Leader's speech, Cardiff 1927
Stanley Baldwin (Conservative)
Commentary:A key theme of Baldwin’s address was trade. Although exports of raw materials and manufactured goods were increasing, the iron and steel industries were still depressed, and Baldwin claimed the General Strike had exacerbated this condition. Britain’s agriculture had been hit by a fall in world prices and bad weather, and Baldwin pledged to make more credit available to farmers. He then voiced his opposition to Labour’s proposals for the abolition of the House of Lords, and spoke about the government’s efforts to cut national spending. Finally, he expressed support for the principle of votes for women.
This year, as you have so justly said, we meet once again to review and take stock. Next year our meeting will take place at some distance, shorter or longer, before the next general election, and then will be the time to discuss our policy at that important moment. (Laughter and cheers.) Today, as you, my lord, have reminded us, I am but recently returned from Canada.
I went to Canada with one object - to explode once and for all that insidious propaganda emanating from the foreigner, and alas, from the native-born, that this country is decadent and played out. I have laid that ghost. (Cheers.)
Dazzling Liberal Genius
Since then I have enjoyed what we all like – a holiday. During my holidays I find that one of my most interesting and profitable pastimes is to continue that study - which I have carried on microscopically for about fifteen years - of the career and the habits of that dazzling genius who today leads the Liberal party. For five years now he has been cruising round our well found ship trying to place a torpedo in our vitals, but, well-equipped as his submarine is, he has never yet been able to practise complete immersion, and to those who know either the periscope or the wash he is always visible. Long habit has taught me where to look for that wash. I have been following it at a distance all the time I was in France. Moreover, most ships when they go to sea are accompanied by wild fowl which fly above them. (Laughter.) They are always the same, however their plumage may alter with the seasons. They hover over the place where the submarine is trying to conceal itself.
There must be some reason which makes birds follow ships.
I have never yet discovered it, but I accept it as a fact of natural history for which I am grateful.
Now I think I cannot do better than remind a gathering of this kind of progressive Conservatives - (hear, hear) - that on January 1 next the full effect will be seen of a most beneficial piece of legislation which we passed as soon as we got into power.
Much has been said about our party being a Socialistic party today and about our leader being a Socialist, and yet, is there a single Conservative in the country who, if he had his way today, would have that Act unpassed? Not only are we giving this benefit to widows and orphans - too long delayed - (hear, hear) - but we have once and for all discontinued that ‘means limit,’ which most of us for years past have felt to be the great blot on the system of old age pensions. (Applause.)
The official inquiry was harassing, was unkind to the deserving; the prevention of old persons from taking any odd jobs, in fear they would lose their pension. These things are now of the past, and the pension instead of being a charity has become a right. (Applause.) The Government has merely recognised in that legislation what the conscience of the nation has long approved, and that is that it is the national duty to provide for the aged poor.
Burden on Industry
I make these observations because there have been claims made, and perhaps one could expect them, that too heavy loads are being placed today upon industry. It is quite true. The loads on industry, as on everyone and everything in the country today, are very heavy. But the load was one of a number which industry in one form or another has borne in the past, connected with their own people.
The conscience of the nation has become more tender with the years and more is expected today than at the time of our fathers and grandfathers, and I say this without fear of contradiction unless industry does look after its own people never will that spirit be found among our people in which alone good co-operative work is done.
Facts about Trade
I want to say a word or two about trade. And I want to speak as I always try to do on this subject, clearly and in accordance with facts. I want to do justice to all the facts and not only those which tell against our own country. (Hear, hear.) I would remind you that my colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in Scotland, speaking few days after I had spoken there, used these words, ‘British industry is once more in full swing and the work of repairing the damage has already made appreciable headway.’
Now those words - not unduly exaggerated, in my opinion - made Mr. Lloyd George very angry. (Laughter.) He spoke of Mr. Churchill’s ‘usual lightheartedness’ - not a bad attribute in a statesman - and said that the position was too serious to bandy jokes about.
I would only make one observation in reply to that. Sir Eric Geddes, who was chosen out of the whole country to be a Minister in Mr. Lloyd George’s Ministry of All the Talents - (laughter) - said the same thing the other day. Whatever may be said of Sir Eric Geddes in his private capacity, no one has ever accused him of bandying jokes about business in public.
Let us take two or three facts. I will tell you my conclusions later. During the last two months the exports of manufactured goods have been slowly growing until in August - that is, two months ago - they were 11 per cent greater than two years ago, and the exports of raw material were nearly 30 per cent greater. Now, those are facts.
In coal, in spite of terrible difficulties in the industry, on which I may say a word or two later, we are actually producing and selling more coal than we were two years ago. Let me take iron and steel, depressed possibly as much or more than any industry in the country.
Let us remember two things. The world demand, which, probably, had there been no war, would have taken up the world production, today, by natural increase, has lagged behind. The war led to great productive increase. It requires time for the demand to catch it up. But also let us not forget the industrial troubles of last year, which led to contracts being placed for steel and iron abroad, which in their turn led to the phenomenal deliveries which have taken place into the country during the earlier part of the year and during the summer.
I should like, while mentioning that industry, to congratulate them on the co-operative spirit they have recently shown in devising a scheme of rebates for the home trade which, I hope, will do what those who devised it expect. (Hear, hear.)
The Right Way
Then there is the woollen trade: There is a trade that has been hit badly, partly by competition from abroad and partly by change of fashion. What are they doing in that trade? They are suggesting a conference of all these engaged in the trade - masters and men. (Hear, hear.) That is the right way. (Hear, hear.)
Take the shipbuilding trade: Here the depression has not been peculiar to this country. It has existed all over the world, but I remember very well this summer the President of the Board of Trade giving figures in the House of Commons showing that we were holding our own in world competition and had actually improved our relative position last year. (Hear. hear.) And we have it from the president of the Chamber of Shipping that the outlook is not unfavourable; and that remark of his has had some corroboration in the fact that there are more orders about today in our shipyards. (Hear, hear.)
Not Going to Hang the Harp
In the new industries I can quote Mr. Lloyd George who confesses that they are making headway against all competition, and I say that if you look round and compare the position with what it was you may truly and justly say the situation is not unhopeful, and I refuse to sit down with Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Herbert Samuel and hang my harp on the weeping willow. (Applause.) I am sorry even now for a moment to allude again to the war, but in considering these questions you must never forget the poverty left by the war, but the utter destruction of the very methods of exchange themselves. And remember that for several years Europe has exhibited a welter of monetary policies under which no standard of price could be attained; no one could prophesy; no one knew. And it was in that welter that we decided an action - much criticised at the time - to anchor ourselves once more securely to the gold standard.
Today practically every country has either followed, or is anxious to follow, our example. That change, of course, involved a good deal of adaptation in our internal economy. It could not be achieved without difficulty, but difficult as it was, it was far, far better than any prolongation of the instability that had existed up to that time.
Reaping the Benefits
Today we are beginning to reap the benefits, and the first benefit, I think, which touches every householder, may be seen in the definite and substantial reduction in the cost of living.
If it had not been for the setback last year I think by now the adaptation over a large area would have been much more complete than it is. But I am quite convinced that in that anchorage we have found the way to the revival of trade. Remember this too - that once settled on that standard it becomes possible, as it was not before, for the manufacturer to calculate his costs, for the merchant to deal, being able to see further into the future, and ensure for the working classes real wages. (Hear, hear.) And there is a great deal in that. (Applause.)
What Government Has Worked For
Now the Government, in the time they have been in office, sometimes successful, sometimes unsuccessful, have been working consistently for stable conditions at home and abroad. There. is so much I want to touch on tonight that I would say no more about our friends abroad than to quote a few words which have been said of us and of our policy by one whose words I think will carry weight in this country, not only on account of his own personality, but because he is a man who is chary of using words of praise, and has been chary of using them in regard to England. I mean Dr. Nansen, of Norway.
He said quite recently: ‘I should like to say a word with regard to the British position. We have all of us been impressed by the force and conviction of Sir Austen Chamberlain’s speech. (Hear, hear.) I fear that public opinion - (I am giving you the gist of it in Dr. Nansen’s own words) - I fear that public opinion in Great Britain has to some extent misunderstood the attitude of those of us who are, or have been, advocates of the Protocol of l924. There has been, I think, some resentment, perhaps natural, arising from the impression that we have underestimated the enormous contribution Great Britain has made during the last nine years to strengthening the foundations of peace in the world, and particularly to strengthening them through the League of Nations. No one who has worked at the League has failed to realise that Great Britain from its first inception has given in the main constant powerful support to the League and its existing provisions.’
I must call your attention (continued the Prime Minister) to these last words of Dr. Nansen, and they are the last I have say on this subject. They are these: ‘If Great Britain has hesitated to increase these commitments we all of us fully realise it is chiefly because she takes the existing commitments seriously, and she is anxious not to weaken in any respects her power. She will not weaken existing engagements by contracting new ones. (Cheers.)
Last Year’s Aftermath
It is not only the aftermath of the Great War, proceeded the Premier, we have had to deal with. There was the aftermath of last year. You can have a general strike if you like; you can have a stoppage in your coal pits for months if you like, but you cannot have them without paying for them. Part of the price is unemployment. Part of the price is the loss of revenue, both national and local.
Part of the price is higher rates. Part of the price is to put a check on the expansion of social services, and part of the price is physical damage to the race. (Cheers.)
We have been three years in office. Half of that time we have been beset with greater economic difficulties than any other Government that ever existed. (Cheers.) Therefore, I welcome the speeches at the recent Trades Union Congress.
Labour’s New Note
I perceived a new note. I trust it may be sustained. The president has proclaimed his faith in the machinery of consultation. The president is a well-known friend of industrial peace. Mr. Clynes has said there is need of a long period of agreement between the various interests.
Peace in Industry
How Masters and Men Must Help to Ensure it
I want to recognise - and I hope we all shall - a genuine attempt to damp down the fires of agitation - (cheers) - in the face of the hard realities of trading figures. I rejoice that they have learnt - at last - that the working man’s best friend is his negotiator who can honour his bond. (Cheers.) He is the man who puts wages into men’s pockets, and I think - although they have not said so - they must have recognised now - taught by bitter experience - that the windy demagogue who shouts one thing in public and says the opposite very often in private - (hear, hear) - is the man who sends the poor into futile strikes and drives their families into bankruptcy. I make no complaint that these excellent speeches were interspersed with obvious attacks upon myself.
I should like - if I did not consider the interests of the country - to accept the challenge tomorrow and to call a general election. We have had three in three years, and even if the general election be postponed for another year or two, that does not prevent the Trade Disputes Act being adjudicated upon. I should welcome it to occupy as prominent a place in the campaign as anyone desires to give it. (Cheers.)
A Sporting Opponent
As a sporting opponent, I refrain from pressing a general election upon the Labour party until they have had another year in which to try to whip up some opposition more successful than they have been able to raise up to now. (Cheers.) It would be taking an unfair advantage to strike now. (Laughter and cheers.)
Before I leave this subject - and I have kept it to the last - there is one sentence uttered by Mr. Cramp which I must quote: ‘Whatever goodwill might arise in the ranks of industry must be directly between the Trades Unions and the employers, with the Government out of the picture.’
I do not suppose Mr. Cramp has done me the honour to read the various speeches I have made for three years past. I have preached nothing else but that the Government should keep out or it. (Applause) That matter of getting together is a matter of those engaged in the industry. No politician to whatever party he may belong can do anything but harm by ‘butting in.’
Our Government, any Government, will watch with sympathy whatever may take place between those parties, and if at any time they should come to us and say we can help them by any particular form of legislation, such a request from such parties would receive the utmost consideration of any Government of which I might be the head.
Congratulations to Rail Companies
I cannot refrain from saying a word of congratulation and of sympathy with the railway companies in the efforts both sides are making today. My association with the railway companies was long and, intimate, and nothing that affects them is alien to me. I am speaking in a part of Great Britain which needs as much as any part to take heed of what is going on.
Cannot you in South Wales help to lead the way with this new spirit? Your sufferings throughout this part of the country are sufficiently acute and challenging to call for extraordinary efforts on your part to reduce that suffering.
Something, I rejoice to think, has recently been accomplished between the parties in the coal trade with regard to the restriction of recruitment. It is only one thing, but it is a good thing as far as it goes.
‘Take the Men in With You’
I notice in the press reports of efforts among the coal-owners today at stabilising prices. I would offer no opinion on that, but I would say this: In all far-reaching developments affecting your trade take the men with you. (Applause.) There is an old text ‘He that is not with us is against us,’ and I commend that to you. There is much in South Wales and in other districts on which the best brains can be brought to bear. Who does not know in every colliery district of the country the first-class brains that have come up from the ranks? (Hear, hear.) Use them wherever they are.
What reasonable chance is there of absorbing quickly the unemployed in that industry and what meanwhile is happening to the youth of the Valleys? Is there going to be a permanent surplus of unemployed? These are questions that can be thrashed out by the industry far better then by anyone else, and employers cannot divest themselves even if they would of the responsibilities of leadership. (Applause.)
Where the Government Cannot Help
There are one or two subjects on which you will expect me to say a few words, but I don’t think that a gathering such as this will expect that I have come to Cardiff with a panacea in my pocket for everyone’s troubles. I have not.
But there are one or two remarks that I would make in connection with agriculture, a question on which you have had an interesting discussion today. I need not tell you the condition of that industry is causing the Government grave concern. I would remind you that except the coal industry there is no industry in the country to which the Government, in one way or another, has given more attention, but in spite of that, from causes over which neither we nor any other Government can have control, agriculture is passing through very, very bad times.
Farmers have had to face a fall in world prices. That is beyond the control of any Government. It is a thing which hits agriculture in many another country. They have had to face, as they had had to face before, two bad seasons, and until the turn of the year we shall hardly know how badly they may have been hit by this terrible harvest weather we have had this year.
Pessimism No Aid
On this point I would make one passing observation. Pessimism never helped anybody, and such a campaign as appears in sections of the press is far from helping agriculture.
We have tried and tried seriously to help that industry financially. It may be that in parts of the country farmers are paying higher rates than they once did; but they are not singular. They would have been paying far higher rates were it not for two great Acts of our party - one in 1896 and one four years ago. We have quite recently added to that relief and extended relief to buildings as well as land.
It is natural to grumble. I grumble myself as a rural ratepayer on the expenditure on roads. Yet let us not forget we have given an annual grant of a million and a half to the rural roads. We have just given almost as large a sum in aid of unclassified roads - small rural roads - and if that help had not been given the whole of that money would have had to be found out of rates. And we have provided, in such parts of the country as have taken advantage of it, a new and a paying crop in beet at a cost this year of £4,500,000 of subsidy to the taxpayer.
More Credit for Farmers
But let me repeat what I said in Lincolnshire the day I went to Canada. We have been considering how to make more credit available for farmers, with special reference to the difficulty which faces many of them who purchased their holdings on bank overdrafts. Bank overdrafts are liable, as I know very well, to be repaid quickly. Great Britain is one of the few countries without any machinery for long credit on farmers’ mortgages. That gap has to be filled. We are working on the subject still in cooperation with the banks, and I reiterate what I said in Lincolnshire, that it is our intention to bring a scheme before Parliament next year so that it may be done before we go out of office. (Applause.)
One observation more, and only one - and I hope you will forgive me for introducing it. It is quite true that one swallow does not make a summer, but when you have seen one you generally see some more by and bye. Two years ago there arrived for me in Downing Street a box, and on the box was a label, and on the label was a picture of a map of England and Wales, and in the centre of the map was a Union Jack and these words: ‘Produce of England and Wales.’
A Worcester Example
The box contained as fine a collection for grading and assortment of the best cooking apples that I have seen from any country for many a long day. (Hear, hear.)
And with the box came a letter containing these words: ‘This box of apples, carrying for the first time a national label signifying quality and reliability, is sent to you, sir, in recognition of the work done by the Ministry of Agriculture to encourage better marketing, and is a token of the intention of Worcestershire growers to support that work and to take a leading part in recapturing British markets for British products.’ (Applause.)
I do not suggest, and I never have suggested that better working is the complete cure for depressed agriculture, but I believe it to be a necessity for any agriculture, whether depressed or prosperous, and I hope every county in England will be a competitor with Worcestershire.
House of Lords
Challenge to the Labour Critics
Now, sir, you have had discussions on many subjects today. You had a very interesting discussion on the House of Lords. Now the national executive of the Labour party, the General Council of the Trade Unions Congress, have all of them decided early this year that the House of Lords ought to be abolished, and I think Mr. MacDonald in April wrote that a Second Chamber was necessary.
I don’t know whether the Labour party will have the courage to propose the abolition of the House of Lords at the next election. I imagine they will wait a short time to watch how that useful domestic animal is bearing his exercise.
But we are opposed fundamentally, absolutely, and diametrically to such a proposal. Single chamber Government has no place in the constitution in any great progressive democratic country. (Cheers) We have, as you are aware, put forward certain sketch proposals for consideration and ventilation, and we welcome sympathetic and enlightened criticism - criticism which aims at a sound constitutional advance in harmony with the democratic temper of the time. The Government this autumn will consider carefully such criticism.
They will consider carefully that most interesting discussion which took place amongst you today, and they will announce their decision later in the year.
‘Trying To Save Wherever We Can’
On the subject of economy there again you have passed a resolution with the wording of which everyone has sympathy. Let me say this, there is no subject more difficult, none more easy to talk about, none more difficult to effect. I won’t say nothing, but I will say much. Now, we recognise, as all of you do, the paramount importance of this subject. We have a permanent Economy Committee of the Cabinet, which went through every estimate last year and that is doing the same this year.
We are trying, wherever we can - and this is some of the most difficult work - to effect economies in great expenditure which has already been sanctioned. Witness our efforts - bitterly opposed - in the reduction of the housing subsidies, which efforts by the way have led to a considerable diminution in the cost of building, and also our efforts to economise in the matter of unemployment insurance. We have accomplished something in both those directions, but I do beg of you to remember - the figures have often been quoted, and I give them very briefly - that more than half the expenditure today consist in repayment of debt, interest, and pensions, that a hundred million goes in education, housing, health, and police, and a large sum on self-supporting services, and when you come to analyse the national balance-sheet you find that out of the vast expenditure, £156,000,000 is what is left for the ordinary machinery of government, which includes the defensive forces, the Army, Navy, the Air Force, the collection of revenue, and the whole administration of the country.
Cut Down Defence
We have cut down defence, I think, pretty near to the limit of safety. (Hear, hear) Remember, wherever you try to economise you will always have a powerful group which will object to a particular economy on the things they think most of. And remember this: that our trade has been so hit, partly by world conditions and partly by our own follies, that there has been none of that expansion of revenue which is essential to prosperity and which, when it comes, will probably accomplish more for this country than will even the reductions which today are possible. (Cheers.)
I say those words, because people talk lightly of being able to write a hundred millions off the national account. Figures like that are nonsense. You must look facts in the face. (Cheers) We are with you all the way in your resolution. We are as anxious as you are for economy. We are trying - we will try.
We shall have to submit when the time comes to the verdict of the country. If we have been bad stewards we shall be punished for it. Our own desires, our own self-interests, make us partners with you in the resolution which you passed today. (Cheers.)
Votes for Women
‘We Cannot Go Back On Our Pledges’
The only other thing on which I wish to say a few words is the question of votes for women. (Applause.) I have never wavered in my own view - (applause) - that even if you desired it, which I do not think you do, you cannot go back on the pledges given by Mr. Bonar Law and myself.
Mr. Bonar Law declared himself in favour of equal franchise. To pretend that that means anything but equal franchise at 21 is to delude yourselves, and to make a fatal mistake on the part of Tories - that is to score by being ‘clever.’ (Applause.)
Where does the principle of the opposition of votes for women come from? It comes from Lord Rothermere. Many people in the party read what Lord Rothermere says because they have believed that he is a supporter of our party. If he be a supporter of ours, his criticism is of value; if not, his advice to us is not for our good. (Applause.)
But it is most important for honest politics that the people who read what he directs to be written in his papers should know under what flag he sails. You will search the columns of Hansard in vain to see any speech of his on the matter.
Three Questions for Lord Rothermere
I am driven to ask him from this platform, openly, three questions. (Applause.)
Is Lord Rothermere a supporter of the Unionist party with me as the leader? (Shouts of ‘No.’)
Is Lord Rothermere a supporter of the Unionist party with someone else as leader? (Shouts of ‘No.’)
Is Lord Rothermere a supporter of Mr. Lloyd George? (Shouts of ‘Yes.’)
Now, I think the mind of the Conservative party has been made up on this question of women’s votes. I do not think they are going to show at this stage a lack of faith in their countrywomen. (Applause.) It would be an unwarrantable slur on the efficiency and enthusiasm of the party organisation represented by those present in this room tonight.
There are many who forget - no one here forgets, although there are many who do forget - the great change which was wrought in this country by the Reform Bill of 1918. It was then extended further than that Committee intended when it set about its labours. It may be that that year made this country, with the exception of what we are going to do next year, a democracy in fact.
Let us realise what many of those skilled in politics before the war found hard to envisage. It is not the majority of the people of this country today who belong to any organised party, and that great change was evinced in the 1923 elections. We are in a position where, in my view, no party with its party members alone can gain a victory over both the other parties combined.
The Party’s Task
I don’t believe that any purely party programme can gain a victory over the other two parties combined. Our difficulty is, while holding fast to our principles, to build on them a national policy - (hear, hear) - which will bring to our support armies of those who owe no particular allegiance, and armies of those who prefer stable government to giving support to either of the other two parties. As you will remember, perhaps, our greatest leader, Disraeli - (applause) - said that no party that failed to attract youth to its ranks could live. (Hear, hear.) Those words are truer today in our democracy than they were then. And those who say of the young women under 30 ‘Do not give her the vote because she will vote Socialist’ are denying the very thing that we as a party today are doing - attracting the youth of the country - and I welcome these new voters wholeheartedly with their brothers to come and work for us, and ensure for us in two years’ time a victory no less great than we won three years ago. (Applause.)