925 the miners were on the eve of forcing a general stoppage Baldwin resorted to a Royal Commission and a subsidy. In 1925 ‘we were not ready’. ‘I still think’, he wrote two years later, ‘we were right in buying off the strike in 1925 though it proved once more the cost of teaching democracy. Democracy has arrived at a gallop in England and I feel all the time it is a race for life. Can we educate them before the crash comes?’ The Government set about preparing and improving administrative measures with which to counter a strike on a national scale. The Samuel report on the coal industry was published on 10 March 1926 and while opposed to nationalization it advocated some wage reduction on condition that both sides accepted a policy of reorganization. Decisive leadership¾but that was not in Baldwin's nature¾might have secured the immediate adoption of the report. He went no farther than ‘we accept the report provided that the other parties do so’. Indeterminate negotiations followed. The trade unions issued telegrams on Saturday evening, 1 May, instructing men ‘not to take duty after Monday next’. The general strike began on 4 May and was called off on 12 May. The fairmindedness which Baldwin revealed in his broadcasts enormously contributed to this result. He was made, it was said, for the microphone, to which his delightful voice and intimate manner were remarkably attuned. He deprecated ‘malice or vindictiveness or triumph’ and pleaded for patience in rebuilding the prosperity of the coal industry. Exhausted by the strain of the crisis he had surmounted, Baldwin failed, when his influence was at its maximum, to follow through with an immediate attempt to pacify the industry. ‘The Baldwin of 1926 stood on a moral level’ to which it has been doubted that ‘he ever returned. He might have done anything. He did nothing. And ever after he seemed to be trading on an accumulated fund of confidence which was never replenished.’
In 1926 he presided at his second Imperial Conference in London (his first was in 1923) and in August 1927 paid with the Prince of Wales a visit to Canada where he was received with enthusiasm and affection. In a series of speeches he did much to interpret Great Britain to Canada and was happy in his references to the historic traditions of her provinces.
In July 1928 the franchise was extended to women of twenty-one years and upwards on the same terms as men. The main domestic problem remained the burden of unemployment especially in the mining areas where millions were spent on ‘uncovenanted’ or ‘transitional’ benefit known as ‘the dole’. There were demands for protection, subsidies, and the safeguarding of industry. Baldwin was pledged to resist any general measure of protection or taxes on food but encouraged a measure of safeguarding. His Government¾in slack water¾did not escape the deterioration accompanying a safe majority; there were complaints of his indolence in Cabinet and even demands for his resignation. Yet he could point to Locarno abroad, and at home to a Local Government Act, a Pensions Act, an Electricity Act, a Franchise Act, a safeguarding policy, and to a million houses built. Nor could he be charged with failure to instruct the electorate: he made many political speeches and many on literary or historical subjects¾the Bible, William Booth, the Oxford Dictionary, Mary Webb's novel Precious Bane, the Boy's Own Paper. In a political speech at Yarmouth (27 September 1928) he maintained: ‘It is not wise in a democracy to go too far in front of public opinion. The British people are slow to make up their minds on a new question but they are thinking and thinking hard.’ They may have been wondering too at the absence of leadership, as each member of the Cabinet seemed to go his own way with apparently nobody at the helm. The ‘torpid, sleepy, barren’ Government (as Lloyd George called it) was defeated at the general election of 30 May 1929. The Conservative Party paraded the uninspiring slogan ‘Safety First’ before the eyes of the new young voters, the Socialists issued a manifesto ‘Labour and the Nation’, and Lloyd George, spending his fund freely, announced that the Liberals could conquer unemployment. The poll gave Labour 288 members, Conservatives 260, and Liberals 59. Baldwin who had fully expected to return to Downing Street with a small but sufficient majority was again succeeded by Ramsay MacDonald, but his personal popularity was undiminished. ‘The leader of the outgoing party’, said The Times, ‘remains in popular estimation the most generally trusted and acceptable personality in political life.’ Honours were showered upon him. He had already been lord rector of the universities of Edinburgh (1923-6) and Glasgow (1928-31), and he now accepted the offices of chancellor of the universities of St. Andrews (1929) and Cambridge (1930) and became the first chairman of the Pilgrim Trust.
Baldwin did not court controversy and was seldom roused to take notice of it. In October and November 1929, however, he had rebuked in the House of Commons newspaper attacks upon him concerning his Indian policy. Now two newspaper proprietors, Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere, were running an Empire Free Trade campaign. Baldwin was only in partial agreement. Overtures between November 1929 and March 1930 came to nothing. Then Rothermere overplayed his hand to the extent of demanding that he should be acquainted by Baldwin ‘with the names of at least eight, or ten, of his most prominent colleagues in the next Ministry’. At a party meeting in the Caxton Hall (24 June 1930) Baldwin replied with unwonted force and passion to this ‘preposterous and insolent demand’, was given a vote of confidence with only one dissentient, and a thunderous welcome when he entered the House of Commons later in the day. But the campaign of abuse continued and he confronted it again in the same hall and with the gloves off (30 October) when by 462 votes to 116 he was confirmed in the leadership. It was a triumph of character, a character which appealed to a multitude of moderate citizens: ‘the average voter upon whom his gaze was constantly fixed’.
He had chosen Lord Irwin (subsequently the Earl of Halifax) as viceroy of India in 1925 and unlike some of his party Baldwin was in full agreement with the policy which Irwin pursued and which culminated in his pledge of Dominion status made at the end of October 1929. In June 1930 the Simon statutory commission issued its report. The Round Table conference opened on 12 November 1930 but in December Churchill, speaking for the ‘Diehards’, dismissed the Indian claims as ‘absurd and dangerous pretensions’. For some time, on both Empire Free Trade and India, it seemed that Baldwin was losing his hold over his party. In March 1931 he struck back and captivated the Conservatives by another speech on India which ranked among his finest parliamentary performances; and at the Queen's Hall (17 March) he replied fiercely to the press lords in phraseology more typical of his cousin Kipling than of his own familiar usages. When his lethargy was most exasperating and the mutiny of his followers most menacing Baldwin could produce—often at his wife's prompting—an energy and quality of speech which never failed to remind his grumbling party that he was its greatest electoral asset.
Meanwhile the Labour Government had its own troubles. The cost of unemployment insurance and the dole was mounting rapidly. The committee appointed with Sir George (later Lord) May [q.v.] as chairman to overhaul public expenditure proposed drastic reductions which divided and broke up the Labour Government. On 25 August 1931 a ‘national’ Government was formed, MacDonald remaining prime minister. Baldwin became lord president of the Council. At the general election which followed (27 October) the coalition Government secured over 550 seats, 471 of which were held by Conservatives. Had Baldwin wished to press his own claims to be prime minister again, it is now known that he could have done so successfully; he was content to serve as lord president for four years, a position not inconsistent with the exercise of considerable influence in the Cabinet and commanding authority over his party. An import duties bill imposing a general tariff and setting up an Import Duties Advisory Committee (1 March 1932) marked the definite return to the protectionist era for which Baldwin had always yearned. In July and August he presided with patience and good temper at the imperial economic conference at Ottawa. The free trade members of the coalition who had threatened resignation as early as January 1932 could no longer ‘agree to differ’ and resigned.
Japan's successful aggression in Manchuria revealed, early in 1932, the impotence of the League of Nations in the Far East with two Pacific powers absent, Russia and the United States. In Europe the appointment of Hitler as German chancellor in January 1933 was a prelude to a series of explosions. This country was profoundly pacifist and its obstinate faith in disarmament was demonstrated in the East Fulham by-election (October 1933) by a marked turnover of votes to Labour. Baldwin looked back on this event in a speech to the House on 12 November 1936: ‘My position as the leader of a great party was not altogether a comfortable one. I asked myself what chance was there¾when that feeling that was given expression to in Fulham was common throughout the country¾what 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 that 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.’ He was to pay dearly for this disclosure in after years: for his ‘appalling frankness’ was to be quoted against him, not always with much care about its original context. The Putney by-election (November 1934) again saw a marked reduction in Conservative support. Although Baldwin had told the House (30 July 1934) that the air arm had abolished old frontiers¾‘When you think of the defence of England you no longer think of the chalk cliffs of Dover; you think of the Rhine’¾he sounded no urgent alarm, when introducing a measure of rearmament, at the growth of German air power and his advisers were slow to give credence to the reports of this growth which were reaching them. He deprecated panic; he saw ‘no risk in the immediate future of peace being broken’. In November he admitted that looking ahead ‘there is ground for very grave anxiety’ but maintained that ‘It is not the case that Germany is rapidly approaching equality with us’. By May 1935 he admitted frankly that his estimate of the future situation in the air had been ‘completely wrong’.
Ramsay MacDonald, deserted by his old friends and associates, dependent therefore on reluctant Conservative support and primarily interested in establishing peaceful foreign relations, was betraying increasing signs of declining powers. At last in June 1935 he exchanged places with Baldwin who became prime minister for the third time at the age of nearly sixty-eight. Baldwin took the fruitful course of sending Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister (subsequently the Earl of Swinton) to take charge of the Air Ministry, and inviting Churchill¾his fiercest critic¾to join the committee on air defence research. In March 1935 the Government had issued a white paper (Cmd. 4827) which not only proposed an expansion of the Air Force but gave the Government power to take preliminary steps in regard to all the forces on which a subsequent policy of rearmament was based. This was eight months before the general election. It was an early step in the educational process which Baldwin believed had to be gradual. Doubtless he remembered his precipitancy in 1923.
Meanwhile Churchill had not been Baldwin's critic on the subject of rearmament only. There was also India. ‘He had gone about threatening to smash the Tory party on India’, said Baldwin, ‘and I did not mean to be smashed.’ On 4 December 1934 Baldwin at a Conservative central council meeting made it clear that he accepted the white paper (Cmd. 4268) of 1933 and the report of the joint select committee of both Houses (November 1934). The Government of India bill was published 24 January 1935 and on the second reading (11 February) Baldwin, having been urged to consolidate the party, showed himself once again ‘the most powerful man in the House of Commons’. The bill received the royal assent on 2 August 1935.
The League of Nations Union, the chief propagandist body in Britain, conducted a ballot which in June 1935 revealed a vote of 10¾ millions (over 90 per cent. of those who voted) in favour of an all-round reduction of armaments by international agreement. At the general election which followed in November, while the Government supported a new defence programme, both parties protested their pacific intentions and placed the support of the League Covenant in the forefront of their platforms. To the Peace Society (31 October) Baldwin, who even when electioneering¾and it proved an electoral asset¾tended to speak rather as a national than a party leader, managed to have arms and the League in one and the same breath: ‘We mean nothing by the League if we are not prepared, in the end, and after grave and careful trial, to take action to enforce its judgement. ¼ Do not fear or misunderstand when the Government say that they are looking to our defences. ¼ I give you my word that there will be no great armaments.’ Baldwin was returned with 430 supporters against an opposition of 184.
On 11 September the foreign secretary (Sir Samuel Hoare, subsequently Viscount Templewood) in a speech at Geneva had conveyed the impression that this country was embarking on a vigorous League policy which might not stop short of war on the Abyssinian issue. There was clamour for sanctions against Italy. Baldwin's view was that ‘real sanctions mean war’; so sham sanctions were imposed, futile because they omitted a ban on oil. In December Hoare initialed in Paris an agreement with Pierre Laval, the French prime minister, for a proposed settlement of the Abyssinian war by the cession of Ethiopian territory to Italy. A surprised Baldwin acquiesced, but the country, still in the exalted mood of Hoare's Geneva speech, apparently endorsed by the general election, compelled the prime minister, not for the first time in his experience, to reverse his engines. He disavowed his foreign secretary. Hoare resigned and many thought that Baldwin should have resigned also. He made lame, uncomfortable speeches. His lips, he said, were sealed: a remark which the cartoonists were to remember.
The King died in January 1936 and Baldwin was deprived of a steady source of strength, if George V himself had sometimes (so it would seem from his biographer) been impatient with his prime minister's ‘deft quietism’. The months which followed were heavy with trouble: the occupation of the Rhineland, the fall of Abyssinia, rioting in Palestine, civil war in Spain. The Government issued another white paper on 3 March (Cmd. 5107) admitting that conditions in the international field had worsened and that the level of national armaments continued to rise all over the world. It announced that the prime minister had presided over the defence policy and requirements sub-committee and had subjected the armed forces to a prolonged and exhaustive examination. As was to be expected, it stressed the importance of retaining the goodwill of industry. The new policy introduced ‘the first real measure of expansion’.
On 7 March Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland. Sir Thomas Inskip (later Viscount Caldecote) [q.v.] not Churchill, was appointed minister for the co-ordination of defence. On 6 April, but six months after the election, the prime minister was forced to obtain a vote of confidence: yet ‘the honours of the day were with Churchill and Austen Chamberlain’. Even Baldwin's skill in Parliament seemed to be deserting him. There was a budget leakage which distressed him greatly. He seemed overwhelmed by domestic and international problems, and by midsummer he appeared to have reached the end of his tether. He grew more and more depressed and towards the end of July his doctor, Lord Dawson of Penn [q.v.], ordered him to take three months' complete rest. When he returned to Downing Street on 12 October he was able to handle with freshness and vigour what became known as the abdication crisis which arose out of the decision of the new King, Edward VIII, to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson, an American citizen who had divorced one husband and was on the eve of divorcing a second. Thanks to the voluntary discretion of the British press the matter had only reached a small fraction of the public but it was well known abroad. The prime minister's first interview with the King on the subject was on 20 October when he found his mind irrevocably fixed on marriage. On 2 December the silence of the press unexpectedly ended and an intense emotional release of comment followed. The suggested device of a ‘morganatic’ marriage was given short shrift by the Cabinet, still shorter by the Dominions, and was not pressed by the King. There was talk for a moment of a ‘King's party’, but receiving no support from the King himself it swiftly passed. Nor was there deep discord in Parliament or in the country. Baldwin knew his provinces. In announcing to the House of Commons (10 December) that the King had renounced the throne, Baldwin told the story of his conversations with him in a speech simple, direct, dignified, and compelling assent. Baldwin throughout the whole episode had revealed a sureness of judgement which immeasurably enhanced his prestige. It was the second crisis in which he became the incarnation of the national will. Baldwin will go down to history as the prime minister who steered the country successfully through the general strike and the Empire through the royal abdication.
Baldwin was now in his seventieth year and had already indicated Neville Chamberlain as his successor. On 5 May 1937 he delivered his last set speech in the Commons¾an appeal for peace in the mining industry, then threatened with stoppage¾and on 27 May he announced the Government's proposal to increase from £400 to £600 the salaries of members of Parliament. On 28 May, a fortnight after the coronation of King George VI, he went to the Palace to tender his resignation, fourteen years to the day since he had been elected leader of the Conservative Party in succession to Bonar Law. His Majesty bestowed on him a knighthood of the Garter and on 8 June he became an earl. Baldwin was worn out and suffering from increasing deafness. He resolved to make no political speeches, neither to speak to the man at the wheel nor to spit on the deck. By 1939 he was well enough to visit Toronto and New York where he delivered addresses on his favourite subjects, democracy and citizenship. Then came the war and he withdrew to Astley Hall, his Worcestershire home, where he lived quietly, reading few newspapers, listening regularly to the radio news, delving among family archives, re-reading Scott, Jane Austen, Wordsworth, and Hardy, or scanning a new book sent to him by its author. He was often in pain from arthritis and limped with the aid of a stick. He went rarely to London and refused invitations to broadcast on the war effort lest he should stir up controversy. He was aware that he was widely supposed to be responsible for all that had happened since 1931 ‘by people who have no historical sense’. On 12 September 1942 he and Lady Baldwin celebrated their golden wedding. She, who shared his faith and was his perfect sympathizer, died in June 1945. He followed on 14 December 1947 and his ashes were laid with his wife's in Worcester Cathedral. He was succeeded by his elder son, Oliver Ridsdale, Viscount Corvedale (1899-1958), author and Labour politician, who became governor and commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands (1948-50).
In appearance, Baldwin was a sturdy countryman of medium height, broad-shouldered, with mobile countenance, sandy, shaggy eyebrows, and sandy hair parted in the middle and well smoothed down. His eyes were blue, his hands broad and sensitive. He had a shrewd, quizzical expression and a musical voice which carried well. He was a lover of books, the friend of scholars, and an inveterate smoker. During his political life he played neither tennis nor golf but, until crippled in his later years, he was always an enthusiastic walker, with a great affection for the atmosphere and simple fare of old country inns.
For fourteen years (1923-37) Baldwin dominated the British political scene and at the coronation in 1937 he ‘almost divided the cheering with the royal pair themselves’. Already in 1922 ‘probably the best-liked man in the House’, from then onwards he revealed an extraordinarily acute sense of the House of Commons over which he was increasingly to exercise his own ‘sedative authority’. Whenever possible he avoided the direct debating speech: preferring rather to lower the temperature by a disarming, even ‘appalling’, frankness; but on occasion¾which he made great¾he could ‘conceive and be delivered of a powerful oration’ and ‘the ironmaster turned goldsmith’. His speeches usually transcended the bounds of party; many were lay sermons with the emphasis upon the eternal commonplaces. One colleague noted that ‘he was not so effective on the platform as in the House of Commons, but there he obtained for several years such ascendancy that, if a member interrupted him, it seemed almost like brawling in church’.
He was happier as prime minister than as a departmental head because he had little capacity for detail or quick decision. Mastering figures, of the unemployed in Great Britain, or of rearmament in Germany, was not his forte and his uneasiness about both problems did not result in active and positive measures to tackle them. He trusted to goodwill in industrial relations which perhaps had changed¾like industry itself¾more than Baldwin realized. As one Labour member said to him after Baldwin's moving speech in the Macquisten debate (6 March 1925) ‘It was true, prime minister, every word was true. But those times have gone.’ He had little interest in foreign affairs and was never quite willing to face the growing German problem frontally. His chosen biographer has suggested that ‘the nerve, injured in October 1933, the East Fulham nerve, never quite healed: he was afraid of the pacifists: ¼ And he was not sure of himself. He could never master the logistics ¼ of defence. All his shortcomings combined to keep him off that ground¾his indolence, his lack of scientific interest, his indifference to administrative concerns.’ He conceived his function to be that of a non-intervening chairman. He was neither vain nor arrogant nor was he easily impressed and he could escape from high politics with disconcerting suddenness into talk of cricket or clouds or flowers or other irrelevance. He was genuinely modest and never quite got over his surprise at being elevated to the premiership. A political career he regarded as akin to that of a Christian minister: he was a religious man with a serious view of life. Withal he was (to Churchill) ‘the greatest party manager the Conservatives had ever had’ and, by a genius for waiting on events, he reformed them as a party and kept them in power for a generation in the knowledge that, however much they might worry about the direction, Conservatives were unlikely to drop a pilot who went too slowly; and after 1923 Baldwin was never again in danger of moving too fast. Nor, in the event, was any party likely to jettison a leader with so singular a capacity to garner the suffrages of the doubting voter. ‘My worst enemy’, it was Baldwin's pride to maintain, ‘could never say that I do not understand the people of England’: especially middle-class England.
His lethargy was often a mask to cover impulsive, emotional, and exhausting spurts of nervous energy. The long spells on the front bench sniffing the order paper, contemplating his finger tips or reading Dod's Parliamentary Companion, or again, solving crossword puzzles or playing patience in the Long Gallery at Chequers (he claimed not to be able to think in 10 Downing Street), or on holiday at Aix: all were indispensable modes and means of recuperation. He was incapable of prolonged continuous effort. His exasperating indecisions were charmed away by his sweetness of temper, his rapid and pungent conversation, and the unexpected turn of his humour. Reverie to him was not a vacuum but a refreshment. ‘There is a cloud round my mind, it takes shape, and then I know what to say’ was his own explanation. ‘Baldwin’, said Lloyd George, ‘is one of us. He is a Celt.’ If so, he persuaded the English (having early persuaded himself) that he was a typical Englishman. He had no time for foreigners and in a series of farewell speeches reviewing his political career he made no mention whatever of international problems. For intellectuals of all parties he had a profound contempt. ‘Use your commonsense: avoid logic: love your fellow men: have faith in your own people, and grow the hide of a rhinoceros’ was his advice to the political man. He saw his role as that of a national statesman as much as that of the accomplished if idiosyncratic party leader he evidently was. ‘I sometimes think’, he said in a broadcast (5 February 1935), ‘that, if I were not the leader of the Conservative Party, I should like to be the leader of the people who do not belong to any party’. If he dined with the Tories, he smoked with the trade-unionists. Labour members he treated with marked respect and sympathy. His long hours in the House held the hope that the Labour Party would choose the parliamentary way, to which he was devoted, in the belief that it would fulfil their purposes when their inevitable turn came. He sought to diminish class hatred, to retain national unity and to take the bitterness out of political life. ‘The reason for his long, tenacious, successful hold over the electorate’, one of his juniors has conjectured, ‘is probably to be found in the simple fact that he was, fundamentally, a nice man; and the country knew it.’ At the first Trinity Commemoration dinner (13 March 1948) after Baldwin's death, Dr. G. M. Trevelyan, master of his old Cambridge college, made this his epitaph: ‘Stanley Baldwin was an Englishman indeed, in whom was much guile, never used for low or selfish purposes. In a world of voluble hates, he plotted to make men like, or at least tolerate, one another. Therein he had much success, within the shores of this island. He remains the most human and lovable of all the Prime Ministers.’
There are busts of Baldwin, by Lady Kennet at Bewdley Town Hall, by Sir Alfred Gilbert at Shirehall, Worcester, by Newbury A. Trent (1927) in the possession of the third Earl Baldwin who has also a small portrait by Seymour Lucas (1910). A portrait by R. G. Eves (1915) is in the possession of Lady Huntington-Whiteley, one by (Sir) Oswald Birley was with the second Earl Baldwin, and a portrait by Thomas Monnington is at Trinity College, Cambridge; another by Francis Dodd is at Rhodes House, Oxford (Baldwin was from 1925 a Rhodes Trustee). The National Portrait Gallery has a portrait by R. G. Eves and a chalk drawing by Sir William Rothenstein.
Lord Baldwin, a Memoir, published by The Times, 1947;
Nourah Waterhouse, Private and Official, 1942;
Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. i, 1948;
Trinity College, Cambridge, Annual Record, 1948;
Cambridge Journal, November 1948; Listener, 15 February 1951 and 1 January 1953;
G. M. Young, Stanley Baldwin, 1952;
Harold Nicolson, King George V, 1952;
D. C. Somervell, Stanley Baldwin, 1953;
L. S. Amery, My Political Life, vol. ii, 1953;
private information; personal knowledge.
Contributor: Thomas Jones.