London Letter

Beverley Baxter March 1 1936

London Letter

Beverley Baxter March 1 1936

London Letter

Beverley Baxter

USUALLY WHEN the British Parliament rises for the Christmas vacation the spirit of good will and the prospect of good feeding dominate the scene. There is much fraternizing among all ranks on both sides and the wounds of debate are forgotten.

It was not so when we broke up on the day following the famous Foreign Affairs debate. An angry Parliament walked out without a smile or a benediction. An angry Parliament will soon reassemble in February. This year of 1936 is going to see the old Mother of Parliaments in one of her most tempestuous moods. Reputations are going to be blasted, ixjlitical dynasties will rock and heads will roll in the sawdust.

And as usual the centre of the storm is that simplehearted yeoman, Stanley Baldwin, who has ridden more hurricanes than any living statesman except Lloyd George. Look back with me for a moment on this strange man of destiny.

In 1922, when the Conservative Party met at the Carlton Club to consider whether it would continue to support Lloyd George’s Coalition Government, his was one of the few voices that supported Bonar Law’s rebellion. Bonar Law became Premier and made the comparatively unknown Baldwin his Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Almost his first assignment was to go to Washington and “discuss the settlement of the American Debt.” Instead Baldwin settled it. He settled it by calmly announcing to a journalist at Southampton that the terms were more generous than Britain had hoped for. Bonar Law’s fury knew no bounds. He thought seriously of resigning. In the end he signed but predicted that the foundation of the world economic crash had been laid by this action.

Mr. Baldwin rode the storm. It was then that Lord Beaverbrook conceived the idea of destroying him. At the death of Bonar Law, Mr. Baldwin became Prime Minister, the most inexperienced occupant that Downing Street had known for decades. He went to Newcastle and made a speech. He said that he was thinking of trying out tariffs.

Once more the storm broke. Bonar Law had gone to the country on the pledge that he would not introduce tariffs without consulting the electorate. Mr. Baldwin had inherited his predecessor’s majority and was therefore bound by his pledges. Obviously there must be an election.

The Tariff Election

MR. BALDWIN led his party to the polls on the policy of industrial tariffs but no protection for agriculture, thus ruling out Joe Chamberlain’s policy of Imperial Preference. At this, Beaverbrook’s guns—and I was a battery commander—raked the Tories fore and aft. The Government campaign was spasmodic, illprepared, and when the smoke cleared away Baldwin had destroyed his inherited majority and the first Socialist Government was bom.

For less than one year the Socialists ruled. Then the Zinovieff letter was discovered, and MacDonald was forced to resign and go to the country. Thus the third election in three years took place—and the average cost per election for a Tory candidate is $5,000 ! The wind blew so hard against the Socialists that it blew Mr. Baldwin back into power with a gigantic majority and he settled down to five years of stable government.

It looked like a period of calm. Tariffs were ruled out, the Socialists were annihilated, the Liberals were dwindling pathetically and the Tories were reunited with the rebellious Winston Churchill at the Treasury. It is true that Beaverbrook was keeping up an intermittent barrage, but on the whole it looked like “Peace in our Time.”

But, alas ! there was a coal wages dispute which dragged on through weary months. At last the owners and miners agreed to meet on a certain Thursday to discuss terms that

would prevent a strike. Mr. Baldwin announced the good news in the House and then added the unfortunate remark that even if the two sides did not come to terms, the Government was ready to consider a subsidy that would tide the industry over the difficulties.

With such an inducement the owners and miners speedily failed to come to terms, and a Government subsidy began that eventually reached the sum of £30,000,(XX). When it expired the coal strike began, and after a lengthy existence culminated in the general strike.

So far this is the story of a bungler, a man of gross lack of judgment, a man inept in public affairs. Yet at this point we begin to see the influence of Stanley Baldwin on British public life.

The general strike had to come. The post-war temper of the Trades Unions demanded a show-down. They wanted to run the country and believed that they could force terms on the nation. Nor was it a mere desire to dictate. There was a real and sincere resentment against the conditions under which human beings worked and were paid in the mines.

Therefore the strike began and the leaders raised the cry of “Down with Baldwin, the capitalist bully!”

At this the incorrigible British working man shook his

head. He was willing to strike to help his pals, but you couldn’t tell him Baldwin was a bully. No chance! Didn’t he pay the miners £30,000,000 to prevent the strike? And didn’t he give up half his fortune to the nation in the war and never say a word about it? Not ’im a bully! Not likely !

It wasn’t the tanks and the troops that broke the strike. It was the paralyzing effect of Baldwin’s humanity plus the spontaneous rise of the middle classes who decided

that England was in danger, and had to be saved.

So the general strike was broken and Baldwin’s government passed the Trades Disputes Bill, which made it impossible for the Unions ever to be in a position to attempt a general strike again. And he convinced the shattered ranks of Labor that it was for their good that he was doing it.

Therefore, let us take stock of the man. The bungler of the American debt, the Tariff election and the wasted coal subsidy had broken the revolution in Britain. Almost alone among European nations Great Britain was to be spared the cruelties of internal strife and overthrow.

Previous to this Mr. Baldwin’s government, undoubtedly under the influence of the Bank of England, restored the gold standard. All Beaverbrook’s previous bombardments were mere experiments in silence compared to the barrage that now fell upon Baldwin’s entrenchments. “This,” thundered the Canadian Peer—and I assisted in the sound effects—“would rob Britain of her markets, create unemployment and bring about a domestic crash that would be the beginning of a world crash.”

Everyone laughed at Beaverbrook. But he was right. At least he was as right as a man can be who trusts his brain more than his soul. In the study of the complete

triumph of Baldwin over Beaverbrook, these factors must always be considered.

Here is Beaverbrook’s case at all times:

“If you commit yourself to action A, it will inevitably lead to action B. From that point it is only one step to action C, which means final and irrevocable disaster. You, Baldwin, have committed us to action A. You are a national menace. All men who love Britain should rise up and hurl this fellow from office never to return.”

And Baldwin says:

“I don’t believe much in final and irrevocable disaster. It is so often predicted and so seldom eventualizes. Nor do I assume the mantle of the Almighty and foretell the winds ten years ahead. I must do what seems right and honorable and in keeping with the decency of this people. What I do may be wrong. It often is. But if the spirit of the action strengthens or expresses the character of the British people, then I do not think the harm done will matter much, whereas the spiritual gain will be considerable.”

How would you like to fight a man like that? Beaverbrook has never missed the target once. Every shot is a bull’s-eye. And when he goes forward to claim the prize there isn’t a mark on the target! The bullet has made a hole in the fog; that is all.

So in tranquillity and uninspired legislation Mr. Baldwin’s government lived out its frill course, and in 1929 went to the country again under the soporific slogan of “Safety

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First,” accompanied by a huge picture of honest Squire Baldwin smoking his pipe.

At this the British people rebelled. They did not mind discovering Mr. Baldwin’s homely virtues, themselves, but they weren’t going to accept those virtues in place of a policy. Beaverbrook felt that the time for tariffs had arrived—and he was right—but once more Baldwin, remembering his defeat in 1923. had eschewed that platform. As Beaverbrook could not support the Socialists he attacked them and Mr. Baldwin with equal heartiness—and I was in charge of the gas cylinders—and with a superb irrelevancy urged the electorate to vote for larger railway trucks.

Once more Mr. Baldwin was hurled into oblivion. Twice he had led his party to disaster. Twice he had put the Socialists into office. The cry of “Baldwin must go” began to permeate even the Tory ranks, and Beaverbrook, sizing up the situation with complete accuracy, sprang the Empire Party on the country with the threat to swallow the Conservative Party and, once and for all, rid the nation of mumbling, bungling Mr. Baldwin. By-elections were fought, Baldwin candidates were defeated. Finally, at St. George’s, the most aristocratic constituency in London, a by-election was fought on the issue of “For or against Baldwin?” and Mr. Baldwin agreed to abide by the result. But his candidate, Duff Cooper, husband of the lovely Lady Diana Manners, did a crafty thing. He altered the fight to “Are you in favor of newspaper dictatorship?”

The electorate sensed the new menace as it did in the general strike. It went to the polls and voted—not for Baldwin, but against newspaper dictatorship.

And once more this man of destiny ruminated: “I have made many mistakes, but those very mistakes have exposed the threat of government by newspapers. We are finished with that, as we are with general strikes.

“Thus with faltering steps do I somehow serve the nation I love so much. No doubt the American debt settlement was bad, but wasn’t it time for some nation to show that it intended to honor its bond? And I suppose the gold standard was wrong, but wasn’t it our place to try and end the juggling of currencies that was killing international trade? And with all the storms sweeping the world, was it so mad to advise a policy of ‘Safety First.’ so that we would not be drawn into the storm areas?”

The National Government

AT ANY RATE, press dictatorship was dead. Beaverbrook had won every battle but the last one. Still he might argue that his press had no mean power. Without Beaverbrook’s attacks to sustain him, Stanley Baldwin would never have retained the leadership of the Tory party.

So came 1931.

The Socialist government crashed. The Tories could have swept the country, but a National Government was proposed instead.

“That is a grand idea,” ruminated Squire Baldwin. “Since we must have unity to meet this crisis, where should we set the example if not in politics? I will gladly serve under my former opponent, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald.”

And. because Mr. Baldwin had not committed himself to tariffs or agricultural protection or Imperial preference, the Simonite Liberals and the MacDonald Laborites were able to form a common front with him. Whereupon tariffs, agricultural protection and Imperial preference were at once brought in.

“Now if I had fought on Tariffs in 1929,” ruminated Mr. Baldwin, “I might have been returned with a small majority, but with nearly half the House committed irrevocably to Free Trade. A National Government would have been difficult and Protection impossible if the Government could ever have been formed. Somehow I seem to have brought this about almost as swiftly as my old friend Beaverbrook could have done and with much less fuss.”

His loyalty to Ramsay MacDonald brought a new dignity to British public life.

The Premier Makes a Slip

'T'IME moves on! Another general election came due in November, 1935. Mr. Baldwin was head of the National Government. He declared solidly for the League of Nations, and this, added to the great achievements of his government, sends the British public clamoring to the polls to pay tribute to its great and beloved premier. The bungler has become a giant. His ix)wer is supreme.

This time he is swept back on a tide of enthusiasm, and among the floating timber that comes ashore on the surf is the writer of this article.

Hardly has Parliament opened when Sir Samuel Hoare leaves for Paris and does a deal with M. Laval for stopping the war in Ethiopia by giving Mussolini as much booty as he can carry away. Mr. Baldwin approves.

Once more the storm breaks. This time Beaverbrook does not attack Baldwin, but supports both him and Hoare while attacking Anthony Eden. The storm rises in its fury.

“Stand firm, Baldwin!” shouts Beaverbrook. “I am behind you. Stand steady, Hoare. I will sustain you. Make your peace with God, Eden, for I am after you !”

Beaverbrook is thinking with that superbly logical brain that can always see clear to the horizon but never beyond: “Any peace in Abyssinia would be worth while to avoid a European conflagration.”

But he has not counted on his man of destiny.

“I believe that I have done right,” says Sir Samuel Hoare. “But since public opinion does not support me I resign.”

“I know that I did wrong,” says Mr. Baldwin, “because public opinion and public conscience have taught me so. I am often mistaken, but never shall I stand in the way of the conscience of this people which is always right. The Paris proposals are dead and I part with my greatest friend.”

All day long he sat in the House and listened to insult upon insult from the Socialists and anti-Government Liberals, while the growls from his own supporters sounded like feeding time at the Zoo.

They say that he will never recover from this blow, that he will never regain his mastery over the House or his prestige in the country. But he is probably ruminating at this hour:

“Through my mistake we were able to demonstrate to the world the power of democracy, the ability of public opinion to overthrow a government’s decision. Perhaps, somehow, we have struck a mighty blow for the freedom of the people to govern their own destinies. I am tired of office but I must go on.”

Do you wonder that we wait with bated breath for the reopening of Parliament, and can you not sympathize with Beaverbrook who is always right, who loves his country just as much as Mr. Baldwin, but whose life has been devoted to the extinction of the indestructible?