Leader's speech, Great Yarmouth 1928
Stanley Baldwin (Conservative)
Location: Great Yarmouth
Commentary:Baldwin began this speech by attacking the policies of the Labour and Liberal Parties. He then spoke about the Conservatives’ achievements during their time in office, among which were its progress towards solving the housing problem, its education reforms, the passage of the Electricity Act, the enfranchisement of women, the introduction of new measures to help agriculture, and the passage of the Trades Disputes Act following the General Strike. Finally, Baldwin outlined his plans for the future, which included Poor Law reform, the transference scheme, which placed unemployed people in work, and the removal of trade barriers between European nations.
I have been in politics for forty years. I have never known a party in better spirits or in finer fighting fettle. (Loud cheers.) They have confidence in themselves and confidence in next year - (A voice – ‘And confidence in you, sir.’) – and they have ample justification for it. They have justification from two sides. They remember the victory of four years ago. They know that 412 Unionist members were returned. They know all about the swing of the pendulum, the unpopularity of the Government, and the attack made on it, but we still have 406 members. We have lost six seats in four years – one and a half a year – (laughter) – and, if mathematics be true, it will take one hundred and forty years to move us. I said there was a two-fold reason for our confidence. We are a party rich in traditions. We are a national party which puts the needs of the nation before the needs of a class. (Cheers.) We are a party of union, whereas our opponents’ are parties of disunion. (Hear, hear.) But the other reason for our confidence is the character and record of those who would fight us. (Laughter.) Let us consider for a moment the Socialist Party. During the last four years in Parliament their Parliamentary record is a record of lack of discipline, without which no party can succeed. (Hear, hear.) A record of weakness, of absence of statesmanship; and time after time they have subordinated broad and national considerations to the narrow interests of a certain class. (Hear, hear.) We have seen that at the time of the general strike. We saw it during the whole of the coal stoppage, during both of which times their leaders, who disapproved of much of what was in the policy of many of those who were leading in those troublous times, never by word during those dreary months had the courage to say in public what they felt and knew in private. We saw it at the time of the outbreak of trouble in China when Mr. George Hicks and Mr. Wheatley regretted the flaunting of a military display in China and said what did it matter because they were not bricklayers who were going to be killed. They have claimed to have a monopoly in representing the interests of the working classes. A more impudent claim was never made. (Cheers.) If we failed to represent those interests not one of us would be on this platform. If we need proof of my contention has the country yet forgotten the campaign against the Trades Disputes Bill when it was proved that the attitude taken up in Parliament failed to represent the attitude of the workers of the country? (Cheers.)
The Labour Party
In years to come the Labour Party may be a great party. I hope for the sake of the country that it will, but they have a long way to go yet, and until they learn to oppose and expose their own extremists they will never secure the suffrages of the people of England. We saw when they were in office how their leaders yielded to their extremists in the matter of the Russian treaty. We saw it at the time of the general strike. We saw it in the coal stoppage. We saw it in China. Indeed, we see today how hard they are striving to represent themselves before the country as that constitutional and moderate party - (laughter) - which alone, as they knew in their hearts, can never succeed as rivals to ourselves. And what are they doing to achieve that result? They have issued a declaration of policy, a document long-winded and nebulous in which no attempt is made to show how either their proposals would work in practice, how they would achieve the results claimed for them, or how the vast capital expenditure which they involve will be raised. The only plank on which they seem firmly to stand is that of nationalisation. Yet what welcome has been accorded to this programme by those for whose benefit it was devised? In the ‘New Leader,’ as soon as it appeared, I noticed that one gentleman happy in alliterative expression said: ‘While there are good phrases and points in the programme they are buried in pages and pages of philanthropic poppycock.’ (Loud laughter.) Mr. Tom Johnson, for whom I confess a sneaking regard, described the programme as a sort of dog’s breakfast, in which there were scraps for every palate. (Laughter.) Mr. Philip Snowden, always cautious and sometimes wise - (laughter) - said this: ‘The Conservative Party has never committed the folly of issuing a list of a few dozen items of reform which it proposes to carry out.’ Nor will it ever do so as long as I am leader. The editor of the ‘Socialist Review,’ who I gather from his style and sentiment belongs to that select body called the intellectuals says – it is almost impossible to read a page without a yawn – that it is not going to capture democracy.
Labour’s ‘Little Differences’
Whether it be the issue or not of that programme, what has happened has been a complete split in their ranks, heralded by the manifesto of Mr. Cook and Mr. Maxton. The significant feature of that is this, while the Labour Party are properly trying to purge their ranks of Communism and to become purely a constitutional party, you have Mr. Maxton’s manifesto, approved by the National Council of the Independent Labour Party. Now one hundred and twelve members out of the one hundred and fifty-eight Labour members in Parliament belong to the Independent Labour Party. That shows you how much unity has at present been achieved, and while they talk of driving out the Communists Mr. William Adamson, one of the most respected members of the Labour Party, who has given a life’s service to the miners in Scotland, has been thrown out of office in his own union by the Communists. When these little differences are adjusted it will be time to tell the people of England that the Labour party is purged of Communism.
The Liberal Party
Now by a natural process of transition in discussing our opponents we pass from the Labour Party to the Liberal. That is a much more depressing subject. (Laughter.) The Labour Party is after all a party in the making – a much more cheerful picture than a party in the breaking. There has never been so far as I am aware in the political history of this country a great party more disunited in policy and in leadership than the Liberal Party today. There are some who accept as leader Mr. Lloyd George. There are some who do not. There are some who accept his land policy. There are a great many who do not. In Parliament, if that be any indication, they have voted every way and no way the last four years. I have been at some pains to have the voting analysed for the last four years. I find that 6,000 votes have been cast for us. I find that 18,000 votes have been cast for the Socialists. I find 37,000 votes have never been cast at all. (Loud laughter.) In other words – if I may put it mathematically – 10 per cent of the Liberal votes have gone to the Unionists, 30 per cent to Labour, and 60 per cent – (laughter and a voice ‘Gone to bed.’) When these things happen in Parliament what about the great revival outside? The Liberal candidate has forfeited his deposit on no fewer than eight occasions at bye-elections since the General Election, and the party which numbered forty four years ago numbers thirty-nine today. It is a happy augury that during our session in Yarmouth Cheltenham has once more hammered in the fact that even in a borough like Cheltenham, where there has always been a large Liberal vote, where so popular a man as Sir James Agg-Gardner could not always win and often got in by small majorities, even there at this time the Liberal poll has fallen beyond all hope of redemption.
The Liberal Programme
What of their future and their programme? I am informed – I do not know whether it is correct – that at their annual conference, which I understand is to follow ours, the resolutions which will be discussed are resolutions drafted by their Executive Committee. It seems to me a strange procedure in these democratic days, and contrasting very vividly with our method of business, but still, it is their business, not mine. I notice for the main part in social reform they advocate little which we are not doing ourselves. I notice their only idea of economy is to strike forty millions off national defence without saying how or where, only one thing being certain, that that sum cannot be taken off national defence without impairing national security. I notice they still stick to the old land values, of which I thought we had heard the last when we abolished the relics of the 1918 legislation. They undertake to abolish preference and safeguarding. They undertake to relieve the able-bodied poor out of the exchequer, which seems to me very much like nationalising the dole, and I notice that the Labour Party say of the Liberal programme that it is lifted bodily out of theirs, but that water has been substituted for their wine. This confirms me in my conviction which I have held for some time that while Labour is Socialism with the courage of its convictions modern Liberalism is Socialism without the courage of its convictions.
What Will They Do?
But whatever their programme may be, the issue at the next election will be the challenge of Socialism against constitutionalism and individualism. Now what do the rank-and-file Liberals think about that? There is no Liberal in this country who looks for a Liberal majority. He knows that any success of his party or of his vote helps the Socialist and the Socialist alone. (Hear, hear.) The utmost he can hope to do is to hold the balance after the next election. He won’t do it, but he hopes to. (Cheers.) What is he going to do then? The British electors have the right to demand before the election what will Liberals do. Will they put Labour in again or will they not? We only want to know where we are.
THE GOVERNMENT’S RECORD
Tribute to Sir Austen
I think I have devoted more time than it is worth with our opponents, and must say something about ourselves. (Cheers.) I notice Mr. Lloyd George recently asked: What have we done? I don’t mind his asking that. I have always been told he does not read very much. (Laughter and cheers.) I know that he has been in Parliament very little, and I understand from the newspapers that he has been devoting a lot of time to gardening. (Laughter.) I gather that because I notice that for two or three years he has been spending all his time in throwing stones into his neighbour’s garden. (Laughter and cheers.) But I am glad to have the opportunity of telling him what we have done. I am amazed at our record. (Cheers.) I make no excuse for speaking about it, and I want every member of Parliament and every candidate at the next election to rub it in, because people do not realise; and after all our people are very apt to judge by what has been done. They say public memory and political memory is short. That may be true; but at the same time the British people are generous to good work. We have done good work, and we must make them understand it. I want first of all to pay tribute to my colleague, Sir Austen Chamberlain. (Loud cheers.) The whole country, the whole of Europe, recognises the devotion and the skill, and the patience with which he has handled foreign affairs for four years. I have every hope and belief that he will handle them for four years more. (Cheers.) At Locarno, in China, in Egypt, conciliation, firmness ,and the resolution to protect the interest, and in some cases the lives, of our own people, he has constantly pursued peace, and a great part of the credit of what has been done in Europe in that direction during these four years belongs fairly to him, and in that cause he has nearly worn himself out. (Cheers.) In the Dominions my friend, Mr. Amery, has for the first time laid, and rightly laid, a close and intimate personal intercourse between the Government at the centre of the Empire and the Governments in the Dominions. (Hear, hear.) His personal visit, his personal intercourse, his speeches, will all bear rich fruit in the future and while I just allude to him do not let us forget at this meeting the services to the Dominions, to the Mother Country, to the Empire rendered at the last Imperial Conference by Lord Balfour. (Cheers.) The work of the Empire Marketing Board will be more and more valuable as time goes on. The work of overseas settlement, difficult for many reasons which I cannot go into tonight, is engaging the Secretary of State’s personal attention, and will, I hope, also in its time bear good fruit. But it is at home where the record of the achievements of the present Government will go down to history. We have not talked as much as we have done things. We had not been in office six months before we passed the Widows, Orphans and Old Age Pensions Act. (Cheers.) I would say nothing more of that at this moment than this, that the president of the Friendly Societies’ Conference the other day in speaking of that Act gave these remarkable figures. Over one quarter of a million widows, over 350,000 children, over 880,000 old age pensioners - a million and half in all - are drawing benefits from that Act who would have been drawing nothing had it not been passed. (Cheers.) The whole conception of that Act and the passing of it was the work of the present Government.
Housing Problem on the Road to Solution
And now I want to say a word about the work of another of my colleagues, to whom I rejoice to hear you give a welcome this afternoon worthy of him. In housing out of the 1,100,000 houses built since the Armistice, 700,000 have been built in the term of the present Government, and in the year ending on the 30th of last September, there were 273,000 houses built, which was more than twice the number that had ever been built before in that time. I wish that Mr. Neville Chamberlain could be kept at the Ministry of Health for the rest of his life. (Cheers.) Nothing has been nearer his heart than slum clearance and many conversations have he and I had on that. He is not satisfied with the progress that has been made and yet more schemes have been approved by him than by any other Government. I think we may safely say this. Now that the housing problem is on the road to solution and the houses that we wanted have been in so large a part built, we shall be able when we go back again next June or July - (cheers) - to go full steam ahead with slum clearance. (Cheers.)
Progress in Education
There is another subject on which I want to speak for four or five minutes. It is one that plays very little part at ordinary political meetings. It is one on which I spoke a good deal myself before the last election, and that is education. I want to pay a tribute tonight to what Lord Eustace Percy has done without advertisement, without any shouting, what he has done in the way of the fulfilment of the pledges we gave at the election. We made three or four main points. We promised to go in for the modernisation of the elementary school premises. We promised to go in for a reduction of classes. We promised to improve advanced education for children between eleven and fifteen. We promised to increase the opportunities of young persons to get higher education if they proved themselves fitted for it – and mind you on all of these subjects depends in no small degree the efficiency and happiness of our country. (Hear, hear.) On all of these points we have made great progress. There have been over two hundred new schools built. Plans have been approved for more than eight hundred blacklisted schools, and more than half these plans have been carried out and executed. Large classes have been reduced by one-third, and more than eight thousand of them cut down. There are 3700 more certificated teachers, which bears out the fact that I have just related to you. All the local authorities in this country have now put forward schemes for advanced instruction for children from eleven to fifteen – schemes for three years from 1927 to 1930, and they are now in the course of execution. There are 63,000 more secondary school pupils sanctioned than a year ago, 25,000 more children in the secondary schools, an increase of 16 per cent in the free places. That is very remarkable progress – (cheers) – and I do not mind confessing to you there is nothing lies nearer my heart and the hearts of my colleagues than to go on to help with the education and the health of our people, to try to convert them from a C 8 nation to an A 1 nation. (Cheers.) Medical services in the schools have been improved, and half a million more children are being inspected every year. Schemes for crippled children for orthopaedic treatment have been passed and are in action. And in conclusion – and I rejoice in this – for the first time all qualified teachers are secure under terms settled nationally and adopted by all the local authorities, and the Government stand, as they have always stood, for national settlement in these matters.
The Electricity Act
We hear very little today about the Electricity Act. There was much talk when the Labour Party were in about what they were going to do in electrifying England. We did not talk – we passed the Electricity Act. For the last two or three years all those concerned in administration have been putting in splendid work in preparation. The contracts are beginning to be put out, and we can see a time not too far distant when cheap electricity will be available from one end of the country to the other. I venture to think that in years to come when people look back on these times there is no Act which will stand out as having been more far-sighted, as having done more for the country as a whole, than the Electricity Act, passed in the lifetime of the present Government.
New Women Voters
With regard to women and children we have found in times past several useful Acts in connexion with guardianship adoption and to meet certain hardships in regard to divorce. We have given the franchise to women. (Cheers.) Other parties have talked about it – we have done it, and we have done it freely and in the firm conviction that the enfranchisement of women, together with the enfranchisement of men, will lead to stability in the affairs of this country, to a deep and profound interest in all affairs, domestic and Imperial, and that politics will be all the keener and cleaner for the addition that has been made to the electorate. (Cheers.)
We found agriculture enjoying a fifty per cent relief of the rates. Three years ago we increased it to 75 per cent, and we included in the rating relief the farm buildings. We are now legislating for total relief for that industry. (Cheers.) We have passed a Credits Act, a very remarkable piece of legislation, which I believe will be of immense value. We have encouraged the growth and manufacture of sugar beet. We have passed Acts for the grading and marketing of produce, just as we passed the Merchandise Marks Act for the industry of this country, which has been taken advantage of by an increasing number of industries.
Mr. Churchill’s Record
I do not think that at a meeting like this we ought to separate without acknowledging and paying tribute to the courage and versatility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer - (cheers) - who in spite of the unparalleled financial disasters of 1926 has succeeded in maintaining the credit of the country, in balancing his Budget and in making certain welcome reductions of taxation to large sections of the Community. The Unemployment Insurance has been placed upon a sound financial basis, and the Minister of Health has passed Acts in Parliament to prevent wanton, extravagant, and profligate expenditure by local authorities. (Cheers.) We have passed the Trades Disputes Act. (Cheers.) I think we may say we have laid the ghost of the general strike. We see in the country today a spirit of greater confidence, not only confidence in our own country, but what I have longed to see – confidence in ourselves and confidence in our old ability to weather the storms that may come upon us.
UNEMPLOYMENT AND RATING REFORM
A New Feeling of Hope
We have still, in spite of the fact that more are at work than four years ago, to face unemployment. That, of course, has caused us great anxiety, and we are in process now of carrying out a great deal of very difficult and complicated legislation in rating and Poor Law reform, which we believe will be of the greatest assistance to industry in this country for generations to come. (Cheers.) But I would say to all my friends in the House of Commons that it will make demands upon your time, demands that may seem hard, but this legislation has got to be got through for the sake of the country, and I am perfectly certain that there will be no slackening in the efforts of anyone that this legislation shall be law before we go to the country. I say no more about it here, because I understand you have been discussing it this afternoon, and you have had the advantage of hearing some observations upon it by a man who is a past master of his subject – Mr. Neville Chamberlain. I will only say this. Our party at its best, as it is today, has always been a party that puts the condition of the people first. Disraeli did it and we do it - (cheers) - and the great appeal that this Poor Law reform makes to me is that I am convinced that when once put through it will offer us and offer my friend Mr. Chamberlain a fresh jumping-off point for a further campaign on behalf of the health of the people in every way in which the health services can assist them and provide for them. Now we have got to remember with regard to unemployment that the most serious place where unemployment exists is in the coal mines, and we have got to remember that unemployment is very largely the result of that very rationalisation – to use one of those long words so popular in the present day – which has been urged upon the coal trade by everyone who has studied their problems, and by none more than the Socialist leaders. But whereas it has always been urged upon them it has been left for this Government to try and meet the critical situation caused by the unemployment resulting; and we realise as the country realises that the only thing that can be done for the men in that trade out of work is to obtain work in other industries, whether it be in this country or overseas, because within reasonable time at least it seems improbable that they can get work again for their old employment of coal mining. It is having that fact in view, that the Ministry of Labour now are working with intense energy to place these men in situations throughout the country. It is too early yet to judge of the success their efforts will have. I am hopeful at least that the beginnings of a move may be made from these derelict districts, and there need be at any rate a new feeling of hope in the breasts of the men who live in these districts when they see the helping hand at least is being held out to them. Lord Lovat is at this moment in the Dominions studying with Ministers overseas what ways can be devised for quickening and for expediting overseas settlement, and we shall wait with eagerness the result of his labours, and I hope to be able to act upon them.
SUCCESS OF SAFEGUARDING
Do Not Go Too Far in Front of Public Opinion
And then I want to say a few words about another weapon in our armour, and that is the weapon of safeguarding. (Loud cheers and a Voice: ‘Good old Stanley.’) There have been since the war meetings of economists from the different countries at Geneva doing what they can to induce the countries of Europe to remove, or at any rate to reduce, the barriers which interfere with trade between one country and another in the shape of tariffs. I am all in favour of these meetings. I would like to see all the barriers down - ( hear, hear) - but in the meantime when the barriers exist in other places, when employment is affected at home by longer hours, by cheaper labour, by questions of currency, what is the Liberal Party going to do to meet these cases, and what is the Labour Party going to do? The Liberal Party say they will do nothing, so we know exactly where we stand. They are going to take away existing safeguarding. The Labour Party officially say they will do nothing. There is much uneasiness in the rank and file. Voices have been heard saying licences for imports are far more drastic than safeguarding and more dangerous in many ways. I see one Labour member in South Wales is advocating safeguarding – (hear, hear) – and he says whatever party comes into power will safeguard. Safeguarding was introduced by the Coalition Government and it has been the law of the land for seven years. I think we all agree that the experimental stage is passing away. (Loud cheers.) There are few in this country who would contend that success has not been achieved by such experiments in safeguarding as have hitherto been made, and I know there have been many members of our party who feel that progress has been too slow. Let me remind you of this. It is not wise in a democracy to go too far in front of public opinion. (Hear, hear.) The British people are slow to make up their minds on a new question, but they are thinking and thinking hard. This question of safeguarding is an industrial question, a question which should be judged on its merits, and on its merits alone, and I put my own position as your leader and the position of my colleagues as the Government very clearly in a letter to the Chief Whip just before the recess.
No Tax on Food
We are agreed that there will be no tax on food. (Applause.) I repeat the pledge which I have given that safeguarding will not be used as a side door or back door by which to introduce a general tariff until the question of a general tariff has been submitted to the country – a purely democratic proceeding, and in view of our record, in view of our treatment of this question, the country will trust us and take our word. I say this, that no industry will be barred from making its case and proving it if it can before the appropriate tribunal. (Applause.) I would add one thing. If we are returned to power we have no doubt the procedure needs simplifying and shortening. The too protracted enquiries are bad for business. I remember Sir Alfred Mond as he then was when he was an apostle of Free Trade once said business could flourish with tariffs, business could flourish without tariffs, but business could not flourish with uncertainty.
THE COMING CAMPAIGN
Tribute to Party’s Loyalty
I want to say one word about our organisation. We have tributes from opponents. They have recognised that our organisation is the best of the three parties. That is not as high praise as I should like to give you. (Laughter.) I have had forty years experience of politics, most of it in the rank-and-file. There is nothing I ask you to do that I have not done myself. I have marked off polling cards, I have addressed envelopes - (laughter) - and I have shepherded the last batch of voters from the public house. (Cheers and laughter.) I gained my experience in an old borough, and there is nothing you can teach me. I merely preface by saying this – that I believe our organisation is better than it has ever been at headquarters and in the country. I should like to thank my friend Mr. Davidson for what he has done. I want to say a word of congratulation to the women’s organisations. (Cheers.) They are doing wonders, and do not ever let us forget the Junior Imperial League. Let us pay a tribute to our literature department, which has never been so effective as it is today. A most remarkable thing I have seen – one of our pamphlets directed against the Liberals lifted bodily into a Labour pamphlet. And I have seen all parties asking for our literature on the Trades Disputes Bill to learn what it actually meant. I said to Mr. Davidson today I thought it would be very valuable before the election if we could have some very good leaflets giving some extracts from Mr. Lloyd George’s articles in the foreign Press, written in times of difficulty at home. (Applause.) That will be attended to. Today I see a closer co-operation between the central office and the local organisations than I ever remember. And I see unlimited enthusiasm and ability. From today work, organise, educate. This is the last time I shall address you before the General Election. I want to pay a tribute here to my team in the Cabinet. (Applause.) Looking back over four years, no Prime Minister has ever had more loyal and consistent support than I have. There is not one Minister who has not more than fulfilled the expectations, high as they were on my part, with which I embarked in office in 1924. There are some who by their devotion to their labours have impaired their health. They are wearing themselves out in your service. We shall all do that sooner or later, but in our party we have an unlimited reservoir of youth waiting to take their places. We are no party of reaction – we go forward in the pursuit of ordered progress. Our first aim is peace at home and abroad and throughout the world, a peace in which we can improve the conditions of life, of health, of education for our own people. I am proud to lead such a party with such a tradition. I sprang from the rank-and-file and they have supported me through good times and through bad. They stood by me after the election of 1923, when many stout hearts wavered. They have stood by me since. They have followed my strategy without asking too many questions. They have trusted me. (Cheers.) Once more in the coming fight I ask you to continue my trust in that leadership. I am convinced that if you will give me that same confidence that I have in you, once more we shall rout our foes, combined or separate, as we routed them four years ago, and continue again for a further period of ordered progress in the traditions of that greatest of our leaders whom we are all so proud to follow – Lord Beaconsfield.