Stanley Baldwin

1923 - 1924, 1924 - 1929, 1935 - 1937

Baldwin (1867-1947) was the heir to and for 20 years partner in the major steel business built up by his father. He entered Parliament in 1908 and became Bonar Law’s private secretary in 1916, being recommended by the Chief Whip as “discreet enough to be safe and stupid enough not to intrigue.”1 In 1919 he gave 20% of his wealth, £120,000, to reduce the National Debt, and appears to have been surprised when there was a notable lack of other war-wealthy following his lead.

He played a major role in the 1922 Carlton Club meeting, was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer by Bonar Law, and seven months later was a surprise appointment as Prime Minister over the more senior and qualified George, Marquess Curzon (1859-1925). His first action as Prime Minister was to make the correct decision that an Imperial Preference tariff was needed (a 10% tariff would have balanced British and international price levels, removing the deflationary damage from the 1925 Gold Standard return) and then call a very early election, in which he threw away a solid majority. There was no need for an election before designing and passing tariff legislation; the Conservatives had a secure majority and Bonar Law, who had foolishly given a “no tariffs before another election” pledge, had been a well-known protectionist – any election could have been held to ratify a done deal.

Both Baldwin’s subsequent terms in office, 1924-29 and 1935-37, were moderately successful, although Neville Chamberlain was the true leader during the latter period (as he was during Ramsay Macdonald’s National Government tenure). Baldwin handled the General Strike well and presided over a useful reform of local government (mostly Chamberlain’s work) but suffered from the sluggishness of Britain’s economy and unexpectedly lost the 1929 election. After his return in 1935 he was largely passive, but usefully eased Edward VIII off the throne.

Baldwin had good people skills but was a lazy man, prone to long holidays, and an unimaginative leader. Although long-lasting in a difficult period, he was significantly below the prime ministerial average, perhaps in the 30s.

[1] Leonard, op. cit. p583.

© 2020 Martin Hutchinson