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Speech Archive

Leader's speech, London 1929

Stanley Baldwin (Conservative)

Location: London

Commentary:

This conference was the first since the Conservatives’ general election defeat in May 1929. Baldwin attacked the minority Labour government for making unrealistic promises during the election campaign, most notably on the problem of unemployment. He also spoke about the need for peace in the Empire and, in the light of the decline in trade between Britain and Europe, to participate in the expanding markets of the Empire.

We have recently been through the fire, but our garments are not singed.  (Cheers)  There has been a certain amount of depression.  I do not understand it.  (Cheers)  I have met in my life with success and failure.  I treat those two impostors both the same.  (Cheers)  Let me remind you of some words that were uttered, when he was in Opposition, shortly before he won a glorious victory, by one of the greatest leaders we ever had – Benjamin Disraeli.  Speaking in Glasgow in 1873 he said: ‘The reason that I have been able to lead a party for so long a period and under some circumstances of difficulty and discouragement is that the party which I lead is the most generous party which ever existed.’  (Cheers)  ‘I cannot help,’ he added, ‘smiling sometimes when I hear the constant intimations that are given by those who know all the secrets of the political world of the extreme anxiety of the Conservative Party to get rid of my services.  The fact is’ – said Mr. Disraeli – not me (laughter) – ‘the Conservative Party can get rid of my services whenever they give me the intimation that they so desire.’

Now, Sir, you have said truly that the last election was won largely by promises.  I have fought through many elections.  I have never known promises so wild as those which were uttered at the last election.  (Cheers)  And yet, though I do not doubt the good faith of many who made those promises, many must have known the insincerity of them.  It is like a firm in business drawing bills and the directors know those bills will never be met, though the clerks who enter them in the bill-book may have no doubt of the solidity of the firm to whom they give their service.  But at the end of three months or six months the fate of the bills is known, and in less than six months the fate of the promises made last May is known throughout the country.  I am not going to weary you with instances; but three or four I must mention to pin them down on your minds.

Before the election electors read in the Labour speakers’ handbook – and they heard the subject discussed from the platform ad nauseum – that at the end of December 1928, one insured worker out of eight was unemployed.  One and a half million unemployed at December 31 1928, have about 2,000,000 women and children dependent upon them and the nation.  For four years more than 1,000,000 workers have been deprived through no fault of their own of the opportunity of adding their quota to the nation’s output of wealth.  In July the House of Commons – a very different place from the soap-box – the Lord Privy Seal, Mr. Thomas, said this: ‘When we deduce from these figures [speaking of the live register] the fact that a million or more of our people are unemployed, that gives an entirely wrong picture of the situation to the outside.’  And he went on to make the same explanation we made 50 times when we were in office.  It is a pity that the truth did not dawn on him in May.  (Cheers)  In May the same gentleman said: ‘The Minister’s statement that he uttered today was the half truth that there were more people employed today than when the Government took office.  To the ignorant person that seemed very plausible.’  In October at Brighton he said: ‘What are the cold facts about unemployment?  There are employed in industry today 800,000 more men than in the golden period of 1914.’  In five months we have got away from hot air to cold facts (cheers), and before very long I can assure him the facts will be colder still.

More Quotations

At the end of April Mr. Clynes said: ‘The Conservative Government have robbed men of their savings by administrative persecution which has made it impossible for men to remain on the list.’  An honourable man, Mr. Clynes, never given to extreme statement; but imagine what that statement was when translated into the language of the street corner.  But in July, within three months, the Minister of Labour said in the House of Commons: ‘I merely wish to say to the Committee that no one has ever heard me say on either side of the House that I believed that there was any body of persecution in the sense that has been stated today.’  Mr. Clynes once more, on the subject of transference, which we debated in the last Parliament.  In the House of Commons in April he said: ‘About one in every 200 out of work has a chance of transference, not a chance of a job without putting somebody else out, but a chance of taking a job which clearly somebody would like to have in that particular district.  That is not a solution of the problem.  It is part of the proved desperation of the Government.  It is a wholly ineffective plan, and one which involves the men concerned in a good deal of personal inconvenience and personal suffering which ought not to be imposed upon them.’  And a member of the rank and file in the Socialist Party on the same day said: ‘The transference scheme is all moonshine.  It is mockery to try to deal with a problem involving 1,200,000 men by such a scheme.’  In July in the House of Commons the Minister of Labour said: ‘As was pointed out by the Lord Privy Seal on July 3, there is in certain areas a surplus working population who ought to be helped to find work elsewhere.  The Government therefore propose to continue and to extend the transference scheme.’

And one more, though these quotations are endless.  In ‘Labour and the Nation’ before the General Election we read: ‘The disastrous act by which the Tory Government added an hour to the working day of the miners must be at once repealed.’  We know now that nothing of the kind is going to be done.  Mr. Snowden at Leicester within the last month said that the Labour Government was pledged to restore the seven-hour day and that promise would be redeemed, but again he warned them that they must face facts.  An immediate return to the seven-hour day would inflict grievous disaster on the industry, pits would close, and miners would be thrown out of work.  Five months after the election the Government are facing facts.  (Cheers)  I must just finish this story, before I pass on, with one piece of comic relief.  In the last debate we had on unemployment when I was Prime Minister, Mr. George Lansbury shook his fist in our faces and called us murderers.  He has made no contribution to unemployment so far, except to talk about mixed bathing and the kiddies in the park.  (Laughter)

With such a heritage from the General Election the Government carried into office the seeds of their own dissolution.  They may travel and tread in our footsteps, they may follow the trail that we have blazed, but that will not save them.  The task of Sisyphus was a child’s task to what now lies before them.  You are already privileged to see with regard to widows’ pensions, with regard to unemployment insurance, with regard to coal, that their actions on the one hand fall far short of the promises made to the electorate, and yet they go far enough to raise greater discontent in the country and to throw intolerable new burdens on an industry that was slowly recovering from the slough of despond, and they will get the worst of both worlds.  At first it was roses, roses all the way, but, as I know well, ‘Woe to you when all men speak well of you.’  Flattery by the Press is giddy wine to those who are not accustomed to it, and who have had no experience of it, and, today, the glamour is wearing off.  The Government stock is falling, and business confidence is falling.  Is nothing rising to compensate?  Yes, unemployment, the expenditure of the country, and before long you will infallibly see the cost of living rising.

A curious political economy dictates their movements.  The Minister of Health, Mr. Greenwood, has said, ‘Whether a nation can afford a thing or not depends upon how much it wants it.’  That is the new political economy.  Mr. Greenwood is an expert in political economy.  He is a trained political economist.  He has been a don teaching political economy at a university.  An old friend of mine, a classical don, made this observation about dons in general, but principally dons who specialise in political economy.  He said: ‘A don is a fellow with a great capacity for accumulating knowledge, but he is usually without any capacity for drawing the right conclusion from it.’  We shall watch the pursuit of the new political economy, which is neither Adam Smith nor Mill nor List, in its further researches.

Peace in the Empire

By their speeches the Government arrogate to themselves a monopoly in the championship of world peace.  The pursuit of peace is no monopoly of any party.  Our Government did a great deal for the peace of the world.  (Cheers)  No one did more for the League of Nations than the late Foreign Secretary, who never received his due either from the League of Nations in this country or from the electorate, because his statesmanship was learned in an older generation before statesmen had acquired the art of publicity or could get over the platform what Theodore Roosevelt used to call ‘mush.’  When this Government talk so much of their purpose I remember that in the days of the War a large number of those who were for peace at any price were members of the party, when we stood for peace with honour.  (Cheers)  Today we stand for peace with security.  We are all in favour of disarmament, but disarmament on our part irrespective of what foreign nations may do does not truly serve the cause of peace.  (Cheers)  We must be able to guarantee peace in our Empire.  Our Empire, free from the spirit of aggression, united, solid, and able to keep the peace within its own boundaries, one-fourth of the earth and one-fourth of her population – an Empire like that is the principal pillar of peace in the world.  (Cheers)  But if she be not able to guarantee peace within her borders she is a source of peril to the whole world, and our influence in the world is gone if we once betray the principle of peace with security.

Heavier Taxation Ahead

Now I would like to say a word on that subject which has caused so much anxiety for many years to many Governments, the subject of unemployment, which loomed largely at the last election, and, by the promises given on that subject, contributed in no mean measure to our defeat.  Let us bear in mind certain fundamental facts:

  1. Not only has the export trade of this country fallen, but our share in the total volume of world trade has fallen and is falling;
  2. the Empire today takes over 40 per cent of our total exports and nearly one-half of our manufactured exports (cheers);
  3. the home market absorbs nearly four-fifths of our output;
  4. the import into this country of manufactured goods is increasing.

What have this Government done to meet this situation?  They are giving larger doles.  They will give us in the next Budget heavier taxation to pay for those doles.  That taxation must be personal, because they dare not touch tariffs.  Therefore, it will weigh directly – even in accordance with the newest economic teaching, I imagine – directly on the industries of the country.  There will, therefore, be increased burdens on industry.  They will reduce by taxation the amount of capital available for industry.  They are creating uncertainty, because no one knows what they will do with regard to Imperial Preference or the McKenna Duties.  And they are weakening and will weaken that spirit of self-reliance which is essential for the prosperity of the country.  (Cheers)  That is their contribution to unemployment.

Trade in the New World

We recognise that our duty is to preserve and secure markets.  Well, now, where?  Where?  In Europe there is a shrinkage of our trade.  Europe consists of more nations than existed before the War, hedged in by more tariffs.  Our percentage of trade with Europe – our exports – is less than before the War.  The great market of the United States is more and more hedged in by tariffs as the years go by.  The only expanding markets in the world, the only markets in whose expansion we may take part without fighting to rob someone else of their share, lie in the Empire, and the Empire in the New World.  (Cheers)  You have today at your great conference passed a resolution on that subject.  (Cheers)  On behalf of my colleagues and myself I accept that resolution.  (Loud cheers, and ‘Good old Stanley’)

The new world, when it came into being, acted as the force of gravity on the old, and it dragged new world empires in its train.  More than three centuries ago – more than four centuries ago – when Henry VII was building his Chapel at Westminster, Columbus of Spain and Vasco da Gama of Portugal sought the new world across the seas, and at that moment, although we knew it not, our destiny was conceived in the womb of time.  Slowly our seamen were pushing their way into Arctic seas, our sailors were raiding Spanish settlements, and in that struggle they learnt their seamanship, and they brought to that seamanship the courage and audacity of their race.  England had been but a few centuries, as history goes, the home of those who had pushed their way from Scandinavia and the Teutonic forests, and once more they felt the urge of the South Seas to the new world open to them.  The urge was upon them again, the call came upon them once more.  Our apprenticeship of the sea concluded with the Armada, and at that time unconsciously the soul of the nation turned aside from Europe and cast out to sea.

Another century, and Greater Britain came into being and met with Englishmen living on the other side of the Atlantic, while in England, under Cromwell and Blake, a name that should never be forgotten, the British Navy first came into the world.  It was at that time that the great German historian said: ‘At this moment England awoke more clearly than ever before to the consciousness of the advantages of her geographical position, and the fact that a maritime vocation was that to which she was called by Nature herself.  Until then the seas had meant the narrow seas, the Straits, and the Mediterranean; then they were the seas that rolled round the world.  When modern history begins, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mexican Gulf henceforth were to be the boundaries of the stage on which the great world drama was to be played.’  And from the time of the Commonwealth the new world was always for us the countries latent.  A new race of men had appeared in England, not the bowmen of Crecy and Poictiers, but men whose lives were spent tossing in their tiny ships on waters which to their fathers had been trackless wastes.  The new world was the outlet for our people and for our trade.  When the religious war began to fail – and the dynastic war only continued insofar as it affected the greater question – and from the struggles with Spain, with Holland, through all the French wars of the 18th century, by whatever name they be called, it was on the bloody plains of Flanders, and on the shores of the Danube, no less than on the seas that the freedom of the new world was won for the English-speaking people.  And no man saw it more clearly than Napoleon.  (Cheers)

At the Crossroads

Three centuries of dreams and events, of great strivings and intermittent lethargy, of union and schism, and we stand once more at the crossroads.  This is an age of great combinations.  The United States was welded even in the lifetime of the older ones among us by the arbitrament of war.  People talk in Europe today of a United States of Europe.  Our progress depends on our capacity to visualise the Empire, the Dominions and Colonies alike, as one eternal and indestructible unit – (cheers) – for production, for consumption, for distribution, for the maintenance and improvement of the lot of those who under Providence are dwellers within the confines of our Commonwealth.  I think we owe a word of gratitude to one – not always a supporter of our party – Lord Beaverbrook – for bringing before the country, for bringing once more before the country that idea of which we have heard too little in recent years, of a united Empire, and I pay tribute to his courage – rare in one of his profession – (laughter) – in bringing a subject in which he believes up for criticism in its proper place, the House of Parliament.  I pay tribute also to the businessmen of this country who have recently issued a manifesto which – whether I agree with it or not at the moment is immaterial – yet again brings before the people another aspect of this many-sided question, the unity of our great Empire.  There lies our problem.  It is the task of a generation to solve.  In it rests the question of the employment of our people and the continuation of the beneficent existence itself of our Empire.

A Task for the Young

To that task we must lay our hands, and to that task must our policy be framed.  (Cheers)  We cannot now dictate a policy to the Empire.  Much consultation will be necessary to help the employment of our own people, to rationalise not only our home but Imperial industry.  The framing of such a policy as will effect those ends is the task of your leaders to which they will forthwith devote themselves, and in the framing of such a policy it is essential that they should take into council the youth of the party, because a generation may be needed to effect that unity of which we dream.  The burden of the fight may well lie on the shoulders of the young.  Those of us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day cannot look forward many years.  It would be unfair to bind our younger colleagues and associates with a policy with which they were not in heartfelt agreement, but I have no doubt that complete unanimity and complete sympathy may be achieved between all sections and in all ages of our great party.  (Cheers)  I myself – I believe that close co-operation throughout our Empire is possible, for such co-operation will be of great benefit to all parts of that Empire.  I believe that as we slowly recover from the exhaustion of war the old spirit of adventure, of sturdy reliance, will again animate our people, and I believe that the growth of the well-being of our race is and will be the greatest influence making both for the peace and for the progress of this world.  (Cheers) 

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