Posted by: Dr Pano Kroko Churchill | September 16, 2017

What would Winston Churchill Do? (Chapter 39)

Winston Churchill fought hard in these elections, all in order to retain his seat in the House of Commons, and realizing that he had to convince the electors that he still maintained his reforming liberal zeal, and was not leaning towards the Right.

Indeed this time, he had prepared his speech with great care, and he told the audience how important it was to steer a middle course between the extremes of die-hard Toryism on the one hand, and Socialism on the other.

He said that: “I do not think, that the country is in a fit condition to be torn and harried by savage domestic warfare. What we require now is not a period of turmoil but a period of stability and recuperation. Let us stand together and tread a middle way.”

But in his election address, issued the week before, he had been careful to establish himself as a true progressive.

He talked about housing, about larger unemployment benefits, and about an improvement in the public services.

He attacked the Tories as the retrograde party saying: “Mr Bonar Law has described his policy as one of negation. Such a message of negation will strike despair in the heart of every earnest social worker and of every striver after social justice. He cannot be accepted by any generous-hearted man or woman.
Over the portals of 10 Downing Street the new Prime Minister had inscribed
these words: “All hope abandon ye who enter here.””

But the Dundee electorate was not impressed. They felt that Winston’s interest in domestic affairs and his concern with the condition of the working classes were only political opportunism. Besides this, they disapproved of his attitude in foreign affairs. Winston, on the other hand, felt that he had never done so well politically as he had in the post-war years.

Winston later wrote this: “I had in two years, successfully conducted the settlement of our affairs in Palestine and Iraq, and had carried through the extremely delicate and hazardous arrangements necessitated by the Irish Treaty. I think I may say that the session of 1922 was the most prosperous I have ever had as a Minister in the House of Commons.”

But Dundee had forgotten Palestine and Iraq; and Winston’s patient negotiations over the Irish question were overshadowed by the fact that he had been Minister of War in a Government which had instituted the ‘Black and Tans.’ Most of all they resented his interference in Russia and Poland. The Radicals had a firm belief that nations must be allowed to handle their own affairs and that all interference came under the hated head of Tory Imperialism.

On the evening of 14th of November, Winston attempted to address a mass meeting of nine thousand people in the Drill Hall. The hall was packed with opponents, seething with emotion, discontent and ill-will. He was carried onto the platform in an invalid chair. “I was struck by looks of passionate hatred on the faces of some of the younger men and women. Indeed but for my helpless condition I am sure they would have hit me.”

He was unable to deliver his speech. Every time he started the audience burst into song, swelling the hall with the strains of: “Tell me the old, old story.” And above the din were bitter, hysterical cries of: “This time we’ll do the same as Manchester.”

When the poll was announced Winston and his National Liberal partner, Mr D. J. MacDonald, were defeated by the two Left-wing candidates, both of whom emerged with the huge majorities of ten thousand each. For the first time since 1900 Winston was out of Parliament.

He said: “In the twinkling of an eye I found myself without an office, without a seat, without a party, and even without an appendix.”

As the Dundee result of 1922 was known, Mr and Mrs Churchill left for the South of France. Winston was still weak from his appendicitis operation and the doctor agreeably recommended the sunshine and the sea air of Cannes for his health’s convalescence. Accompanied by a maid, a valet and a secretary, and equipped with plenty of foolscap and his painting kit, he cheerfully set off. Winston loved bright colours and since the dull English sky often prevented him from transmitting them to his canvas he made the most of the brilliant days that stretched out before him. Every afternoon he put up his easel on the beach or along the quiet country lanes and painted to his heart’s content. He wrote: “I agree with Ruskin, in his denunciation of that school of painting who “eat slate-pencil and chalk, and assure everybody that they are nicer and purer than strawberries and plums. I cannot pretend to feel impartial about the colours. I rejoice with the brilliant ones, and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns. When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting, and so get to the bottom of the subject. But then I shall require a still gayer palette than I get here below. I expect orange and vermilion will be the darkest, dullest colours upon it, and beyond them will be a whole range of wonderful- new colours which will delight the celestial
eye.”

To Winston painting was a solace, a relaxation and an infinite pleasure.
Although Augustus John, found that he had ‘extraordinary talent’ and Orpen proclaimed that he was ‘most promising’ he did not attempt to enter the ranks of the professionals. In 1921, however, he exhibited five landscapes in Paris under the name of Charles Morin, and sold four of them for 30 pounds each. Yet his head was not turned. He understood enough to appreciate the genius of the great artist and consequently was aware of his own limitations; but this in no way diminished his enjoyment. He found that painting opened out a fascinating new world. He was noticing shadows and lights and colours he had never been aware of before, and even his travels took on an added excitement. He began to feel sorry for the people who rushed around Europe searching for pleasure in mammoth hotels, unaware of the priceless gifts they were missing. Once one was interested in painting, “the vain racket of the tourist gives way to the
calm enjoyment of the philosopher, intensified by an enthralling sense of
action and endeavor.”

But whereas painting was a pastime, writing was a business. In this field
Winston was the true professional for in it he earned his living when
politics failed, and took pride in the large sums his work commanded.
Although he had not produced a book since the biography of his father
appeared sixteen years earlier, when he was out of office in the war he had
found no difficulty in providing for his family by newspaper and magazine
articles. Now he no longer had to write for a living because in 1919 he inherited a fortune under the will of his great-grandmother, the Marchioness of Londonderry, and thus now had an income in the region of 5,000 a year. Yet
he still regarded the creation of books as his chief occupation after politics,
and as soon as he reached the South of France, he settled down to work writing.

For some years he had been carefully filing letters, documents and memoranda for a book on the war. It was to be a major effort, published in four or five volumes and entitled The World Crisis. He had already outlined and prepared much of the first two volumes, one of which dealt with the years from 1911 to the outbreak of the war, and the second with the first year of the conflict and his part in the Dardanelles tragedy. The chapters on the Dardanelles had been written during the war and submitted to the Royal Commission appointed to investigate the matter, as a justification of his actions. These went into the book almost as they stood.

He worked every morning dictating to his secretary, often pacing up and down the room chewing a cigar. He could talk a book better than write one and he often got through three or four thousand words a day. The first volume of ‘The World Crisis’ appeared in April 1923 and the second, came out in October of the same year.

The book attracted wide attention. It was a brilliant effort, the argument
was lucid and persuasive, the characters stood out boldly, the prose
sparkled and flowed, the narrative was compelling, and the theme was
presented in the grand manner worthy of a great drama. Yet it was not
history. It lacked the purpose of the scholar eager to present his story with
scrupulous objectivity, and revealed the purpose of the politician anxious
to explain and justify his actions. It was carefully done, for it breathed an
air of neutrality, yet by its skilful emphasis was strongly partisan. This was
no reflection on Winston. The book was an artistic triumph and he had
recorded events as he saw them. He was capable of great generosity, but
not of impartiality. He believed in his own ideas and his own powers with
such an intensity that he could rarely see the merits of an approach to a
problem other than his own.

The reviewers hailed the two volumes as an absorbing contribution,
but they all fastened on its personal character. Professor Pollard, professor
of English history at London University, reviewed the book in The Times
under the heading: ‘Apologia for the Admiralty First Class Material for
History’. He described it as ‘more brilliant and fascinating than the
biography of his father’, then went on to say: ‘Wide vision and a vivid
imagination lift alike his matter and his style far above the pedestrian scope
of the mere chronicler of naval and military events or the retailer of official
information. His book will therefore appeal to a vastly wider public than
the more precise and impersonal histories of the naval and military opera-
tions of the war. Serious students will not need, and others will not heed,
the warning that an apologia may be first-class material for history but
cannot be history itself.’

Winston’s friends could not refrain from being malicious gossip at his expense.
Lord Balfour told someone that he was immersed in Winston’s brilliant
autobiography disguised as a history of the universe, and another colleague
commented: “Winston has written an enormous book about himself and
called it ‘The World Crisis.'”

However, nasty the gossip, from friends and foes alike – the books netted him well over 20,000 pounds, and he spent all that book-money on buying his fine home, the Chartwell House, on a beautiful hill overlooking the Kentish countryside.

This was to be his vantage point, his monastery, his studio, and his family home, away from the rest of the world.

Despite his literary triumph, his new country house, his painting and his
other countless activities, Winston was not happy. He was a creature of
moods, and when he was out of office his pleasures were disturbed by a
hankering for power which increased as the days passed. His thoughts
were always on politics. It was some comfort to be able to reconstruct
events as he saw them in a political book, but how much more exciting
it was to create the events themselves. He followed every debate in the
House of Commons, and every move the Government made; and when
people came to dine with him he sat at the table until midnight discussing
the personalities and questions of the day. The men in power were a
mediocre lot; how much better he would handle things, he thought, if
only he were given the chance.

But at this point the future looked bleak, for the General Election of
1922, at which he had been defeated, had returned the Conservatives with
344 seats. It had left the Liberals weak, divided and impotent. The Lloyd
George Liberals had won only 57 seats and the Asquith. Liberals 60. The
Labour Party had emerged as the official Opposition with its 142 Members,
by far the most they had ever sent to the House of Commons. Did this
mean that Liberalism was dead? If so, where did Winston fit in? The
Conservatives would have nothing to do with him and he would have
nothing to do with the Labour Party. Besides, Labour cordially detested
him. There was only one answer: somehow he must make his peace with
the Tories.

Winston’s friends regarded his future dubiously. Even Lloyd George
and Lord Birkenhead, who appreciated his brilliant gifts, predicted that he
would make a greater contribution to history as a writer than as a states-
man. He was out on a political limb, and it seemed doubtful if he could
ever climb back.

It was apparent to anyone who took an interest in national affairs that an
important change was taking place in English political life. For over a
century the two great parties of the State, Liberal and Conservative, had
fulfilled opposing but complementary functions- The duty of Con-
servatives was to ‘conserve’. Their hands were seldom off the brake. They
defended the status quo and resisted most changes until they saw that
change was absolutely inevitable, then accepted it with as good a grace as
possible. The Liberals, on the other hand, constituted a reforming Party.
William Ewart Gladstone summed up their outlook when he said: ‘I will
back the masses against the classes the world over.’ The Liberal function
was to spread democratic rights, many of which were enjoyed only by
the privileged class.

But whereas, to the bulk of the people, the struggle of the working man
in the nineteenth century was mainly concerned with political freedoms
such as the right to vote, and the right of Trade Unions to organize and
expand, in the twentieth century the struggle took on a different aspect.
Political freedom was clearly defined and dearly established. The working
man was now concerned with economic freedom. Britain was the richest
manufacturing country in the world and London the greatest capital city.
Yet at the turn of the century in London itsdf thirty per cent of the popu-
lation was suffering from malnutrition. Nowhere in the Western world
were there greater extremes of riches and poverty. The wealth of the
nation lay in the hands of a tiny minority. Even as late as 1936 it was
estimated that only one per cent of the population owned fifty-five per
cent of the nation’s private property.

Lloyd George understood and sympathized with the discontent of the
working dasses. He made British history by using the budget as an instru-
ment for re-distributing the national income. Taxation of the rich was
made to pay for a whole system of social benefits and security. But
Lloyd George’s legislation was only a first step in satisfying the aspirations
of the wage-earning population. During the war progress came to a halt,
but when the conflict was over the demands were more pressing than ever.
The working classes had been promised ‘homes fit for heroes’ and they
were determined to get them. However, there was little reforming zeal
about Lloyd George’s Coalition Government, which was mainly domi-
nated by Conservatives. And Lloyd George himself, preoccupied with the
Paris Peace Treaty, seemed to have lost his Radical outlook. Up till this
time the bulk of the working class had voted Liberal. Now they began to
turn towards the Labour Party as their only hope.

But the Labour Party itself had undergone a drastic change. When it
was formed in 1900 the idea of- its leader, Keir Hardie, was to mould a
political organization, backed by the Trade Unions, strong enough to
send working men to Parliament to represent the interests of their own
class. Hardie resented the fact that the Liberals, despite their progressive
ideas, generally refused to accept miners or factory hands as their candi-
dates. He was convinced that the case of the working man would never be
placed forcibly before the country until the working man himself had
the opportunity to state it.

Until 1918 this remained the simple object of Keir Hardie’s party. But
when the war ended Labour broadened its aims. A new constitution was
drafted by Sidney Webb, designed to end Labour’s narrow class appeal by
addressing itself to all those who ‘produced by hand or brain. It also
adopted Socialism as its faith, but it was not the Socialism of Karl Marx. It
was Christian Socialism which rejected revolutionary methods, basing
itself firmly on democratic institutions and the theory of ‘gradualism’.
Its aim, it declared, was by these orthodox methods ‘to secure for the
producers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most
equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon a. basis of com-
mon ownership of the means of production and the best obtainable system
of popular administration and control of each industry and service.’

The widened appeal of the Labour Party attracted new recruits from all
walks of life. Professional men from the middle classes and even aristocrats began to flock to its banner. Several leading Liberals such as Mr Noel Buxton and Sir Charles Trevelyan joined its ranks. The historic division between the English Conservative and the English Radical was now becoming a division between wage earners backed by a large number of professional men and women, and property owners supported by a cross- section of all classes who believed that the well-to-do made the best rulers.
The argument between the two parties was the age-old quarrel over
money.

ON BEING A CONSERVATIVE

If the Liberal Party was dead, and the struggle of the future lay between
Labour and Conservatism, Winston had no difficulty in making his
choice. Before the war Lloyd George’s immense driving power had
carried him along the path of Radicalism but now that that impetus had
subsided, he reverted instinctively to his natural aristocratic background.

He had a genuine desire to see a minimum standard of living established
below which no one would be allowed to fall, and he vigorously held the
opinion that compulsory insurance was the answer. But he never had any
patience with the idea that the manual labourer, simply because he was in a
majority in the country, should rule or dominate it. He felt that the
nation’s prosperity depended on brains and enterprise, and his Liberalism
took the form of denouncing privilege in favour of ‘the golden ideal of
“careers open to talent’. But that is as far as it went. If the working man
wanted power and responsibility let him climb up the ladder; but he
should not sit at the bottom and demand the prizes by virtue of number
rather than ability.

The problem for Winston, therefore, was not in making a choice be-
tween the two parties, but in finding a way of installing himself in the
good graces of the Conservatives. Only one bridge was possible: an issue
that transcended the differences between Liberals and Conservatives and
ranged them on the same side. Ever since the war Winston had been a
relentless enemy of Bolshevism. If he could convince the electorate that
the British Labour Party had an affinity with the tyrants of Russia, no
one could blame him for deserting a weakened Liberal Party to lend his
strength to the only force capable of real opposition.

It is difficult to judge a man’s motives fairly. They are often made up of
an elaborate mixture of idealism and calculation. Winston may have had a
genuine fear that the Labour Party would prove unconstitutional if it got
into power. In those days the Movement contained a good many ex-
tremists, and it was even rumoured that the Daily Herald was supported by
Russian funds. Some of the extremists advocated a General Strike as a basic tenet of policy, and the Government took the threat so seriously that as early as the summer of 1920 preparations were begun to set up a volunteer organization to operate in case of an emergency. On the other hand many people considered these provisions hysterical, for the Labour Party leaders, who represented the majority of their followers, were deeply pledged to democratic methods and repeatedly and publicly had repudiated the ‘catastrophic’ theories of the Marxists.

Whenever Winston embraced a cause, however, it impressed itself upon
him with resolve, and he thus treated the public to a horrific picture of strife and upheaval in the event of Labour reaching full power.

But most Liberals and even a large number of Conservatives did not share
his belief that the Socialist leaders were such a sinister lot. Many of them
were openly embarrassed by his extreme point of view, but this only
strengthened his fervour. On 4 May, 1923, he addressed the Aldwych
Club in London: ‘We see developing a great, vehement, deliberate attack
upon the foundations of society We see not only Liberals of the Left
but Conservatives of the Right, assuring the country that there is no
danger of Socialism or of a Socialist Government, that it is a mere bogey
or bugbear not worthy of serious attention; that the Labour leaders are
very sensible and honest men, who would never think of carrying out
their pledges. Finally we are told that in any case we must not resist them
or organize effectively against them, because it would not be democratic
or modern-minded to oppose Labour. Thus all resistance to violent change
is paralysed or reduced to feebleness and futility.

Winston was only happy when he was fighting a dangerous foe and as
a result most of those attacks lost their effect through over-statement, and
more than once he received a biting indictment from H. G. Wells. ‘He
believes quite naively,’ Wells wrote, that he belongs to a peculiarly gifted
and privileged class of beings to whom the lives and affairs of common
men are given over, the raw material of brilliant careers. His imagination
is obsessed by dreams of exploits and a career. It is an imagination closely
akin to the d’Annunzio type. In England, d’Annunzio would have been a
Churchill; in Italy, Churchill would have been a d’Annunzio. He is a great
student and collector of the literature of Napoleon I, that master adven-
turer. Before all things he desires a dramatic world with villains and one
Hero.

When one reads these scathing vignettes one can only ponder on the
narrow line between political failure and success. In those days it was the
fashion to ridicule Churchill and if he had died before the age of sixty his
obituary notice would not have praised him as a statesman. The political
genius was there but the occasion was lacking. When it finally presented
itself, H.G.Wells, and millions of his countrymen, were thankful that
Churchill was there to play the part.

In 1923 an event occurred which proved advantageous for Winston Churchill .
Bonar Law, the Conservative Prime Minister and Winston’s firm political
enemy, resigned and soon afterwards died, and Stanley Baldwin, the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, succeeded to the Premiership. Baldwin, a
shrewd, kind, stolid Englishman, who liked the countryside, smoked
pipes and was a cousin of Rudyard Kipling, was worried by the fact that
unemployment still hovered at the million mark. He came to the con-
clusion that the only way to cure this national disease was by introducing
tariffs against foreign goods and thereby stimulating British trade. But in
view of pledges given by Bonar Law in the 1922 election he did not feel
that he could undertake such a drastic step without having a mandate
from the country. Consequently a general election took place.

Baldwin thus picked the only issue capable of uniting all Liberals in one
battleline. Asquith and Lloyd George at once joined forces on the subject
of Free Trade. This put Winston in an awkward position. He had no wish
to fight against a Conservative candidate when he was trying to re-enter
the ranks of the Conservative Party. However, he found a way out of the
dilemma. He stood as a Liberal Free Trader at West Leicester where his
chief opponent in a three-cornered fight was not a Conservative but a
Socialist, Mr F. W. Pethick-Lawrence.

Winston’s campaign was noisy and excited. His violent attacks on the
Labour Party raised the temperature to boiling point and drew packed
meetings filled with irate hecklers. The Socialists flung up every accusation
they could find. Winston’s The World Crisis had revived the old con-
troversy of Antwerp and the Dardanelles and these subjects were raised so
consistently that General Sir Ian Hamilton finally sent a telegram pointing
out to the public that the expedition had been ‘triumphantly vindicated’
at a meeting of the Senior Naval and Army Officers. Winston himself
answered his opponents vigorously. ‘The Dardanelles might have saved
millions of lives. Don’t imagine that I run away from the Dardanelles:
I glory in it…

He was so bitterly hated by a large section of the working class, how-
ever, that when he spoke in London, at Walthamstow, on 3 December,
1923, the authorities were obliged to send both mounted and foot police
to protect him. A brick was hurled at the window of his car, and a man
who had shaken his fist in Winston Churchill’s face was hustled off to the police station. Winston gave an interview to the Evening News describing the hecklers as ‘the worst crowd I have ever seen in England in twenty-five
years of public life. They were more like Russian wolves than British
workmen if they are British workmen howling, foaming and spitting,
and generally behaving in a way absolutely foreign to the British working
classes. He was defeated by 13,000 votes to 9,000.

The result of the general election was that Conservatives, Liberals and
Labour were each returned in numbers that gave no single party a clear
majority over the other two. The only way a Government could be
carried on was by two parties forming a coalition. It was unthinkable at
this period that Conservative and Labour could work together, and the
fact that Conservatives and Liberals had opposed each other on the main
issue of the election, Protection, made this second combination impossible.
The only alternative was a Liberal-Labour Government. And since Labour
had more seats than the Liberals it fell to them to form an Administration
with Liberal backing. Thus Ramsay MacDonald became Prime Minister
of England.

It must have been apparent to Winston Churchill , as it was to everyone else
connected with politics, that a Labour Government held in power by
Liberal support could not introduce any drastic changes. It must also have
been apparent to him that the Labour leaders, Ramsay MacDonald, J. R.
Clynes, Philip Snowden and Arthur Henderson, were not the sort of men
for whom revolutionary tactics had any appeal whatsoever. Most of them
were nonconformists and all of them were democrats; they were high-
minded men whose main purpose was to alleviate the conditions of the
poor. There was nothing in Ramsay MacDonald’s philosophy that could
have prevented him becoming a Liberal; indeed, only a short while pre-
viously MacDonald had advocated the dropping of Socialism as a party
label ‘because there is a sort of bookish association about socialism’.

However, Winston’s only hope of a reconciliation with the Con-
servatives was to keep the Socialist bogey alive and inflate it as much as
possible. On 17 January, 1924, he wrote a letter to the press stating the
following view: ‘The currents of Party warfare are carrying us into
dangerous waters. The enthronement in office of a Socialist Government
will be a serious national misfortune such as has usually befallen great
States only on the morrow of their defeat in war. It will delay the return
of prosperity, it will open a period of increasing political confusion and
disturbance, it will place both the Liberal and the Labour Parties in a
thoroughly false position . . . The great central mass of the nation desires
to see foreign affairs and social reform dealt with by the new Parliament
on their merits without rancour- or prejudice, and in a sincere spirit of
good-will. All such prospects will be destroyed by the accession to office
of a minority party innately pledged to the fundamental subversion of the
existing social and economic civilization and organized for that purpose
and that purpose alone. Strife and tumults, deepening and darkening, will
be the only consequence of minority Socialist rule.

A month later, in February, a Conservative seat fell vacant in the Abbey
Division of Westminster. Winston at once set about trying to get himself
adopted as the Conservative candidate. His Tory friends, Lord Birken-
head, Austen Chamberlain and Lord Balfour, all used their influence on
his behalf. On 24 March an article about Winston written by Lord Birken-
head was spectacularly displayed in the Sunday Times. It dealt with Winston’s early career and told how, in the writer’s opinion, Winston would
never have severed his connections with the Tory Party if the Tory Prime
Minister, Arthur Balfour, had encouraged him by offering him a job.
Winston had always been a Tory at heart. He was a ‘restive young
thoroughbred and his defection had been one of the ‘tragedies of modern
polities’ for no one believed in the ‘stately continuity of English life more
thoroughly than he. Birkenhead then went on to say: ‘To those who
know him well it is very remarkable how complete is the public miscon-
ception of the man. He is looked upon as reserved, insolent and even
bullying. For these illusions his own demeanour is (unintentionally) much
to blame. He has no small talk, and says everything which comes into his
mind. Sometimes caustic and disagreeable things come into it though in
private life this never happens … He has indeed, in the intimacy of
personal friendship, a quality which is almost feminine in its caressing
charm. And he has never in all his life failed a friend, however embarrassing the obligation which he felt it necessary to honour proved at the moment.’

Despite the powerful intervention on his behalf the Conservative
Association of Westminster turned down Winston’s application in favour
of Captain Otho Nicholson, a nephew of the retiring Member. Winston,
however, was undaunted and on 10 March the press carried his announce-
ment that he was standing as an ‘independent and Anti-Socialist’ candidate.
‘My candidature,’ he explained, ‘is in no way hostile to the Conservative
Party or its leaders, on the contrary I recognize that the Party must now
become the main rallying ground for the opponents of the Socialist
Party. In the King’s Speech of the late Government the Conservative
leaders have announced a broad progressive policy in social matters and
have made declarations which in their main outline might well have
served as the King’s Speech of a Liberal Government.’

Winston’s intervention almost comes under the heading of a schoolboy
prank. He often had an irresistible urge to make the ‘stuffier element’ of
the Tory Party sit up and take notice and the Westminster election pro-
vided him with a golden opportunity. Conservatives in the House of
Commons were divided into two groups; those who regarded his candida-
ture as a glorious knock-about turn and those who decried it as a mon-
strous act for a man who called himself an ‘anti-Socialist’. Westminster
was a Conservative seat. The only possible hope of Labour winning the
contest lay in dividing the Tory vote, which easily might have been the
result of Winston’s entry. Several angry letters appeared in The Times.
One by William Morris, a City Councillor, declared: ‘Westminster Con-
servatives have selected Mr Nicholson as their anti-Socialist candidate.
Winston Churchill’s intrusion is an attempt to spoil his chances where, therefore, is Winston Churchill’s anti-Socialism?’

Winston answered his critics with an extraordinary piece of political
humbug. ‘If I thought that the present Conservative candidate,’ he said,
‘really represented the force of character of the constituency I should not
have come forward as a candidate. An important public principle is
involved. The days of family preserves and pocket boroughs ought not to
be revived. It is not right that the Westminster Abbey Division should be
passed on from hand to hand as if it were a piece of furniture handed on
from father to son, or from uncle to nephew.’ {Contrast with: On February 1944, when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, Lord Harrington, the Duke of Devonshire eldest son, stood as a Government candidate in the byelection at West Derbyshire, which had previously been represented by his uncle. Winston wrote him the following letter of support: My dear Harrington, I see that they are attacking you because your family has been identified for about three hundred years with the Parliamentary representation of West Derbyshire. It ought, on the contrary, to be a matter of pride to the constituency to have such a long tradition of such constancy and fidelity through so many changing scenes and
circumstances . . .’ [The Times: 12 March, 1924] }

The byelection was an exciting affair and front page news. The Abbey
Division was the most colourful seat in England; it included Buckingham
Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Soho, Pimlico, the Strand, Covent
Garden, a fashionable residential district, a slum area, and a slice of theatreland. A Conservative M.P. lent Winston a luxurious house in Lord North Street, equipped with priceless Gainsborough pictures, as his headquarters.
A bevy of beautiful Society ladies canvassed for him, and the chorus girls
at Daly’s sat up all night dispatching his election address.

Winston fought the campaign almost entirely against the Socialists.
His speeches were woven against a background of blood and thunder,
against the ruin and shame that a Labour Government would bring to
Britain. The fact that a Labour Government had been in office for three
months and was conducting affairs in an orderly and dignified way did
not dismay him. ‘How well the Socialist Government is doing?’ he jeered.
‘How moderate, how gentle they are. How patriotic Mr Thomas’s
speeches. How lofty Mr MacDonald’s views of his functions. How pious
is Mr Henderson. How prudent is Mr Snowden, how careful of the
State. I say there is no correspondence between this glossy surface, and
the turbulent currents that are flowing beneath. These leaders can never
restrain their followers.’ Winston soon had a spectacular machine working for him. He had one in March, 1924 when he gathered over thirty Conservative M.P.S and a glittering array of peers and peeresses to canvass for him.

He also had the support of Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail.

Nevertheless he did not feel he had a chance unless he could persuade an important Tory political leader to back his cause. Lord Balfour agreed to support him but Baldwin would not consent unless some other Conservative leader came out in support of Nicholson. This not only seems an extraordinary attitude for a Party leader to adopt towards an official candidate, but the very fact that Baldwin himself delayed
issuing an endorsement of Nicholson prompted Mr Leo Amery to write
a letter to The Times in his support. At once Balfour’s letter was released
and broadcast through the constituency. He informed Winston of his
strong desire to see him once more in the House of Commons, ‘once more
able to use your brilliant gifts in the public discussion of the vital problems
with which the country is evidently confronted.’

However, the rank and file of the Tory Party had not yet accepted
Winston. Many of them resented his intervention against the candidate
their Association had adopted. Captain Nicholson plastered the con-
stituency with posters. ‘Dundee didn’t. West Leicester laughed. West-
minster won’t.’ And Captain Nicholson proved to be right. Despite all
the great names, the glamour and glitter, Winston’s forceful and spell-
binding oratory, the unknown Nicholson defeated him by forty-three
votes. {The result was as follows: Captain Nicholson (Conservative) 8,187; Rt. Hon. Winston S. Churchill (Independent and Anti-Socialist) 8,144; Fenner Brockway (Socialist) 6,165; Scott Duckers (Liberal) 291.
21 March, 1924.}
The following day The Times wrote acidly: ‘The features of his late campaign that attracted legitimate criticism were his ill-timed insistence on sheer anti-Socialism as the paramount claim on the electors at this
moment, and the impulse that drove him, holding these views, to
jeopardize a seat which without him was at least anti-Socialist. It is no
new thing, after all, to discover that judgment is not the most con-
spicuous of Winston Churchill’s remarkable gifts.’

But Winston was far from downcast His path was now clear. He had
severed his connection with the Liberals, he had a number of powerful
Conservative friends, he had the good will of the Conservative leader,
Mr Baldwin, and every day he was establishing himself more securely as a
Conservative champion against the forces of ‘revolution’. Although none
of his prophecies about the Labour Government were fulfilled and they
remained a Party of restraint and moderation, Winston was determined
not to let the public forget that they were there, and merely altered the
line of his attack. On 8 May he said at Liverpool: ‘The present Government
is one vast movement of sham and humbug … It has deserted with the
utmost cynicism the whole of its Socialist principles so far as its present
finance, legislation and administration is concerned. . . .’

In the autumn of 1924, only nine months after the Labour Government
had taken over, the Liberals withdrew their support and Ramsay Mac-
Donald was forced to go to the country. The election is known in history
as ‘The Red Letter Election’. A few days before the poll the Foreign Office
published a letter, purported to be from Zinovieff, head of the Bolshevik
Third International, calling on the British Communist Party to organize
an armed revolt in England. This was bitterly denounced by the Labour
Government as a forgery, and to this day the truth of the matter is not
known. But forgery or not, it secured the Conservatives a huge majority
over all parties.

The two years that Winston had been out of Parliament were to prove a
turning point in English politics. They were to mark the end of the Liberal
Party as a parliamentary power, and the rise of the Labour Party as the
official opposition to Toryism; they were also to mark the advent of
fifteen years of the most mediocre and incompetent Conservative rule the
nation had experienced for a century.

During this period Winston had fought and lost three contests, had
severed his connections with the Liberals, and made his way once more
back to the Conservative ranks. At the Red Letter Election, his fourth in
two years, he stood for Epping as a ‘constitutionalist’ with Conservative
support. This time he was successful. A few days after the result was
known the country learned that Stanley Baldwin had appointed him
Chancellor of the Exchequer.

THE CONSERVATIVES were astonished by the news of Winston’s
appointment. The Chancellorship was a glittering prize to be awarded to
a black sheep after nearly twenty years of wandering in heretical fields.
Besides, it was only the year before that Winston had stood as an ardent
Free Trader against the Tory policy of Protection. And lastly, what did he
know of finance? He had no knowledge of economics and no business
experience; indeed in the previous thirteen years he had taken less interest
in domestic affairs than almost any other leading politician.

Why had Stanley Baldwin made the appointment? Winston’s bio-
graphers explain unconvincingly that Baldwin was tired of mediocrity
and had a particular liking for Winston’s buoyant personality. Neither of
these reasons was the real one. The truth was that Baldwin feared
Churchill, and above all he feared the combination of Churchill and
Lloyd George. If he did not include Winston in the Government he was
afraid he might join forces again with Lloyd George in a Center Party,
and perhaps take his friend, Lord Birkenhead, along with him. Baldwin
had no wish to find himself attacked by the three greatest orators of the
day. His first move, therefore, was to detach Churchill from Lloyd
George. And while he was doing the detaching he decided to put Winston
in a position where Conservative pressure would force him to water down
his views on Free Trade. It was a cleverly thought-out manoeuvre by an
astute politician.

If the Conservatives were astonished by Winston’s appointment, he
was apparently even more astonished himself. A story was soon circulat-
ing that when Baldwin offered him the Chancellorship he nodded and
asked pleasantly: ‘Of the Duchy of Lancaster?’ His fortunes had changed
with a dazzling rapidity. The year before he had been a political outcast
with a bleak future; now he was reinstated in the Tory Party and held
the second most important position in the State. Once again he was in
line for the Premiership.

Winston was delighted by his new position for sentimental reasons as
well as political When his father had resigned from the Chancellorship
Lady Randolph Churchill had refused to hand on his robes to his
successor, as was the custom in those days, but had packed them away in
moth balls, declaring that one day Winston would need them. Although
she was no longer alive to see her son’s triumph Winston was immensely
proud to think that her prophecy had come true. Yet the victory was soon
to have a hollow ring for he was destined to preside over the Treasury for
five years of depression, bitterness and strife, accentuated by the gravest
industrial crisis the nation had ever known the General Strike. And
many of the difficulties were to be the direct result of his own financial
policy: the return to the Gold Standard at the pre-war parity of exchange.
Winston Churchill’s first Budget, presented to the Commons on 28 April, 1925, was a masterly parliamentary performance. There were the usual crowds outside No.10 Downing Street waiting to see the Chancellor come out, red dispatch box in hand, on his way to the House; there was the usual air of smiling secrecy; the crowded Chamber; the galleries filled with distinguished visitors. But there was an atmosphere of added excitement for people expected a lively ‘show’ and Winston did not disappoint them. His long address was not the customary dry exposition but an artistic per-
formance that sparkled and flowed and even managed to amuse. In the
middle he broke off, filled a glass in front of him with excisable liquor, and
lifting it commented cheerfully: ‘It is imperative that I should fortify the
revenue, and this I shall now, with the permission of the Commons, pro-
ceed to do.

However, when the first effects of the Chancellor’s speech had worn off
and Members had had time to reflect upon it they found that it contained
nothing very original. It was strait-laced, orthodox Tory finance. Indeed,
when Stanley Baldwin congratulated the Chancellor he said that ‘one of
the reasons why my right honourable Friend’s Budget commends itself
particularly to me, and will commend itself to our Party as also, I
believe, to the House, and, I am certain, to the country is because it
follows the soundest lines of prudence and Conservative finance.

The Opposition based its attack on these same grounds. Philip Snow-
den, the Labour ex-Chancellor, jeered at Churchill, the Free Trader, for
the Protectionist duties he had placed on silk. Winston declared that they
were not Protectionist but merely revenue duties. Snowden then twitted
him for having changed his views on taxing silk imports. ‘There is nothing
wrong with change, if it is in the right direction,’ retorted Churchill.
‘You are an authority on that, said Snowden. ‘To improve is to change,’
recited Churchill blandly. ‘To be perfect is to change often.

Snowden also attacked the Budget for its partiality. ‘There is not one
penny of relief for the wage-earning classes, he declared. ‘Shorn of all the
glamour of the right honourable Gentleman’s eloquence this is his Budget.

No more of a rich man’s Budget has ever been presented. … I congratu-
late the right honourable Gentleman. It will not take long for the glamour
to disappear, and then the great toiling masses of this country will realize
the true character of this Budget, and will realize, too, that the Tory
Party is still more than ever what Lord George Hamilton declared many
years ago: “A party that looks after its own friends, whether it be in office
or out of office”.’

Winston Churchill’s Budget will be remembered in history, but not for its duties on silk nor its reduction in taxation for the rich. It is remembered as the Budget that announced Britain’s return to the pre-war parity of gold.
Today most economic experts agree that this was a disastrous step. It
accentuated the trade depression already in existence and indirectly
brought about an industrial upheaval destined to have far-reaching con-
sequences. As a result Winston Churchill’s critics like to claim that he was ‘the worst
Chancellor Britain has ever had’ and even today remind him angrily of
the responsibility he bore. In 1946 Ernest Bevin told the House of Com-
mons: ‘Directly the right honourable Gentleman (Baldwin) got into office
they (the Government) started to contemplate our return to the Gold
Standard. No sooner had the right honourable Gentleman, the Member
for Woodford (Churchill) agreed to that course, than Sir Otto Niemeyer
left the Treasury to go back to the Bank of England. That was very signi-
ficant. We were brought back to pre-war parity of gold. No single trade
union or industrialist in this country, outside the bank directors, was ever
told. There was no notice in the Press that it had ever been discussed and
like a bolt from the blue we were suddenly met with the complete upset
of the wage structure in this country. . . .’

Bevin’s statement implies that sensible people understood the full impli-
cations of a return to gold at the pre-war rate, and that Winston’s move
was deliberately rash and precipitate. This was not the case. Businessmen
and financiers were almost unanimous in their opinion that Britain should
take the step in order to re-establish herself as the financial center of the
world, which they believed was essential to her future prosperity. A
standing committee of experts appointed by the Lloyd George Govern-
ment in 1918 to investigate the position, urged that the decision should be
taken, and the majority of politicians of all parties accepted it in principle.
Only one clear, emphatic voice was raised against it, and that was the
voice of the brilliant young Cambridge don, J.M.Keynes, whose books
on economic theory were later to revolutionize the economic thought of
the Western world. [Hansard: 29 April, 1925] [Hansard: 13 February, 1946]

The truth of the matter was that in 1925 Britain was midway between
two economic concepts of society. The prevailing belief was in the school
of ‘hard facts’ which insisted that wages and prices must be adjusted
strictly by the laws of supply and demand. The other school, led by
Keynes, preached the idea of a ‘managed economy’. But in 1925 Keynes’
theories were considered heretical. He had not yet fully developed his
ideas and although he could point out the risks and consequences of a
return to the Gold Standard, he had no convincing alternative to offer.
He had a few disciples among the young Labour Party economists, but the
leaders favoured the established view. As a result the Labour Party put
down an amendment against the ‘timing’ of the motion, but not against
the principle of it. The motion stated: ‘That this House cannot at present
assent to the Second Reading of a Bill, which, by providing a return to
the Gold Standard with undue precipitancy, may aggravate the existing
grave condition of unemployment and trade depression.’

Philip Snowden, however, found even this motion hard to defend for
only a few weeks previously he had an article in the Observer arguing
in favour of a return to the Gold Standard. However, a young Socialist
by the name of Hugh Dalton, who was one of Keynes’ greatest admirers,
and who was himself destined to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in
1945, had no such cramping limitations. ‘We on these benches will hold
the Chancellor of the Exchequer strictly to account, and strictly respon-
sible.’ he told the House of Commons, ‘if, as we fear, there should be a
further aggravation of unemployment and of the present trade depression
as a result of his action, and should it work out, that men who are em-
ployed lose their jobs as a result of this deflation. Should that be so we will
explain who is to blame.’

After debating the amendment the Labour Opposition let the matter
drop. It did not even press a division and the Gold Standard Bill passed
through the House in two days. Only Keynes continued the attack. He
wrote a series of articles for the Evening Standard which were published
in a pamphlet entitled: The Economic Consequences of Winston Churchill Why,
he asked, had Winston Churchill made such a silly mistake? ‘Partly, perhaps,
because he has no instinctive judgment to prevent him from making mis-
takes; partly, because, lacking this instinctive judgment, he was deafened
by the clamorous voice of conventional finance; and most of all, because
he was gravely misled by his experts.’

Keynes then went on to refer scathingly to the arguments of the experts

1 Hansard: 4 May, 1925.

CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER 26l

as ‘vague and jejune meditations’. In five brilliant paragraphs which
proved a startlingly accurate prophecy, he stated what the experts, if they
had any sense, should have told Winston Churchill , ‘Money-wages, the cost of
living, and the prices which we are asking for our exports have not adjusted
themselves to the improvement in the exchange, which the expectation
of your restoring the Gold Standard, in accordance with your repeated
declarations, has already brought about. They are about ten per cent too
high. If, therefore, you fix the exchange at this gold parity, you must
either gamble on a rise in gold prices abroad, which will induce foreigners
to pay a higher gold price for our exports, or you are committing yourself
to a policy of forcing down money wages and the cost of living to the
necessary extent.

‘We must warn you that this latter policy is not easy. It is certain to in-
volve unemployment and industrial disputes. If, as some people think, real
wages were already too high a year ago, that is all the worse, because the
amount of the necessary wage reduction in terms of money will be all the
greater.

‘The gamble on a rise in gold prices abroad may quite likely succeed.
But it is by no means certain, and you must be prepared for the other
contingency. If you think that the advantages of the Gold Standard are so
significant and so urgent that you are prepared to risk great unpopularity
and to take stern administrative action in order to secure them, the course
of events will probably be as follows.

‘To begin with, there will be great depression in the export industries.
This, in itself, will be helpful, since it will produce an atmosphere favour-
able to the reduction of wages. The cost of living will fall somewhat. This
will be helpful too, because it will give you a good argument in favour of
reducing wages. Nevertheless, the cost of living will not fall sufficiently
and, consequently, the export industries will not be able to reduce their
prices sufficiently until wages have fallen in the sheltered industries. Now,
wages will not fall in the sheltered industries, merely because there is un-
employment in the unsheltered industries. Therefore, you will have to see
to it that there is unemployment in the sheltered industries also. The way
to do this will be by credit restriction. By means of the restriction of
credit by the Bank of England, you can deliberately intensify unemploy-
ment to any required degree, until wages do fall. When the process is
complete the cost of living will have fallen too: and we shall then be,
with luck, just where we were before we started.

‘We ought to warn you, though perhaps this is going a little outside our
proper sphere, that it will not be safe politically to admit that you are inten-
sifying unemployment deliberately in order to reduce wages. Thus you
will have to ascribe what is happening to every conceivable cause except
the true one. We estimate that about two years may elapse before it will
be safe for you to utter in public one single word of truth. By that time
you will either be out of office, or the adjustment, somehow or other,
will have been carried through.’

The just complaint against Winston Churchill’s tenure at the Treasury is that he was not a financial genius at a time when a financial genius was desperately needed; that for once in his life he was orthodox when orthodoxy should have been flung to the winds. Keynes’ predictions came true and the coal mines were the first to feel the consequences of Winston Churchill’s policy.
For some time the industry had been in an unhealthy state. By 1919 it
was apparent that such a large amount of capital equipment was necessary
to make the mines profitable that the Sankey Commission recommended
their nationalization. This was not done and by 1925 British coal, faced
with a German revival and burdened by an uneconomic organization,
was scarcely a paying proposition. Then came the return to the Gold
Standard which meant that British goods worth i8s. automatically cost
the foreign buyer i. The coal owners were forced to lower their prices
and consequently decided to lower the miners wages.

The reduction would have made mining one of the worst sweated in-
dustries in the country. There was already a deep legacy of bitterness at the
coal face for the tragic way the workers had been exploited during the past
century. As a result the miners were the most politically conscious group
in the country and possessed one of the strongest unions. A miner, Keir
Hardie, was the founder of the Labour Party.

The men protested vigorously at the threatened cuts and the Trade
Union Congress and the Labour Party protested with them. The Union
chiefs declared that if the reductions were put into operation and the
miners struck, other unions would strike in sympathy with them. The
Government realized that serious trouble lay ahead and Baldwin opened
negotiations with the T.U.C. Two days before the cuts were to become
effective he declared that the Treasury would subsidize the miners so that
they could maintain the wage standard, until a Commission, under the
chairmanship of Lord Samuel, could investigate the matter.

The Commission took seven months to issue its report. During the
interim period Keynes championed the cause of the miners and tried to
make people see that they were the helpless victims of Winston’s Gold
Standard policy. “Why should coal miners suffer a lower standard of life
than other classes of labour?’ he asked. ‘They may be lazy, good-for-nothing fellows who do not work so hard or so long as they should. But is there any evidence that they are more lazy or more good-for-nothing than other people?

‘On grounds of social justice no case can be made out for reducing the
wages of the miners. They are the victims of the economic Juggernaut.
They represent in the flesh the “fundamental adjustments” engineered by
the Treasury and the Bank of England to satisfy the impatience of the
City fathers to bridge the “moderate gap” between 4.40 and 4.86. They
(and others to follow) are the “moderate sacrifice” still necessary to ensure
the stability of the Gold Standard. The plight of the coal miners is the
first, but not unless we are very lucky the last, of the Economic Con-
sequences of Winston Churchill .’

The Samuel Report was issued on n March, which gave the two sides
about six weeks to come to an agreement. It was generally felt that the
Report was a sensible and liberal-minded document. It made a mass of
practical suggestions for the improvement of the mines, which involved a
very large expenditure on the part of the coal owners for re-equipment.
But since the mines were not running as an economic proposition, and
since the Government was not prepared to continue a subsidy, it was
forced to the conclusion that during the period of reorganization the
miners should accept a temporary reduction in wages.

Short of nationalizing the mines, or of continuing a subsidy, the Samuel
Report was the best compromise that could be hoped for. But instead of
grasping it eagerly and urging it wholeheartedly upon the coal owners,
Baldwin took no trouble to conceal his distaste for it, then announced
unenthusiastically that if the parties to the dispute accepted it, the Govern-
ment would do likewise. This attitude merely encouraged both sides to
tear the recommendations to pieces and finally turn down the Report.
The wage cuts were introduced and a coal stoppage began on 30 April.

The next forty-eight hours are now a matter of history. A series of
events took place which ended in misunderstanding and recrimination
between the Government and the Trade Union leaders, and resulted in a
General Strike. Since that time Ernest Bevin, who became the virtual
leader of the strike, twice declared on public platforms that Winston
Churchill was responsible for the breaking off of negotiations which made
the strike inevitable, by a fateful last-minute intervention. What is the
truth of the story?

On 1st May, a day after the coal stoppage had begun, the Trade Union
General Council held a conference of the executives of its affiliated unions.
By an almost unanimous vote the meeting decided to call a National Strike
in support of the miners, which would begin at midnight on 3 May. At
the same time they sent a letter to the Prime Minister informing him that
all affiliated unions, including the miners, had handed over the conduct of
the dispute to the General Council of the Congress, which would under-
take negotiations and was willing to meet the Government at any time.
That same evening, i May, Baldwin sent for the General Council.
After a discussion lasting several hours the Prime Minister suggested that
the Government might be willing to continue the coal subsidy for another
two weeks so that talks could be reopened, if on their part the General
Council was ‘confident that a settlement could be reached on the basis of
the Samuel Report. Since this implied a reduction in the miners’ wages,
and since the miners had now developed a burning slogan ‘Not a penny
off the pay, not a minute on the day.’ the General Council replied that it
could not give an answer until the miners’ leaders were consulted. So
Baldwin left to put the proposition before the Cabinet, while the Council
sought the miners.

On Sunday morning, however, when the General Council summoned
the miners they found that they were not in London, but had returned to
their various districts. Telegrams were sent recalling them, but it was not
until late Sunday night that they finally assembled in Downing Street.

The General Council arrived at Downing Street first and immediately
started discussions with Baldwin and Lord Birkenhead about the exact
meaning and wording of the proposition that had been given to them.
Lord Birkenhead then presented them with a precise formula drawn up in
his own hand. ‘We, the Trade Union Council, would urge the miners to
authorize us to enter upon discussion with the understanding that they
and we accept the Report as a basis of settlement, and we approach it with
the knowledge that it may involve some reduction in wages.’

While the Government and Trade Union leaders were discussing this
formula, it was announced that the miners’ representatives had finally
arrived. It was now 11.15 p.m. The General Council immediately with-
drew with the miners to a room in Downing Street to explain to them
what had transpired and to try and secure their acceptance of the formula.
Baldwin and Birkenhead meanwhile went to 11 Downing Street where the
Cabinet was gathered to inform their colleagues of what was happening.
About an hour later the Union leaders suddenly had a message that the
Prime Minister would like to see them. The members of the General
Council Negotiating Committee, Mr J. H. Thomas and Mr Arthur
Pugh, went down to his room. Mr Thomas later gave the House of
Commons an account of what happened. ‘Lord Birkenhead and himself
[Baldwin] were present. The right honourable Gentleman said, “Gentle-
men, I am sorry to say that our efforts for peace are unavailing. I have a
letter to give you, but I feel in honour bound, having regard to all our
efforts, at least to say a word to you personally.” He said, “Something has
happened at the Daily Mail and the Cabinet has empowered me to hand
you this letter,” and he said and this is very important, because none of
us knew what was in the letter he handed to us. We shook hands and he
said, “Good-bye; this is the end”.’

The Union leaders then learned that the printers of the Daily Mail had
refused to set up a leader entitled ‘For King and Country. Baldwin told
the Commons that when the Cabinet heard of this action members felt
that ‘the first active overt move in the General Strike was being actually
made, by trying to suppress the press. We felt that in those circumstances
the whole situation was completely changed.’

But since the Government knew that the General Council had nothing
to do with the printers’ move, which was a spontaneous and impulsive
action, why had they taken such a serious view of it? Ernest Bevin placed
the blame on Churchill. In 1929 he told his tin-plate workers in Swansea:
‘If Winston Churchill had not come into the Cabinet room on that Sunday
night [2 May] with the Daily Mail business, the peace terms would have
been in the hands of the Prime Minister and there would have been no
National Strike. The two sides were in another room in Downing Street,
getting almost to the last clause for handing to the Prime Minister, when
Winston Churchill saw red, walked in and upset the Cabinet, and we had an ultimatum. That is a fact which can be corroborated.’ Bevin repeated this
same accusation in 1946 in the House of Commons. ‘On Sunday, 2 May,
we were within five minutes of a settlement. . . . What happened? I am sorry that the right honourable Member for Woodford [Winston Churchill] is not in his place. He dashed up to Downing Street, ordered a meeting of the Cabinet, rushed Baldwin off his feet if he was awake and in a few minutes the ultimatum was given to us and the country was thrown into this terrible turmoil, when within the same few minutes it might have been saved…

Baldwin admitted in the House of Commons on 5 May, 1926: “I think it is quite likely that he [Mr Thomas] had no knowledge of the [Daily Mail] incident. But that does not affect the end. He may have repudiated it, but it showed that he had entirely lost control.’
Winston Churchill was in America when Bevin made this charge, and therefore did not reply to it. But upon examining the facts there appears to be no foundation to the story whatsoever. First of all, because the Trade
Unionists were meeting at 10 Downing Street, the Cabinet was held at n
Downing Street, Winston Churchill’s residence. So there was no question of Winston Mashing up to Downing Street. Second, according to Mr
Baldwin’s statement in the House of Commons the Cabinet was already
in session when news of the Daily Mail strike was received; third, the
news was not delivered by Winston Churchill but came through by
telephone.’

Apart from this inaccuracy, what truth was there in Mr Bevin’s asser-
tion that the two sides, miners and Union leaders, were within five
minutes of agreement? Sir Arthur Pugh, Chairman of the Trade Union
Congress in 1925-26, does not believe that this claim can be substantiated
in the light of the events that followed. Arthur Pugh was present at Down-
ing Street on the night of 2 May as a member of the Trade Union
Negotiating Committee, and in his book Men of Steel makes the following
comment: In view, however, of the subsequent attitude of the miners’
leaders, it is fairly certain they would have accepted no formula that would
have given the necessary assurance that a return to the status quo would
result in a settlement on the basis of the Samuel Commission Report, . . .
The miners’ leaders had committed their people to a slogan “Not a penny
off the pay, not a minute on the day,” and this ruled out from their stand-
point any negotiations on the basis of compromise on the major questions
at issue. The conception of the miners’ leaders about the sympathetic
strike appeared to be that it was the “big stick” which was to force the
implementation of the terms of the slogan, and their mental reasoning
that if the threat of the strike and an embargo on the movement of coal
could produce a subsidy in 1925, its actual execution in 1926 could hardly
fail to give a like reduction.’

The trouble lay in the fact that although the miners had authorized the
General Council to negotiate for them, they had not authorized the
General Council to compromise for them. Since successful negotiations
depended on concessions all round, including an acceptance by the miners
of a temporary reduction in wages, it was a blunder for the General
Council to accept a negotiating role without full powers to take a final
decision.
[Hansard: p. 34.5, 5 May, 1926]
[Men of Steel is a chronicle of eighty-five years of Trade Unionism in the British Iron and Steel Industry. It was published in 1951 by the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.]

A second blunder on the part of the T.U.C. was its failure to instruct its
affiliated unions to withhold all strike notices while discussions were tak-
ing place. All day on Sunday, 2 May, individual unions were sending out
precise instructions for the beginning of the strike. Sir Arthur Pugh states
in his book that ‘it would perhaps have been better tactics,’ and placed the
T.U.C. General Council in ‘a stronger bargaining position’ if the unions
‘had delayed the notices for a sympathetic strike for twenty-four hours or
so, in order to see the outcome of the negotiations between the T.U.C.
and the Government Committee.’

However, the strike notices were not the cause of the breakdown.
Although the letter which Baldwin handed to Thomas and Pugh at mid-
night stated that negotiations could not be continued until the Union
leaders repudiated the action of the Daily Mail printers and ordered their
unions to withdraw their instructions for a General Strike, the Prime
Minister knew early on Sunday afternoon that instructions were flowing
out and yet was still ready to negotiate. The notices, therefore, were
merely used by the Government as a final argument to strengthen their
case.

It was impossible for the General Council to comply with the Govern-
ment’s request, for by Sunday evening, with coal pits closing down all
over the country, feeling was running so high in the Unions there was
little hope that such an order would have been obeyed. The Government
obviously was aware of this, for as soon as the letter had been delivered
the Cabinet adjourned and Baldwin went to bed. Proof that the General
Council was desperately anxious to avoid a breakdown lies in the fact that
they drew up a reply repudiating the Daily Mail incident and sent a depu-
tation to the Prime Minister requesting him to discuss the matter of the
strike notices. ‘But when the deputation arrived at that room.’ Ramsay
MacDonald told the House of Commons, ‘they found the door locked and
the whole pkce in darkness. 3

As a result of these happenings the Conservatives have always insisted
that the Trade Union General Council was not the true master of the
situation; that the extremists had control and that there was no use in con-
tinuing the discussions until the General Council wielded full authority.
On the other hand, the Trade Union leaders have always believed that
a majority of the Cabinet were not averse to ‘teaching the Unions a
lesson’.

Undoubtedly there is truth in both these assertions. Many Conservatives were so preoccupied with the fear of Bolshevism they had come to
regard the Trade Union leaders as revolutionaries who wished to destroy
the parliamentary system. This was far from the truth but the fact that the
secretary of the Miners’ Federation, Mr Cook, was a Communist,
strengthened their arguments, and was used to discredit the national
leaders. There had been the threat of a National Strike in support of the miners in 1921 and again in 1925. Tory opinion was hardening towards
the view that it might be a good thing if the matter came to a Show-
down.

Although the Trade Union leaders made serious blunders, it is difficult
to excuse the Conservative Government for their refusal to grapple with
the problem of the mines much earlier. It was no secret that for the last
century the coal and royalty owners had bled the industry by taking out
huge profits instead of re-introducing the necessary capital equipment.
Coal was Britain’s basic industry. Quite apart from the fact that the
Cabinet was pursuing a financial policy bound to depress the coal indus-
try, it is difficult to understand how any Government, either in the
interests of humanity or the nation itself, could drift along in such an
irresponsible manner, refusing to interfere while the coal owners neglected
the mines year after year, until the only solution involved forcing an
inadequate standard of living upon the miners.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 5.45.36 PM

The General Strike began on 4 May, 1926, and lasted for rine days. Every-
where work came to a halt The press shut down, transport ceased, the gas
and electricity works closed, the iron and steel industry and many others
came to a standstill But the Government was prepared. The organization,
designed in 1920, was called into action. The country was divided into
nine sections, each run by a central controller with semi-military appara-
tus. The police were fully mobilized and in London Hyde Park became a
military camp. The Home Secretary sent out appeals for volunteers and
thousands of men and women, mostly from the middle and upper classes,
came forward to drive trains, lorries and cabs.

Ernest Bevin emerged as the leader of the General Strike, and once the
strike had begun “Winston Churchill stood forth as his counterpart on the
Government side. These two men who opposed each otter so strongly
when the country was in a state of upheaval were destined to work
together as colleagues and faithful friends when the nation was faced
with a far greater danger in 1940. But in 1926 they were formidable
antagonists. Winston Sung himself into the fight with all his energy.
Since there were no newspapers he persuaded the proprietor of the
Morning Post to lend him his plant, and with the help of several of Lord
Beaverbrook’s typesetters he published a daily paper called the British
Gazette. The paper presented the struggle as a constitutional issue: the
nation versus a group of revolutionary union leaders who, by trying to
force a democratically elected Government to subsidize the miners’ wages,
were striking at the very roots of the democratic system. For King and
Country’ became Winston’s own battlecry.

Lloyd George looked askance at his old friend and former Liberal colleague. He did not approve of the General Strike but, with his deep, humane outlook, he sympathized with the reasons for it. The day before the strike started, he defended the Union leaders in the House of Commons. I know a great many of the people responsible. They are as little revolutionaries as any men in this House. They have fought the rebellious ones in their own Party. Therefore, I want to put this to the House of Commons in all earnestness, that this is not a threat by people using it merely for revolutionary propaganda.’

Today, most people in Britain, including a large section of the Labour Party, agree that the General Strike was unconstitutional and, as such, a reckless act. But that is a far cry from being a sinister and revolutionary plot. If Lloyd George had been in Winston Churchill’s shoes, it is probable that the whole disaster would have been averted. Winston, on the other hand, flung himself into the fray with unconcealed relish. The British Gazette was a sensation. Labour Members attacked Winston in the House of Commons for falsifying the news, and Lloyd George accused him of deliberately suppressing an attempt by the Council to negotiate a settlement. But Winston gloried in the fight. Why shouldn’t a Government put out Government propaganda?

At the end of the week the Gazette had a circulation of over two millions.

The General Strike collapsed on the 13th of May. Public opinion was strongly
against the Unions, and the General Council realized that the Government’s policy of attrition was bound to be successful The Trade Union Movement was treading the path to bankruptcy and in order to prevent its strength and morale from being permanently damaged in a hopeless struggle, the T.U.C capitulated. The miners’ stoppage went on for another six months, but in the end they were starved back to work on the owners terms.

To be continued:


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