Churchill’s Magnanimity: Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947)

Churchill’s Magnanimity: Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947)

Churchill’s cen­so­ri­ous remark about Prime Min­is­ter Stan­ley Bald­win was not, I was pleased to learn, his last words. Once again his char­ac­ter­is­tic mag­na­nim­i­ty pre­vailed. My thanks to my col­league Dave Tur­rell for this information.

June, 1947

Sir Mar­tin Gilbert pub­lished the arrest­ing asser­tion by Churchill in 1947 (In Search of Churchill, 1995, 106). In June, WSC was invit­ed to send a let­ter (I would think for a festschrift) on Baldwin’s 80th birth­day, August 3rd. Writ­ing to an inter­me­di­ary, Churchill refused. “I wish Stan­ley Bald­win no ill, but it would have been much bet­ter if he had nev­er lived.” Gilbert was tak­en aback:

In my long search for Churchill few let­ters have struck a clear­er note than this one. Churchill was almost always mag­nan­i­mous. His trib­ute to Neville Cham­ber­lain in 1940 was among the high points of his par­lia­men­tary genius. But he saw Bald­win as respon­si­ble for the “locust years” when Britain, if dif­fer­ent­ly led, could have eas­i­ly rearmed, and kept well ahead of the Ger­man mil­i­tary and air expansion….

May, 1950

Dave Tur­rell was cer­tain this wasn’t Churchill’s last word. He remem­bered that WSC had spo­ken at the ded­i­ca­tion of a memo­r­i­al three years after Baldwin’s death. Dave looked this up, and found that Churchill had end­ed the sto­ry with his more usu­al gen­eros­i­ty. (From Robert Rhodes James, ed., Win­ston S. Churchill: His Com­plete Speech­es, 8 vols., 1974, VIII: 8007-08):

…although I had sev­er­al deep polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences with [Bald­win], we were always good friends, and I nev­er remem­ber a time when I could not dis­cuss with him any mat­ter, pub­lic or pri­vate, frankly and freely, as man to man. Here was a states­man who, over a long peri­od of years, exer­cised a remark­able per­son­al influ­ence upon British pol­i­tics and British for­tunes…. In pri­vate life we must not for­get how, after the First World War, he pre­sent­ed anony­mous­ly a fifth of his pri­vate fortune—£120,000—to the nation, seek­ing no thanks or polit­i­cal advantage.

[In 1924-29] he achieved two endur­ing tri­umphs. The first was the Pact of Locarno…the high­est point reached in the peace­ful set­tle­ment of Europe between the two world wars. The sec­ond was a five years’ steady improve­ment, judged by every test, in the stan­dards of life, labour and employ­ment of the British people….

Recounting their political arguments…

…Churchill con­tin­ued kindly:

I had part­ed polit­i­cal com­pan­ion­ship with him before he began his sec­ond long term of pow­er. My dif­fer­ence arose about India. I hold to the views I then expressed today, but I am con­tent to leave his­to­ry to judge as it unfolds over the years that are to come. But the British nation, all par­ties in the State, have endorsed Mr. Baldwin’s views and the con­se­quences that fol­low from them. No one who accept­ed his guid­ance then has a right to reproach his mem­o­ry now….

A whole series of for­eign and mil­i­tary events with which he was not spe­cial­ly fit­ted to deal then broke in upon his con­duct of home affairs. As I was his chief crit­ic upon these issues, and my words are upon record. I have a right to declare here and now, by this sand­stone memo­r­i­al, that his courage and patri­o­tism did not fail, although the trag­ic course of events belied his judgement.

Per­haps a rem­nant of enmi­ty sur­vived when Churchill observed that the memo­r­i­al was made of sand­stone. Still, he added: “not all who now claim supe­ri­or wis­dom fore­saw what was approach­ing.” Stan­ley Bald­win, he con­clud­ed, “was the most for­mi­da­ble politi­cian I have ever known in our pub­lic life.”

“This sandstone memorial”

The Bald­win Memo­r­i­al today. (Ast­ley and Dun­ley Parish Council)

Dave men­tioned find­ing the memo­r­i­al in Ast­ley, not far from the long­time Bald­win home. It was in “very sad and grub­by con­di­tion, look­ing as if it had been knocked out of square by a pass­ing lor­ry.” Hap­pi­ly in 2021 its trustees, the Ast­ley and Dun­ley Parish Coun­cil,  care­ful­ly restored the mark­er. It real­ly is made of sand­stone. An expert stone­ma­son super­vised its gen­tle clean­ing. Today again, it meets Churchill’s expec­ta­tions that day in 1950:

Of all parts of Eng­land, Worces­ter­shire stood in his mind hon­oured and pre­em­i­nent…  The ground we now stand was his most sacred spot…. As the years roll by and the per­spec­tive of his­to­ry length­ens and reduces so many of our dis­putes to their due pro­por­tion, there will be few who will pass this place with­out giv­ing their respect­ful salute.

2 thoughts on “Churchill’s Magnanimity: Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947)

  1. The coal strike, which sparked the Gen­er­al Strike, car­ried on until the end of 1926, end­ing in defeat for the min­ers, a lot of bit­ter­ness and seri­ous­ly dam­aged Churchill’s rep­u­ta­tion on the Left. That the Gen­er­al Strike hap­pened at all doesn’t say much for the case that the stan­dard of liv­ing was improv­ing. The mag­na­nim­i­ty Churchill showed both Bald­win and Cham­ber­lain was far more evi­dent in pub­lic than in pri­vate. It is also less fair to blame Bald­win for the state of British pre­pared­ness, since WSC was his Chan­cel­lor of in 1924-29, slash­ing war bud­gets, blithe­ly assert­ing that there was no chance of war with Japan in his life­time. Where­as Cham­ber­lain actu­al­ly did loosen the purs­es­trings toward the end of his tenure, though nowhere near what was need­ed. Many thanks for this sec­ond go round. I also want to thank you for the advice you gave me some years ago on assem­bling a set of The World Crisis.

    Indeed true about the strike dam­ag­ing his rep­u­ta­tion on the left. But pros­per­i­ty is rel­a­tive, and was bet­ter under Bald­win than in the ear­ly 1920s. So is rear­ma­ment. Times change, per­spec­tives change. In the 1920s Japan was a WW1 ally and the Ten Year Rule pre­vailed. WSC did acknowl­edge Chamberlain’s rear­ma­ment, with­out which he couldn’t have won the Bat­tle of Britain. Thanks for the kind words. —RML

  2. “The sec­ond was a five years’ steady improve­ment, judged by every test, in the stan­dards of life, labour and employ­ment of the British people….”

    Won­der what that Gen­er­al Strike in 1926, was about, then?

    Also fit­ting to remem­ber that Bald­win, after pick­ing Churchill out of the polit­i­cal wilder­ness in 1924, by mak­ing Churchill Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer, nev­er gave Churchill any prefer­ment in the next fif­teen years. Neville Cham­ber­lain didn’t pro­mote Churchill either—until the war forced his hand in 1939. Eas­i­er to be mag­nan­i­mous to some­one who final­ly does pro­mote you after fight­ing to keep you out, com­pared to some­one who pro­mot­ed you once, then suc­cess­ful­ly fought to keep you out for years.

    Gre­go­ry, those are very valid points, though the Gen­er­al Strike was an anom­aly in the five yeats 1925-29, and didn’t last a fort­night. And sure­ly the point is that Churchill was mag­nan­i­mous toward them both, though he did hold Bald­win more respon­si­ble for the state of defens­es in 1939. -RML

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