The CANADIAN KING-MAKER
Beaverbrook’s Part in Imperial War Politics
Note.—That Max Aitken has not been popular in Canada is a fact that can fairly be stated. His knighthood and later his elevation to the peerage were regarded with disapproval. Of late, however, Canadians have been wondering about this meteoric young man. They have heard that he played a prominent part in Imperial war affairs, that he engineered the accession of Lloyd George to power, that he has been a “power behind the throne,’' and that his handling of the Ministry of Information was a vital factor in winning the war. Must a new estimate be placed on Beaverbrook? Must the dislikes that were engendered during his career in Canada be forgotten in the light of his later achievements? MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE commissioned a ivell-knoivn English journalist to tell his version of Lord Beaverbrook’s career since he went. to England. The accompanying article suggests that in Canada, we must be prepared to attach more importance to the personality and achievements of this prodigy from the Maritimes.
A LITTLE over seven years ago thei-e appeared in MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE an article which was interesting in itself and which the lapse of years has invested with a stronger interest. It was a sketch of Max Aitken’s career and character up to September, 1911. And it put these questions to be asked of the future: “Will that figure grow or will it dwindle? Is he in ascent or at the zenith? Has he courage to keep on or will he go back and complete his career as a financier? Or will he stand by his fate as a politician, whether it be to die as a backbencher or to lead a nation—or more than a nation— an Empire?”
To some of these questions time has given its reply. It may amuse us to pick up the strings of that seven years old story and see where thirty-nine has led thirty-two. ,
Beaverbrook never went back to business. Few have been the quitters in the realm of high finance but he was one. He may yet provide many astonishments, but that is not one of them. And the reason is not far to seek. Mr. Grant (who wrote the first article in MACLEAN’S) undoubtedly misunderstood the reason for Aitken’s refusal in 1910-11 to go on with his business career, the abandonment of his ambition to bestride Canada like a financial colossus. He thought that Beaverbrook was dazzled with the Chamberlain idea of Empire. Grant was undoubtedly wrong. It was not the voice of this cuckoo always calling from the next field that lured Beaverbrook from the seats of the money-changers. Had that been it, he would have been back in Canada within a year. For to put it bluntly, there is no such imaginative idealism in his mental make-up. We like to paint men after the image in our own hearts, but a little realism is a good tonic. So throw away the notion of Beaverbrook dreaming of the British Empire as Rhodes did. Here is no architect of the cloud-capped palaces of some state beyond the horizon, some Dante dreaming cf the union of Empire and Church, some Pericles idealizing his Athens; but a man of the hour, almost of the moment, swift to see the realities and possibilities of a situation which other men have created and yet missed. It is a mind, then, lacking in constructiveness—or, at least, lacking in that infinite patience, steady consistency, and unyielding faith which marks the builder of ideal states. Was he not so in business?
Why, then, did he chuck finance in Canada and migrate to Westminster and politics? Probably he could not tell you himself. The most vital actions of our lives are the things we can least explain to ourselves. They are too near fhat inmost core of consciousness that itself scrutinizes and explains our actions. They are not objects in the ray of the searchlight; they are the ray, and the ray cannot see itself.
Something there was, no doubt, in it of the petulance of a tired child who is sick of his Teddy Bear; something of reaction against a colossal effort crowned with success. Perhaps he felt that life was not just cash, and that in grabbing cash you missed what made it worth having. Life itself, full of alluring hopes an.l brilliant vistas, lay, somehow, far away from ’Chan~o, and he went to look for it.
IN spite of the deep-cut feuds which had seamed his business career, Beaverbrook left Canada in the heydey of a public and almost notorious popularity. That was before the mergers became unpopular, or cement got mixed up with politics. It wTas true that a prominent financial man had attacked him in the Board Room of the Cement Company. But most men take little interest in the private quarrels of the finance magnates, the cynical thought his opponent foolish for shoutingon the housetops that he had been wmrsted in a deal.
Suddenly all this changed. Cement and trusts became an election cry, and the Government press turned with fury on the pioneer of the movement. And there were plenty of enemies to keep the papers full of stories, true or untrue.
There is a curious strain of naivete in Beaverbrook s character. He was immensely surprised and hurt by this outbreak of virulent criticism. In business he looked on himself as a friend of the public, and he did not go back on his friends. Why should he suddenly be described as an ogre? Nor could he understand that, if you dash people rudely aside and roll them in the dust, they will sit up after a time and plan a revenge. The opportunity for the counter-attack was opened in the pi-ess by the Reciprocity election. So, after a restless visit to Canada in 1911—when he found the Conservative leaders far from keen upon him as a champion—he went back to England as the “unwanted child.”
Barnum and Bailey Methods Won There he had scored heavily at the start, and entered Parliament with a splash. Deserting a safer seat for
the election of December, 1910, he entered the very citadel of free trade, Lancashire, and made a grab for Ashton-under-Lyne. The seat was supposed to be hopeless. He had a fortnight before the polls. There was no organization; he made it in a day. He was told not to touch the tariff issue; he made it the first plank in his platform. He advertised his personality as Barnum and Bailey might a new elephant. The method was vulgar, but effective, and he won amid consternation and astonishment.
Lancashire is regarded as pivotal in British politics, and the victor gained more than a local celebrity. He was entertained at a dinner by the Unionists when Parliament met, and snuffed himself out in his speech. The tub-thumping manner of the polls does not impress the Westminster man, and guests went away, saying: “Write the epitaph on an-
other brilliant outside reputation buried in the tomb of the House of Commons.”
And yet he proved himself neither a nonentity nor a failure. For months he would do nothing, not even attend the debates. Then he would come down, as in the summer of 1912, with a clear, forcible and convincing speech, rout the Government on finance, and compel Mr. Lloyd George to give to the national debt 314 millions of surplus that he was suspected te be nursing for nefarious and partisan purposes.
The same baffling quality applied to his speaking. You might say that when it was prepared it was ordered, but wooden, and when unprepared, glowing, but chaotic. Y'et the essence of rhetoric, the frame of the oratorical mind, could be clearly detected in the originality of the ideas and the startling novelty of the metaphors. But gestures there were none, and his modulation was defective. Many great orators have started with these drawbacks and have overcome them by constant practice. But these have begun young. One feels that Beaverbrook might be an”orator yet, if he would take the trouble to learn. At the bottom of his heart he does not care enough. He would rather put out the natural rhetoric in him through a defective instrument than bother to amend his technique, tfe does not, after all, rely on public speeches for the reality of power.
Power—thei-e we have the keynote of the storm of controversy which rages about him. He has power. Why should he have it? He has done nothing remarkable in the Commons, he cannot sway vast audiences, he held no office till last year, he is not even a great newspaper king like Northcliffe, for he owns only one paper, influential as that may be. Why should ministers and ex-ministers, both in Canada and England, usten to the words of this man. and, as a hostile critic said the other day. “Plaster him with honors?” There must be something sinister and mysterious about it; something which we cannot understand, and, therefore, dislike and fear. So cry many voices on both sides of the Atlantic.
When you get an acknowledged fact, such as power, which seems, on the face of it, inexplicable, one way is to ask how it came about. That is the historical methou. Let us apply it to this case and see if it helps us. The Ashton election—to follow this method—was a flash in the pan. So was the knighthood which followed. Canadians seem to have been surprised at it.. In England they knew the value of such a decoration better. It was the ordinary reward for a sensational electioneering feat. The wonder was, not that it was offered, but that it was accepted. That the Unsei glitter of such a title should have caught the coming man’s fancy,' shows a flaw in the character.
THE real story of advancement was quite different.
No one has ever denied Beaverbrook to be firstrate company—an attraction so rare that it draw's clever men like a magnet. And he never made the mistake of thinking he could teach the British their own political game. He knew he was at school again. This knowledge made him seek for good teachers, and his own attractiveness secured them.
At the week-ends at his country house, Tim Healy, or Sir F. E. Smith, or Sir Edward Goulding, might constantly be found, while Mr. Balfour, then the leader of the party, was no rare visitor.
Among these, Tim Healy, wise in every fierce political battle which had raged since 1880, was the principal mentor. But a process which began to be onesided, ended by being mutual. This strange gnomelike visitor from overseas asked his questions of the experienced Healy, and got his answers. Gradually, by imperceptible degrees, the umbrella began to turn inside out. The old hands began to propound questions, too, and the new one to solve the problems. Why did they listen to him? Why does one listen to another boy who helps to solve a quadratic equation? Why does a man follow his favorite sporting tipster in the press, or a critic in the review of a book, or a stockbroker’s advice on shares? Simply because he backs the judgment of anyone who is usually right. Beaverbrook's business backers in Canada would have given much the same answer to the questions.
The years 1911 to 1914 happened to be a period when advice was a priceless commodity to the Tory, because there was so much of it and so little that was good. Toryism had struggled back after its crushing defeat of 1906 to a respectable and growing minority in 1910. But, though Mr. Chamberlain was no longer on the active list, the old tariff divisions still muttered in the entrails of the party. They were cross-cut by all kinds of other divergences between the old ideas and the new, and by cliques supporting individual leaders. Nothing except a victory could give Mr. Balfour the confidence or command of his party. The victory was withheld, and the leader, finding his position growing more difficult, and tired of reconciling the irreconcilables, resigned his leadership.
Then the cat was among the pigeons with a vengeance. Who was to succeed to a position which carried with it the reversion to the British Premiership? The majority of the party supported Mr. Walter Long, but an active and powerful minority of the newer school were for the Birmingham tradition and for Mr. Austen Chamberlain. Neither side would give away an inch, and a fatal schism was imminent.
Aitken Gets Behind Bonar Law
Max Aitken had in no way created this situation, but he was the first to see its possibilities. It was, he said, a case for a compromise candidate, and, using all the personal influence he had acquired, he put forward the name of Bonar Law. This was a startling proposal, but a shrewd one. Bonar Law had only been a junior member of the last Tory Government. On the other hand his tariff reform sincerity was above suspicion; he was not a member of any “old gang”; his native caution, a kind of wary way of looking at life, commended him to the moderate Conservative mind; he had no enemies and numerous friends. These rallied round him. The unexpected happened, and Bonar Law became the Tory Leader. The inner circle knew that it was Aitken who had spotted and backed the “dark horse,” had gone into the Daily Express to support his candidature, and had been the principal instrument in pulling off the winning event.
But he had been essential in other respects. One of Bonar Law’s qualities is a sincere modesty. He was unwilling to compete for the leadership against veterans, and more than once wished to retire from the contest. It was only the personal influence of Aitken which brought him up to the front; and we shall see the same influence exerted later on a more crucial field.
His Preferment is Vetoed
TV EPUTATIONS grow by success anti here was an undoubted success of judgment. Nor when one comes to look into it is there anything very mysterious about the achievement. It wanted a shrewd eye and a bold hand—that is all. These had been found, and when the party leaders were in difficulties they were apt to look to a proved source for guidance.
None the less, a battle of this kind leaves scars, and there were many supporters of the other rival candidates who resented the intrusion of a parvenu Kingmaker. Something of this crept out when Bonar Law wanted to make him his Parliamentary secretary. The iesire was natural. But the offended deities put forth
a veto. Such a post, they said, went with long service in and experience of the House; it would be impossible to give it to a new-comer, however brilliant. As a matter of fact, it was the position he took, two short years later, when war broke out.
On the tariff, Aitken had always held firm and consistent views. To him a scheme of preference which did not include Canadian wheat was practically meaningless. In 1913 a strong attempt was made by some backers of the Tory party, marching in solemn procession behind the robust figure of Lord Dei'by, to get the food taxes dropped out of the programme. Against this abandonment of principle Aitken threw his whole weight. He induced the party leader to come down with him to Ashton, under the very walls of the Manchester citadel, and there they both proclaimed their adherence to the original policy. Within a week, Bonar Law had been stampeded out of his position. What would Aitken do? Would he be found standing to his guns, or, as the radical papers maliciously suggested, in full and hurried retreat? Would silence suggest itself as a way out of embarrassments? The member for Ashton-under-Lyne instantly summoned another meeting in the same hall, and reiterated word for word all the convictions he had given voice to a few days before. Whatever this was, it was not the act either of a time-server or a man of straw. It was his declaration of independence.
His advice was soon badly needed by his party. The Ulster crisis was, in the late spring of 1914, pressing heavily on the world of British politics. There were extremists on both sides who were ready for civil war and even courted a crash. On the other hand, the more responsible leaders were for accommodation and compromise before the peace was broken. Could terms be arranged? And if the moderate of both parties could agree among themselves, could they hold their own followers to the pact? This last was the real difficulty in making a pact at all.
To Patch an Irish Peace
AITKEN’S reputation as a negotiator and a man of compromise was already so well known to the inner ring that he was picked out to make the attempt. There may have been an additional reason for the choice. In the event of success the negotiator might have become odious to the extremists of his own party; he could then be said to have sold the pass. A man of Cabinet rank might hesitate to incur the risk, yet a man of power and weight was essential. The man on whom the lot fell did not shrink from the test; political cowardice is not one of his failings.
It would certainly be indiscreet and possibly tedious to describe the course of bargaining. Aitken scored one great initial success: he induced all the leaders to meet at a series of conferences, held both at his home at Leatherhead and at his rooms in London. Even this was not easy, for the waves of passion were running higher and deeper as the ship neared the rocks of catastrophe.
After that came failure. The persuader persuaded in vain. The conference could not agree. Things came to an impasse. And yet a small hope still shone like a tiny candle under the vast arch of night: for peace is often ’ reached in the moment of moral shock when the finger is on the trigger. It was to mask this break-down and gain this precious hope of delay that the much trumpeted Buckingham Palace conference was held. It was a facade only; the real building was the private conference. What would have happened none can say, for while the bolts of the rifles were clicking home in Ulster, the noise was drowned by the tramp of the armies mobilizing in Europe.
Such was Aitken’s position in the spring of 1014—known as a power in the political world, but hardly a name to the great mass of the public.
THEN came the war in one fell and devastating swoop. The old world vanished: all the old signposts and landmarks were blotted out, values changed, and reputations rose and fell like rockets.
It was not likely that Max Aitken would go under in the flood. The age was one of violent change and he is most adaptable. It was a moment for the practical imagination, for the prevision of the unforeseen, and this he had marked out as his sphere.
It so happened that a quite unofficial meeting of a number of Unionist leaders was taking place at Sir Edward Goulding’s place at Wargrave and Aitken—he was not yet Lord Beaverbrook—also was there, a sure
proof of his position in the party. The first idea had been to discuss the storm cloud which seemed about to break over the plains of Ulster. But since the party had been arranged a tempest compared to which the Ulster storm was a ripple in a teacup had mounted in the heavens, and was threatening to burst on the ocean of humanity. The party leaders came to discuss Ulster; they stayed to discuss the outbreak of war.
The decision was to support the Government unconditionally if they declared for war, and that evening the whole party left for London to convey their decision to Premier Asquith. The effect, if any, was to strengthen the hands of the party of intervention.
The first idea, when war was declared, was to have a Coalition Government. But nothing came of it. The Liberal possessors of offices were not keen to give them up. The Tories were doubtful of the wisdom of taking them. Both sides thought the war would be a short one. It was better for many reasons, argued the Tories, that the Liberals should have the handling of the episode. There would be fewer pro-Germans and, if there was any backfire after peace, the Government would get it. Aitken strongly dissented from the view of a short war, but he was in a minority of one.
'■pHE decision not to form a Coalition Government -*• seemed to throw Aitken into the shade. His voice would have been heard in no uncertain tones when the make-up of such a Ministry had to be decided, and he himself was obviously destined for office of some kind. But the Opposition had by its own choice dedicated itself to a patriotic inaction. Amid the roar of the rapidly rising waters his barque seemed to be swept down the stream.
Not a bit of it. It must be remembered that all this time his connection with Canada had never been cut. Twice a year he went to Canada, and for many years he undoubtedly thought that this temporary visit might prove enduring. If he went to school in British politics it was in part to find the best of the Universities. His instinct told him not to enter Canadian politics direct—as the official spokesman of his own industries. Everything he said or did would have been suspect. But for long he undoubtedly cherished a desire to return—as a private individual coming from the British Parliament. Canada after all is his home, and his friendship, help and hospitality have always been freely offered to his fellow-citizens who cross the Atlantic. In 1913 indeed he had made up his nnnd to the transition. He was desperately ill from a disease which is frequently mortal, and death seemed waiting to tap him on the shoulder. Life in the bracing climate of the Dominion promised some hope. He wrote to Ashton-underLyne to announce his resignation. He was invited down to discuss it. He was met by such a demonstration on the part of Liberals and Conservatives alike as rarely falls to the lot of a member who has sat for a constituency even for 20 or 30 years. If the histrionics of his personality represented the outward show of his immense popularity, the solid work in the constituency had been done by his wife; the combination was irresistible. Perhaps he wavered in his purpose of abandoning his seat. But the question never arose in practice. He went to Canada, grew worse instead of better, so that ambition of any sort appeared to be futile. He was sent to Switzerland as a last resort and suddenly—recovered. He was always a man of surprises.
The closeness of his connection with Canada through all these years had been more real than apparent. He had acted on more than one occasion as ambassador extraordinary between the men of influence in Ottawa and in London. Gratitude is not altogether extinct in politics even if it may be described as the expectation of favors to come. When, therefore, politics seemed dead in England and he asked the Canadian Government to send him to France as Eye-Witness the request was readily granted.
Why didn’t he go as the British EyeWitness—another job which was there for the asking? Oh why did he want to go to France at. all? One thing is clear. A man just back from the edge of the grave could not stick the trenches. Yet seg war he must, if he was to advise on war policy. Besides in 1914 no one wanted to be out of the show. Then why not go with the British G. H. Q.. and get out at once, instead of lounging round waiting for the^Canadian 1st Division? One can only judge by the results. He waited till February 1915, but as Canadian Eye-Witness and subsequent head of the Canadian War Records he broke the British Military Censorship and led the whole British Empire in the race to develop War Publicity. If he had gone to Lord French’s headquarters would he have been allowed to do this? Not likely. He would have been wrapped in swaddling clothes or put in the guard room, and there would have been no semiindependent Government to dig him out. He has a reputation for farsightedness. Perhaps he foresaw the greater possibilities of the Canadian office.
His Post in the Coalition
FROM this task events in England recalled him suddenly. The Liberals had proved unequal to sustaining unaided the weight of Government. The quarrels between Admiral Fisher and Winston Churchill and the shock of the Shell Scandal had induced the Leader of the Opposition to intimate to the Prime Minister that he must put down a Vote of Censure. Only three alternatives were possible. The Liberal Government might fall, it might be discredited, or a Coalition Government might be formed. The third alternative was chosen, though it cannot be said that anyone was particularly keen about it. At least it avoided obvious evils. Aitken was sent for because the Opposition were in doubt artfl because the allocation of coveted places among expectant office holders was intensely difficult. So 200 years ago St. John or Harley used to send for Swift when some ravelled knot of politics had to be untied. On all these matters the adviser had his say. He, himself, took no office. If one was offered him it was not worth taking. There was a tense struggle at the narrow gate of promotion. A wit summed up the situation in a four-line epigram:
At Pembroke Lodge in Edwards Scjuare Like rooks the claimants caw Where Aitken keeps with gargoyle stare His vigil over Law.
He returned to France, and put in much arduous work as a negotiator between the Canadian Government, the War Office, and G.H.Q., in France. Finally a severe dose of pneumonia sent him home for goo
HE sat down to organize the Canadian War Records in the endeavor to show the world what publicity really meant. It may fairly be said that he succeeded. Photographs and the cinematograph came into their own as weapons of war propaganda in his hands. The desperate combat which developed with the Military Censors, who thought that war was a thing waged in private by an army of professionals and best conducted when least talked about, ended finally m his favor. Every writer and every regiment in the Empire profited indirectly by his success. And so did the Imperial cause. For he was the first man to translate into practice the doctrine that war was the affair of the masses, and that without knowledge no public morale is possible. When he had forced the breach others were swift to follow, but let it be recorded that he was the first man over the wall. His achievement was little appreciated outside Canada. So much so that when he was made Propaganda Minister many newspapers in England asked what qualifications he possessed for the task! As a matter of fact he had perhaps been too clever, for he had found it necessary to spend months as Minister explaining to the United States public that the war on the Western Front was not fought entirely by the Canadian Corps. The States might well reply: “Well, you told us it was the
year before last and we believed you!”
All this was achieved by a vast amount of detailed work and the story of it is therefore tedious. It needs the swift and dramatic event to stir the fibres of the mind.
Forming the Lloyd George Government
OUT the supreme sensation was not to be delayed too long.
By the autumn of 1917 the first Coalition was in serious difficulties. It had never been a very healthy child. Offices had been distributed between the parties on the basis of peace-service. The Administration was unwieldy, the war was going wrong. Mr. Asquith dominated his colleagues completely in the game of give and take. When each section had given with the left hand and received with the right everyone was perfectly happy and well off, but no particular result was visible. In fact everything was all right except the war.
“Time.’’ said Mr. Asquith, “is on our side.”
“Time.” said Mr. Lloyd George, “is a doubtful neutral.”
This was the showing of the standard of revolt. Mr. Lloyd George was then War Secretary. He was hampered not only by the facile optimism of the Prime Minister and the terrible debates of a monstrous Cabinet, but by the conservatism of generals who did not agree with him. Alone he was powerless. He could resign; hut a Cabinet Minister, like a bee, has
only one sting, that of suicide. But there was another powerful malcontent in the field. Sir Edward Carson had quitted the Government out of a discontent rather resembling that of Lloyd George, who remained. Behind him were gathered a powerful force of Tory malcontents—men who hated the Government, men whose claim to office had been ignored, men who were convinced that without some drastic change at the helm the ship of State would founder. Partisans, peacemen and patriots together, they numbered nearly half the Unionist Party in the Commons.
Carson determined to throw down the Ministry. It is said that Lloyd George encouraged him. The attack was launched with considerable skill at a selected weak point in the defence. When Bonar Law took office he had announced that he would only retain it so long as he possessed the confidence of his party. If, then, it could be proved that that confidence was no longer his he must resign, and the other Conservatives in the Cabinet would have to follow his example. It had already been proved that the Liberals could not stand alone. Therefore, if Bonar Law went, the Government must fall. It remained to pull out the lynchpin of the Ministerial Coach.
The first challenge came over the Nigerian debate. The principle at stake was preference. Bonar Law was in the Free Trade lobby, and nearly half his followers in the opposite one. The shock was a severe one, and the next division of the kind might see the catastrophe.
The Canadian Comes Into Action
IT was at this point that Aitken, immersed in Cana dian publicity, began to sit up and take notice. Those curious pupils of his would set like jade, and a few curt words shot out would indicate his opinion of the party officials who assured their Chief that the episode was an “accident,” or that the revolt would “fizzle out.” The position was bad. The Opposition was strong enough to destroy the Government, but not to put a stable one in its place. The Tory Party would be torn asunder in order that the National interest might be compromised. What was to be done? He solved the problem with characteristic audacity. The way was not to crush the attack but to turn it into a real success, which would produce a more active and yet a stable Government. This could only be done by the adhesion to the movement of Bonar Law and the slow-moving respectability of the Conservatives foi whom he stood.
But it is easier to lay down the ideal, or even the practicable objective, of a campaign than to carry out each successive step towards it. Here the obstacles were immense, and a lesser man would have shrunk back appalled. Carson, Lloyd George and Bonar Law had all to be driven in a team. Bonar Law’s is not a placable disposition. Slow to anger, his wrath endures, and he had been bitterly offended by what he considered Carson’s ingratitude for his support in the Ulster crisis. Also some pretty hot things had been said in the Nigerian debate. With Lloyd George the Conservative leader’s relations were different but not much better. Though his cold judgment might be for Lloyd George’s view of the war, something in his temperament answered more readily to the Asquith lure. Besides, in the fitst Coalition, Lloyd George had shouldered him very roughly out of the leadership of the House or a compensatory office which was his by right. In fact Lloyd George was a self-seeker. Was it safe to entrust the Premiership to such a man at the ci'isis of an Imperial fate? And then there was the question of loyalty to Asquith, whom he liked and respected, and to his colleagues as a whole. The mental air was thick w ith doubts and difficulties. Aitken set his teeth and plunged into the thick of the snowstorm. He was going through.
He kept after the distinguished three like a sheep dog after three sheep who are selecting diffeient turnings at a cross road. Under his auspices they met and they conferred and settled nothing: they met and conferred again and nothing came of it, and so it went on for days. Each meeting meant probably thi-ee individual interviews for the organizer of victory. There were steps forward and then desperate breaks back. Finally things reached so advanced a stage, that Mr. Asquith could be addressed in a common letter. The gist of the demand was simple—a War Cabinet under Lloyd George’s chairmanship. Mr. Asquith was imperturbed, unhurried and evasive. He thought there was something in the idea but—he saw Lloyd George, he saw Bonar Law; they came away from these interviews with very vague ideas of what the Prime Minister meant.
The team was by this time in fairly good working order. They had got to know each other again during their compulsory intercourse, and old scars and new suspicions had been laid aside. They had always
agreed on the conduct of the war. In fact, the Cana dian had done his work. Anyone might praise his energy and faith, but these qualities would have been perfectly futile. He was the great persuader at. Rhodes was, because genius danced in some elfin mood behind the rigid outlines of character.
At last Lloyd George launched an ultimatum. The Prime Minister was startled out of his benevolent somnolence. He began to promise concessions. But before he could move the Unionists had taken action on their own. Bonar Law had summoned the Unionist members of the Cabinet together and told them what he had done.
They passed the famous resolution calling upon Asquith to resign. It frightened Asquith, who did not understand exactly what was meant by it. He sent for Lloyd George in a hurry and came to terms with him Then, infuriated by an article in the Times, or because information had reached him that his rival could not hope to form a Government, he wrote to Lloyd George and broke off negotiations. Then, as the Tories bade him, he resigned. Let Lloyd George form a Ministry if he could or dared. The King asked Bonar Law to form a Government, but he declined, as Lloyd George was the leader in the battles and on him both the power and responsibility must rest. Lloyd George accepted the offer and formed a Government within 48 hours !
The writer dares not peer any further into the re cesses of Downing Street or Buckingham Palace. Here knowledge may be dangerous and conjecture mislead ing. All these things will be written in the biographies of the future. Right through the veering tempest the future Lord Beaverbrook had held to his judgment and never blenched a whit even when the whole edifice of his conception seemed shaken to its foundations by the passing gusts of changing events.
Perhaps he is a bad man: certainly he is a bold one The same verdict has been passed upon David Lloyd George. The cynic may retort that bold, bad men were wanted to beat the Prussians. Perhap.again we misread the auspices, and greatness like a crown of falling leaves covers the imperfections of the crowned. On all these grave matters men must form iheir own moral judgments. Only don’t let’s be silly and in some beautiful Alice-in-Wonderland of radical frenzy7 put sentence before verdict and evidence. The majority, looking at the evidence, will say that Beaverbrook performed a great national service and helped materially to win the war.
The Faith of the Two Leaders
SO ended the great battle with the fall of Asquith As the smoke began to roll away from the field of action, the outlines of Generalship became cleaT Carson had shown his usual dogged obstinacy in cling ing to what he believed right. He might abstract from Lord Milner the motto, “Damn the consequences.’ Lloyd George ran the principal risk and reaped the greatest reward. He believed that he could win the war and that no one else could, and in the crisis of his fate he showed great courage, and a eonsummate tact in handling Mr. Balfour and the Labor Party.
But all might have proved vain but for the drastic intervention of Beaverbrook. He and Lloyd George ‘alone believed that, even if it snowed ink, Lloyd George could form a Ministry7 and hold the Commons. “He could form one,” Lord Randolph Churchill once said of Lord Salisbury, in the bitterness of his heart, “out of the waiters at the Carlton Club.” A War Cabinet could be formed, said Beaverbrook, out of the back Ix-nches of the Tory7 party7. And no one else thought that he was right. The pundits of Liberalism and Toryism, wise with the experience of 30 years of Parliament, measured their judgment against this young man from Canada; and they were wrong and he was right. Certain old financial hands in Canada had had a similar experience.
Lloyd George had secured the assent of the Tories, of half the Labor Party, and a section of the Liberals, and pi-oceeded to form his Ministry. Many of the minor Tory appointments were made by Beaverbrook’s advice. But what about himself? He had been the Chief of Staff in the campaign. It is an open secret that he wanted the Board of Trade, where his knowledge of business might have shone. It was refused him Other appointments did not suit his mind. Finally hewas offered a Peerage and took it.
Most men are snuffed out for good when they are embalmed in the gilded mausoleum of the Upper House. Better the House of Commons with its windy battles on the Plains of Troy than these barmecide feasts of Olympus where debate is a farce without power. Of course a snob likes to be a Lord. Cardinal Manning used, it is said, to gaze on the Cardinal’s hat hanging on the peg in his bedroom and murmur: Well, the Catholic Church may be right or wrong, but after ail there is the hat.” So Beaverbrook might murmur : “Well
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the Empire may be right or wrong, but still the waiters say ‘My Lord’.”
But then Beaverbrook is not a snob. He has very nearly passed to that last degree of cleverness where class ceases to exist, just as certain Brahmins are permitted to pass the black-wrater without forfeiting cast. He will be run in some day as a German spy for questioning Canadian soldiers in the street about Bob Smith, or Tom Jones, about their fathers -whom he knew in Halifax, and then being utterly disbelieved when questioned as to his identity. Why a peerage then for a man who is a democrat, who disbelieves in the hereditary principle? Well, it saved a lot of trouble with contested elections, and what not, and few men will refuse one of the highest honors which the Crown has to offer. But you must think yourself strong enough to survive it. Beaverbrook thought he was. We shall see. In any case, the advancement was not bought by money but obtained by brains and public service. If you think Lloyd George ought to be Prime Minister you must take off your hat to Beaverbrook. If you think Asquith ought to be there you must consign Beaverbrook to perdition.
Turned His Attention to Art
WHEN the great coup which had created a new Premier and new Peer had been made, Beaverbrook took up an attitude of some independence. The public, knowing nothing of the wheels within wheels, was surprised at the Peerage. Beaverbrook on the other hand was not overflowing with gratitude. He did not value very highly the honors with which he had been fobbed off. Then he went back to the Canadian War Records, and busied himself with getting artists to paint pictures of the front. His knowledge of art is not great, but his flair is good. He enlisted the experts to secure for Canada a pictorial record of the war which will convince posterity of the greatness of our suffering and of our glory. In the intervals of choosing artists, he devoted himself to the Daily Express. That paper, after a prolonged battle, had now passed finally under his control.
Influence, there we touch the master chord. A paper which does not make money has no influence. Men will not 'cept a subsidy towards their opinions. It is the business success of the Daily Express which marks its democratic power, and that power seemed all through 1917 to indicate to the Prime Minister that all his actions were not directly inspired by Providence.
Besides, all kinds of men, including other owners of newspapers, used to come to Beaverbrook when they were afflicted by doubt or beset by difficulty. His influence ramified through a score of sources, and the new Prime Minister, good man, became slightly uneasy. Could no extra weight be imposed on this too mettlesome charger? Nothing except the heavy burden of office which makes responsibility coincide with power. By the beginning pf 1918 the Prime Minister had made up his mind to the step. True there were difficulties, for Beaverbrook’s meteoric rise was feared by the Radicals and disliked by many of the old-fashioned Tories.
The Prime Minister is a genius. He produced the one bait it was really difficult to refuse. Propaganda had become a popular cry. The poor old Department of Information, long the Cinderella of the Government, was to be converted into a Ministry and given at long last really adequate powers. Beaverbrook is a born propagandist. While the whole Allied field was hesitating he had mounted Canada and jumped her over the fence. Now, he was asked to be Jockey to the Empire. His friends weçe urgent with him on the score of national duty. But still he hesitated. Then came a fatal lunch, and the magic of the Prime Minister prevailed.
Opposition in the Commons
* I 'HE announcement of his appointment as Minister of Information and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the latter something of a sinecure appointment in the British Constitution, was managed either with peculiar fatuity or else with amazing skill. The news was given to the press a week before the official announcement. The kite was thus flown and the wind tested. There was a good deal of criticism, but none of it was very serious, and much of it frankly silly. The British Press was quite unaware of what the new Minister had done for Canadian publicity—so provincial is the centre of the Empire. None the less, the appointment was made, and might have passed without much further remark had not Beaverbrook appointed Northcliffe to control propaganda in enemy countries. This was the limit. Here was Rothermere at the Air Ministry and now two other newspaper men were to assist the Government !
Some of the Tories moved in the House to exclude newspaper proprietors, as such, from the Government. The Radicals were, of course, delighted to chip in with a counter-attack on Northcliffe. Beaverbrook indeed became a side issue which hardly appeared in the debate. But the whole thing ended in a fizzle as most of these elaborate attacks
do. The Prime Minister gave the necessary assurances. No one wished to turn out the Government, and a brilliant speech by a Radical journalist dissolved the House in laughter. The Times said very soberly and with great truth that the newspapers had taken under democracy the kind of place once occupied by the great Whig landowners. The practice of the British race is to include all new forces in the working of the Constitution. So we accepted labor or the women’s vote. Were newspaper men alone to be debarred from responsibility, when it was impossible to debar them from power? The nation thought not, and on March 4 the Ministry of Information started.
Government departments might be supposed to be of two kinds : the old encrusted with hoary traditions, the fresh one like a new boy in a rough school where all the bigger boys are waiting to kick the bounce out of him. The Ministry of Information was both. It took over half-a-dozen old departments dealing with propaganda and yet its status was still to be recognized. It was a tough job. The finances of the old department were in a hopeless muddle. The historic Government Departments, the War Office, the Admiralty, and particularly the Foreign Office were very sticky in admitting the claims of an office which merely professed to tell the truth to the peoples of the world. No one had ever heard of such a thing before.
New Life in an Old Department
DEAVERBROOK was there early and late, though a kind of lemon hue on his countenance sometimes showed the terrific strain. He straightened the finance, reorganized his sections, he brought in new men, and when he had no opposition from other offices, as in cinematography or photographs, or cables, he scored an undoubted success. Propaganda ceased to be a puppet and became a real live, kicking thing in his hands. The whole Ministry was certainly galvanized by his almost superhuman activity. The Press, long snubbed by Downing St., immediately came into its own. Nowhere was this influence more marked than in the Dominions overseas or in the United States. The American Mission, and the visit of the overseas Press men of the Empire to this country bore witness to his imagination and to his success.
The whole thing seemed to toil and ferment under that teeming brain like a hive of bees in the migration. And yet is Beaverbrook a great organizer? Life and vigor in immense and unstinted profusion he poured into his new office. Heaven knows what some of his principal subordinates first thought of their new chief. They had been told to expect some kind of Canadian backwoodsman crossed with a dash of the Father of all Evil. But they succumbed to that almost terrible charm of manner and to the lopsided smile.
Anyhow the Ministry looked like making a success and the Radicals and Pacifists felt instinctively that something must be done to discredit the new organization. Suppose the Minister ran the coming election against them! In August, 1918, the report of the Select Committee on Expenditure offered an occasion for a debate in the House. It is true that the report really dealt almost entirely with the old Department of Information, but that fact did not trouble the critics. A heavy press barrage was put down in front of the attackers, for some days before the assault, and men came down on Monday, August Bank Holiday, to the House, expecting an exciting duel. But it soon became apparent that the sympathy of the House was with the new Minister, while the ignorance of the assailants who had not been properly coached kept them firing wildly in the air. Reasoned criticism fastened rather curiously on one single point—the employment by the Minister of business men as financial controllers of the sections dealing with foreign countries. This was all the more strange because the demand for business men at the head of national affairs had long been a popular cry. The suggestion was that there was something sinister in putting the head of a great business, dealing with a foreign country, to control propaganda there. The explanation proved very simple and quite sufficient. The experience of the old department had proved that propagandists pure and simple are better at spending money than they are at managing it wisely and economically. But the total amount of money to be spent was limited, and it was essential to select the right objects and manage the expenditure in an economic and businesslike way. For this purpose, the organizing head of a big firm dealing in a special country has exactly the right kind of mind and experience. It is a problem he has to solve daily in his ordinary professional life. Lord Beaverbrook, at any rate, stood to his guns and stuck by his “business men” on the ground that he would not be responsible for proper financial control unless he was allowed this expert assistance. The debate turned out to be a storm in a teacup, the House adjourned and the Ministry went back to its work.
What is the Secret?
llfE have pursued the historical » » method. We have traced by the light of fact the upward course of Beaverbrook’s career. No idealization has been applied to this process. The mystery of his power has been divulged. It is the power of energy and brains. The “sinister hypothesis” is exploded, and one perceives why the spoils have gone to the victor.
But of course no mere cleverness or energy make a man a Peer, a millionaire, a Minister, and a power at the age of 39. These qualities are in one combination or another dirt cheap. One has to go further back into the mind for the source of inspiration.
Personality, yes, something which cuts like a sword and bites like a wind, which persuades against the will, and dominates beyond the intellect. Men do not accept the advice of the clever or do more than tolerate the frenzies of the energetic. An indefinable quality must be added to the compound to make success and genius.
Strange would be the reflections of anyone who attempted to peer behind the rough outline of the curious Beaverbrook visage into the inmost recesses of character. Force there is to the verge of brutality in the thick-set lips and in the deep lines graven on each side of the mouth which gash the cherubic roundness of the face as with the deep indents of some terrible experience. The eyes are
clear and penetrating until some emotion clouds them. Then it is as though the mind had turned inward on itself and found there some inspiration of rage or of vision, something to cow the enemy or to inspire the advancing ranks. And then again the whole face changes to something which, shabbily dressed, would be passed without comment in a crowd, or to the beaming benevolence of Mr. Pickwick. And Beaverbrook, as» hundreds of Canadians know, can be very benevolent. One never can feel sure which side of the character will be uppermost, and it is this uncertainty, which gives to his mind the charm of perennial youth. Also it confounds his opponents who never have the slightest idea what the next move on the board will be. The advance of the ordinary self-seeker is easily predicted, but what is one to do with a man w'ho plays a game of his own invention? Men of energy and ability spend 20 years in Parliament, are glad of an under-sec retaryship and gaze with regret at the wake of Beaverbrook’s launch vanishing up the stream.
Judgment and courage to back it there you have the secret. There are said to be black blots on this career Nothing has ever been proved and it is certain that party malice would have proved long ago whatever was prov able.
My criticism would be a different one o does not really know whai he is driving at. Are we to pierce through this strength to find nothing but a void in the inmost core of the being? It is hard to say. But as an Imperialist Tory, Beaverbrook is a paradox, for he is more nearly a Tolstoyan. The boast which would most appeal to him would be that of the Athenian statesman who said that no woman had ever put or, mourning by any act of his. His idea state would be one in which every man lived under his own vine and fig tree without poverty or interference or war or death. One thing at least may be said here is a man in this dreadful age of mediocrities.
What will happen to him? The writer of 1911 asked the question, and the writer of 1918 has tried to answer it He has propounded questions of his OWE for the writer of 1925. Will office have lost its attractions now that he knows the inner mechanism of Government, will he launch into a vast control of the P^ess or will he yet become Prime Minister? We leave to the future the answer to these questions.