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Leader's speech, Blackpool 1932

Stanley Baldwin (Conservative)

Location: Blackpool


This conference was the first since the New York stock market crash of 1929 and the formation of the National Government in 1931. It also followed the Ottawa Conference, at which the Dominions agreed to alter their tariff laws and accept the principle of competitive competition. This was a positive outcome for Britain, but Baldwin noted that manufacturers and businessmen needed to take full advantage of the opportunities these agreements offered, which in turn would hasten Britain’s industrial recovery.

Mr. Baldwin thanked Blackpool for the great welcome they had given to what he described as ‘the great party which forms the national bulwark today.’

As he had not met them for two years he wanted to say a word or two about last year’s election – to thank all those who had controlled the organisation for the wonderful victory which followed that election.

To switch over, as in a night, from party warfare, party programme, party propaganda to the support of the National Government, was a great achievement, and an achievement no less of the organising skill of those who accomplished it than it was of the patriotism of the rank and the file.

‘I should also like to acknowledge the patriotic devotion of those candidates up and down the country who stood down in order to give us a clear solidarity of front which was essential,’ continued Mr. Baldwin.

‘Let us not forget the spirit of the party in the House of Commons also, where many men have had to forego that legitimate and just ambition that they might have cherished, and for which they might have worked, to take their part in the government of the country.

National Strength

‘It is essential in any form of coalition – and the National Government is a coalition – it is essential that broad representation should be given to all parties, and such representation cannot be calculated by counting heads.

‘The spirit of most of those ambitions for the time being have been disappointed was beyond all praise, and has borne its part in cementing the National party, and in helping that unity which has stood like a wall in the country for the last twelve months and stands as strong today after what has happened in the last fortnight .

‘What have we learned in the post-war years about parliamentary government? We have watched it at home and in most of the countries of the world. The maintenance of a strong and stable executive is essential for the peaceful and progressive government of democracy, and it is the absence of that power of a strong stable executive which has been at the root of the breakdown of the parliamentary system in so many countries – in India, Germany, China and many more.

‘The formation of a national government ensures that form of executive, because by suspending the ordinary party fighting we have suspended the very element which is apt to sap the strength of democracy.

Work to be Done

‘We have had a lot of unpleasant work to do, and we shall probably have a great deal more.

This crisis is not over.  The sky is clear, but the centre of the storm has merely shifted.  The storm itself is still ominous.  That popularity which launched the National Government is waning in many quarters because men have not that whole calculated strength, courage and perseverance to stick it.

Some of the omens today are more favourable, but there is much to cause us grave anxiety, and that is the moment at which three out of eight Cabinet Ministers, who do not belong to our party, thought fit to resign their responsibilities of Government.

‘I propose to indulge in no acrimonious censure, but I may be allowed to express the difficulty I find in following their reasoning,’ continued Mr. Baldwin.  ‘It may be that I have not a subtle mind.  As a matter of fact, there is no more difficult question than to know when you render greater service to your country by resignation or by sticking to your job.

‘My simple and direct mind tells me that, having undertaken to stick to the Prime Minister and the National Government until the sky was clear, I am going to stick to it.

‘Obsolescent Doctrine’

 ‘With these Liberals it was a certain logical loyalty to an obsolescent doctrine that compelled them to resign.  Free Trade in the days of the expanding markets of long ago may have been a beneficent dispensation.  In our time, it consisted merely of the beggarly elements of the late dispensation, and it was the late Lord Rosebery who said that the commonest error in politics was the sticking to the carcase of dead policies.

‘I think that is the affliction from which my Liberal friends suffer.  We are not doctrinaires.  We admitted Protection not as a principle but as an expedient.  We knew the dangers as we knew the dangers of the Free Trade. We have never worshipped it.  We know what can be done in the way of log rolling in the way of excessive protection: we know what can be done in the way of corruption. 

‘With our eyes open we took every step to safeguard that policy from what we know to be the dangers associated with it.  If it fails, I do not see our party sticking to the carcase of dead policies.

‘I do wish that narrow pedantic school would give up once and for all worshipping Free Trade as a principle, both immaculate and immutable, for no economic doctrine is, either can be, or will be.

Without Fair Trial

‘It seems to me that they have exaggerated and isolated one issue alone out of a score of issues without waiting, without giving it a fair trial.

By next election that policy will be dead, and in my view I do not believe the country is interested in it one iota.  It has only one desire, and that is to see the Government get on with their job.

‘As leader of this great party,’ continued Mr. Baldwin, ‘I cannot take in silence the charge that we have been enforcing our party policy on the Government.  The Prime Minister in his manifesto a year ago stated ‘It is impossible to see in the changed conditions of today what may arise.  No one can set out a programme in detail on which specific pledges can be given.  The Government must, therefore be free to consider every proposal likely to help, such as tariffs, the expansion of exports and contraction of imports, commercial treaties and mutual economic arrangements with the Dominions.’

‘Those things are not today, and have not been since the election, party policies.  They were among the things for which the Prime Minister and I asked for a free hand and we got it.  (Cheers.) 

Ottawa Conference

‘We have been charged with imperilling the Imperial future of the Commonwealth of Nations as a result of the Ottawa Conference.  What was the Ottawa Conference?  It was a conference called by the Canadian Prime Minister to continue the work of the Conference held during the lifetime of the late Socialist Government. 

‘What were we to do?  Refuse to attend or attend and refuse to make any agreement?  We are told that we have made a bad bargain and have given more than we have got.

‘We have been told that we have acted unconstitutionally,’ he continued, ‘and that Parliament will act unconstitutionally if it passed these agreements, because in the Canadian agreement in certain articles, and certain articles only, we undertook to make no alteration without the permission of the Canadian Government.

‘I am supposed to have made some observations on the position of Parliament, which my conduct at Ottawa has negatived.  Our Parliament, in the nature of things, negotiates itself.  It can only ratify or reject agreements already made, and it is familiar and fundamental constitutional law that one parliament cannot fetter or diminish the powers of a future parliament.  I have always maintained that is true today.’

Precedents Quoted

Mr. Baldwin recalled various legislative Acts in the last century or so.  There was a famous Act passed in 1778 called the Taxation of Colonies Act, which provided that from and after the starting of the Act the King and Parliament of Great Britain would not impose any duties, taxes, or assessments whatever on any of His Majesty’s colonies, provinces, and plantations.

‘Now we know it was exceedingly impossible that that Statute would ever be repealed.  The Act was, in itself, the character of a policy, the policy of the Executive at the time, and which was acceptable to Parliament for the time being.

‘I suppose the late Home Secretary will say that Act was unconstitutional, or he may say that was in the nature of a unilateral settlement.  (Laughter.)

‘Let me remind you of the union with Ireland.  The chief article of that treaty provided for the establishment of the Church of England and Ireland to be deemed as an essential fundamental part of the union.

‘That bound Parliament, according to the late Home Secretary, and as a matter of fact it did for more than 60 years, but it is a fact that in 1869 Parliament, by the Irish surtax, ended what the earlier Parliament had tried to make binding.

‘The position is in entire agreement with all I have ever said on the subject.  The Government of the day - whatever the Government is - the Government may be wise, or may not, in anticipating that Parliament will ratify any agreement it may come to, that it will not affect the propriety of making such an agreement, and there is no necessity to safeguard the rights of Parliament. 

Parliament is completely master of the situation.  Its rights are in no danger and no question.  That is the constitutional position, and there is nothing we have done, or are asking Parliament to do, which will conflict with the historical practice of our country.

‘There are one or two similar things which have been done,’ continued Mr. Baldwin.  ‘May I remind you that there is still a treaty in existence made many years ago with Greece in which we are bound to refrain from taxing currants at more than two shillings.  It is constitutional to refrain from taxing goods in the interest of the foreigner, and unconstitutional to tax them in the interests of our own people.  (Cheers.)

‘I remember myself, in 1911, a Liberal Government in office, of which Sir Herbert Samuel was a member, made a treaty with Japan, not for five years, but for ten years – a treaty which might have involved this country in war.

‘Was that binding on future Parliaments?  Is that constitutional or unconstitutional?  It is very difficult for simple people to follow the logic of our opponents.

Tribute to Delegates

‘Of course the Ottawa agreements might have ruined our friends and sounded their death knell.

For myself, I regret nothing that took place at Ottawa.  I rejoice to think that we have accomplished far more than I hoped or anticipated when we left these shores.

‘I would like, as leader of that delegation, to pay a tribute to the members of the delegation.  I single no one out.  Everyone, without exception, contributed his share, and did all he could to help in the success of that Conference, and to bind together that band of brothers which we became during our labours.

‘I have no doubt that in his admirable speech yesterday Mr. Chamberlain told you I had asked him to sign the Canadian agreements, but he could not tell you with what pleasure all his colleagues and the representatives of the Dominions saw the signature of the son of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain put to one of the most important trade agreements that has ever been signed on behalf of the United Kingdom.  (Cheers.)

‘We have been told that tariffs have increased unemployment in this country.  Unemployment must cause us all the greatest anxiety.  For a year we have been striving hard, and the last figures are slightly in excess of what they were twelve months ago.  We know full well the hardships, the difficulties of the administration of the Means Test.

Means Test

‘There are few people outside the violent partisans in the Socialist party who would say that a means test is wrong in itself.  It is right, but it will be the care of the Government to examine carefully these matters in the coming winter, to ensure equal treatment and as fair administration as can be given on this most difficult subject throughout the country.’

Mr. Baldwin made an appeal to all the delegates to interest themselves in this problem, and not to approach it merely as a cold economic problem but as a human, vital problem, dealing with the homes of the people of this country.

‘If you do that,’ he said, ‘you will be playing your part as good citizens and, as I believe, as good Tories too.’

‘How can we say now that tariffs have been the cause of unemployment – of the increase of unemployment which came in the summer?  It was because of the contracts which have been made – because of the world depression.

‘It will be a year before we can judge fairly what the effect of tariffs has been.  I wanted to examine this question myself, and took some pains to get at the right figures.  I can show in a moment what the world decline has been in recent months and how we have held our own.

Figures Quoted

It disposes once and for all, and for ever, of the argument that the duties which came on in March were the cause of the increase in unemployment in May and June.

‘Take the figures of July, five months after tariffs, and compare them with February, the month before tariffs came in,’ continued Mr. Baldwin.  ‘Among our principle competitors, the German exports declined 18 per cent, French exports 19 per cent, Italian 26 per cent, United States of America 29 per cent, and the British 2½ per cent.  (Cheers.)

‘What have we been trying to do?  We have been trying to get the foreign tariffs reduced.  They have gone up in every country in the world, including our own Dominions, until in many cases they have been prohibitive.  So long as we had an open market in the world, not a single country in the world would pay the slightest attention to us.

‘The electors gave us a free hand, and the National Government decided to tackle the problem in a new way.  That weapon helped us to balance the Budget.  It helped us to get the Dominions tariff laws altered, helped us to get an agreement on the principle of competitive competition in the Dominions, and brought the representatives of many foreign nations to discuss with us what agreements they could make with us, and we are going to make them.

‘I hope that no one will begrudge their praise of the courage of those who have stuck to the Government.  We have not had to have the bitter experience which they had.  We have not had to break up old friendships, old alliances.  We have not had to cut ourselves off from the party organisation and the caucus, with all its strength and with all its power.

It takes real courage to do that, and I want to acknowledge here, in this testing time, the courage of those, whether they belong to the Liberal party or Labour party, who have stuck to the Prime Minister – Mr. Thomas, who was a tower of strength of Ottawa, Sir John Simon, and Mr. Runciman.

‘The situation reminds me very much of that which I remember so vividly when I was a boy at the time of the defeat of Mr. Gladstone’s Home Rule and the Liberal Unionist party under Mr. Chamberlain,’ continued Mr. Baldwin.

‘I remember how we came forward and supported them in the constituencies when they were cut off from their own party.  We worked for them.  We did not oppose them, and in a few years, looking back, there was not a member of the Tory party who did not rejoice at that infusion of fresh blood and fresh strength.’

I assure you that none of those who support the Ottawa Bill right through must suffer from it at the election.  We must see that they are not opposed, but that they are supported.  They must not be thrown to the wolves for having played a patriotic part.  (Loud cheers.)

Present Conditions

‘The conditions today are not without anxiety.  The general financial position has improved beyond all belief.  We enjoy once more cheap money.  We have effected a wonderful conversion, and we no longer suffer any anxiety about our currency.

‘The industrial position is less satisfactory, but there are signs of hope.  There are very few groups of large industries today that are yet in a better position, but there is a more hopeful tone generally.  I rejoice to think that of the large industries, in which there is a more hopeful tone, we may take the great textile industries of cotton, wool and silk.  (Loud cheers.)

‘We have statistical proof that things are better.  In the first eight months of this year the increase in the importation of raw cotton – which is the most reliable barometer of the cotton trade – the increase over last year has been 24 per cent.

In the woollen trade the goods dealt with by the Bradford Conditioning House have increased in the same period by 18 per cent, and the importation of raw silk by 40 per cent.

‘In the cotton trade there has also been an increase in the export of cotton piece goods of 30 per cent, and it is very satisfactory to find that in the China market the export from this country has more than doubled in that period.  In the Indian market it has increased by 36 per cent.  (Cheers.)

‘Then we find here is a continuing tendency for foreigners to set up factories in this country,’ continued Mr. Baldwin.  ‘That shows confidence in our future and recognition of the competitive position of our country.

‘World commodity prices are rising – the first movement of the kind we have had for some time – and that is a good sign so far as it goes.  Industries of all kinds, which have been suffering in the past from the competition of foreign goods, in many cases sold in the country at uneconomic productive prices – they are feeling the benefits from the tariffs.

‘I do not put it any higher than that at this moment.  But there is evidence that that is the case, and that so far the great experiment upon which we have embarked is beginning to justify itself.

‘And now it is up to the people of this country – the manufacturers and the businessmen – to take advantage of the opportunities in this new environment which the Government has provided for them.

‘Governments cannot do everything.  We have made a series of helping agreements at Ottawa, but these agreements will be of no use unless the businessmen of this country have the courage and the initiative to take advantage of the opportunities offered by them.  It is up to them. 

European Problems

‘Internationally the outlook is not bright.  The clouds are dark and our efforts, which have been unceasingly made by Government after Government to bring together the peoples of Europe, at the moment seem to be frustrated. 

There is a drifting apart in quarters where we should do all we can to bring friendship and understanding.  We are coming to the parting of the ways in Europe.

‘There is no task more difficult and more responsible than that of the Foreign Secretary.  Many people at home and abroad are not doing their utmost to make it easier.  The Foreign Secretary, in all he is doing, has the firm and united support of the Prime Minister and Government behind him.  (Cheers.)

Our part, as a Tory party, lies clear before us in the short time it is possible to look ahead in political life.  We must carry on our share in the letter and the spirit of the National Government.  Our aims must be national, and not party; our ideals must be national, and not party.

‘There will be in the constituencies for some time, until Free Trade is dead, a certain amount of party fighting with a certain number of the Liberal party,’ continued Mr. Baldwin.

Fighting Socialism

‘It may cause difficulties.  We can meet them and we can surmount them.  But what we have to fight and what you have to face in every constituency, fighting as Tories and as members of the National Government, is that crude rank Socialism which has now swept the Socialist Party Congress in the absence of those steady heads which left them a year ago.

‘In normal times no one would listen, but in times of distress there are many people who will turn to any kind of teaching, and you have got to see that that teaching does not go down.  You should see that people are not allowed to forget that the very apostles of this gospel are the men who brought the country to the verge of ruin.

‘The men who are good enough to run the banks for you are the men who very nearly burst the banks.  The men who say that they can cure unemployment are the men who have said it for years, and have never done anything except increase unemployment.

‘You have to beat them in the constituencies.  The next election cannot be for some years yet.  It is a waste of time yet wondering how to approach the country – wondering what the policies will be, or what will be the new line-up of parties.  I am content to wait, to do my duty at the moment.

‘I am sure of this,’ concluded Mr. Baldwin, ‘that if we go on as a party as we have done – perhaps to do better – if we back the National Government for all we are worth, if we preach the National Government in the constituencies, if we explain the work it is doing, the problems it has to face, and how it is trying to overcome them, then I think the loyalty we shall have shown, both in the letter and in the spirit to the principles of National Government at this time will in years to come make not the least glorious page in the history of our party, and be not the least title of the Tory party to the gratitude of the British people.’  (Loud cheers.)   

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