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Leader's speech, Bristol 1934

Stanley Baldwin (Conservative)

Location: Bristol


Baldwin began this address by outlining some of the achievements of his government. Unemployment was falling, and tariff reform had increased the industrial and productive efficiency of many of Britain’s industries. He then discussed some proposals for further reducing unemployment, which included the elimination of regular overtime and the introduction of junior instruction centres for unemployed young people. Other key issues at the time were agriculture, migration, and housing.

At a meeting of this kind, it is essential for me to say a few words on the record of the present Government. I do this for this reason. Political memories are short - there is no gratitude in politics. All the same, if you are going to engage a gardener or a clerk, or even a trade union secretary, what is the first question you ask? What is his record? I am con­vinced from what I hear that the rank and file in the country do not realise the magnitude of the work that this Government has done. I beg of you, as those who, by your presence here tonight, prove your attachment to your party, your keenness for the political education of your countrymen and your country­women, to accomplish it, to polish up, if need be, the propaganda departments in all your constituencies, and to see to it that by the time the General Election comes no one who will register his or her vote shall be in ignorance of the remarkable achieve­ments during the last three years, and I hope, during the rest of our term, of this Government.

First and foremost, I want to stress the subject which is close to the heart of everyone in this country, the one by which Government after Government has been, and will be, judged; that is the question of the employment of our people. Remember this - that just over three years ago, when the Government was formed, there were 9,300,000 people at work, and this August, 10,170,000 - 800,000 more people actually at work who would have been workless. In the state of the world that is an amazing achievement. But I, as you, am not yet content. I doubt, indeed, if I ever shall be content in my lifetime. But remember that our opponents have put it about that the recovery of trade in this country is of no credit to the Government because it is part of a world recovery. You have simply got to look; I do not refer you to any polemical figures, but to the official figures of the League of Nations.

If you compare the industrial outlook and the figures of six years ago with the first six months of this year, in comparison with 1928 you will find the industrial outlook improved in com­parison with other countries. The industrial output is down in Germany by 15 per cent; Italy by 17 per cent; France by 19 per cent; Holland by 24 per cent; Belgium 20 per cent; United States 25 per cent; Poland 38 per cent; Czechoslovakia 32 per cent. In Great Britain it is 4 per cent up.

We owe this excellent state of affairs to the tariffs granted. Those are the things for which many of us have worked so long during the dark years. And I think we may fairly say that, whatever happens now, no opponents of ours are going to abolish the existing tariffs. It would be wearisome to speak in detail of what they have accomplished, but if you take one of the greatest depressed industries, the steel production of the country has steadily reached over 700,000 tons a month against an average of 430,000 tons only three years ago. Those of you acquainted with the industries of this country will recognise that the pro­ductive and industrial efficiency of this country under the shelter of tariffs is now increasing in many of the industries of Great Britain.

As I have here representatives from all parts of the country and many from the industrial areas, I will take a few minutes of your time in just alluding to one or two of the things which have been discussed for the benefit of industry, and the observa­tions heard about them. They all deal with employment. I think most of us would agree, and I ask you to give your con­sideration to these questions, that it is practically impossible to make the working of overtime in industry illegal. But I want to say that when there are so many wholly unemployed it does seem obviously unfair that others should be working longer than their normal hours except to meet special occasions. I do appeal to every firm which is regularly working overtime to think out carefully whether, by organising their hours, they can eliminate regular overtime, and thereby give employment to additional workmen during the normal hours. I suggest it is a national duty to make that effort.

The Government is establishing junior instruction centres all over the country, under the new Employment Act for un­employed boys and girls, and this is the most practical way of dealing with this juvenile problem. Lord Halifax, the Minister of Education, explained why, in his opinion, it would be less successful than many believe as an aid to reducing unemployment to increase the school age. I need not go into that now, but we believe that by the creation of these centres we are going to strike a good blow in this excellent cause that we believe will be of great benefit to the young people.

Now we have heard a good deal of discussion about getting rid of the older men from industry. But there again I doubt very much whether it would have a great deal of popular support. If the Government took upon itself to say to men at a certain age ‘Out you go,’ it certainly could not be done without making State provision for them. In these times that would be almost a more serious matter to face than we could do at present.

There is something very hard in turning out competent men still able to work, who, perhaps, owing to the circumstances of their lives have not been able to make provision sufficient for their old age. To compel them to give up work in full possession of their powers, all their faculties, and say, whatever their circum­stances may be, ‘Out you go’ - I do not think the Government could do that.

A matter that is being discussed a good deal now is the shorter working week, and on that I would like to make one or two observations. The progress of science and mechanical progress has brought the shorter working week undoubtedly within the realms of possibility in some industries, but I do not believe that in the immediate future any country, or probably any industry in any country, is in a position to introduce it fully. Everyone is in sympathy with it. We favour the prospect of shorter working hours throughout the world. We do not believe the time has come yet when the Convention which has been proposed at the International Labour Office can be introduced. We do not believe the plan would work we do not believe that the principal countries of the world would ratify it at present. Much more knowledge has to be gained, much more progress has to be made; but we do welcome every experiment - and experiments are most valuable - by individual employers and by individual industries in trying out a shorter working week. We should also welcome international agreements arrived at industry by industry if such agreements were possible, and we are anxious to see, from that point of view, one great reform that is due, if not overdue - that is, an international convention to regulate the hours of work in coal mines. We have seen that some firms in this country have adopted a system of work sharing. I think that is a sensible and healthy practice. It is not adaptable to all industries; it is not adaptable in all places. But I would like to see many more employers and men considering whether it would be a right and possible thing for them to introduce in the industries with which they are connected.

Just one word about the distressed areas. I have no information to give you, but you all know that a report is being considered that was drawn up by some Members of Parliament and some non-members who visited those districts to make a report to the Government. I am satisfied that whatever we may think fit to do, and whatever we may do either on these reports or in amplification of them, we shall have your full sympathy and support. On our part, I undertake that we shall take whatever action we may find possible and appropriate at the earliest moment possible.

Now I want to say a few words about the agricultural industry. The Government are resolved, as you can see by what they have done, that this great industry, which is of incalculable value to the nation, shall be once more put on its legs. All measures taken and to be taken have the one aim of stopping the influx from the country to the town and main­taining a contented community on the land. Those things cannot be done in a moment, but for the first time for years we succeeded last year in stopping the terrible decline of people employed on the land. New plans have yet to be made. Existing ones will very likely have to be revised in the light of experience, for we have not been afraid to experiment, and experiment boldly. We have set our hands to the plough and we have no intention of turning back until the furrow is ploughed. We have diffi­culties. You all know what they are. We have, as far as is practicable, to reconcile the increased production of food in this country with the prosperity of our Dominions, without damaging our export trade and without damaging our shipping. To some extent these various things run counter to each other, and it requires the most delicate steering lest we do more harm in one direction than we are doing good in another. But believe me, whatever our critics may say, the Government as a whole and the Ministry of Agriculture in particular, have all these facts and all these aspects only too vividly before them. We believe we can bring back prosperity to agriculture without doing anything that would jeopardise the chance of opening new or re-opening old markets and without unduly affecting the serious difficulties under which our great shipping industry is being conducted.

There is, of course, another subject closely touching the Dominions and giving us much anxiety - the question of migra­tion. Had migration continued since the war on the same scale as before the war, our unemployment problem would be a mere bagatelle. World conditions, the fall in prices, and the economic blizzard have struck the Dominions as hard as they have struck us and Europe. At the moment there seems little prospect of emigration such as we have known in the past, but we have the subject constantly under review. That admirable Under-Secretary, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, deservedly popular in our Party in the House, has gone to Australia to take part in the celebrations there, and the most important work he has to do is to discuss the situation as it is there today. He will also see what it is likely to be in the next few years and when the first opportunity is likely to arise when this question can be seriously re-opened - a vital question not only to this country, but also to our Dominions.

I do beg of you that, when you come to discuss in your constituencies what the Government is doing, and has done, you make yourselves familiar with all that is being done and that has been done this year and that will be done under the new Bill on overcrowding and housing in this country. It is a simply amazing record, and I say that because it may be a sad thing to confess, but there are precious few members in this Government who are good advertisers. Perhaps it is not too much to ask that while we are working as we are working - and I can tell you that I have put in as much work during the past three years as I have ever put in in three years in my life - you should sound a few cheerful notes on a trumpet. I can never find it in my heart to put it to my lips. I know that you have been discussing certain aspects of the housing question in regard to compensation of condemned properties. All that I can tell you is that I shall weigh with the greatest care what you have said. I will consult my own colleagues about it, and we will see what the trouble is that is apparently causing a good deal of anxiety in many breasts.

Two by-elections are imminent - those at Lambeth and Swindon - and I hope that those in contiguous constituencies will do all they can to see that National candidates are elected. Don’t let us make the mistake of thinking that by-elections do not matter - that our majority is too big. It is true, as far as voting goes, we can afford to lose a seat or two, but the loss of a seat always has a moral effect. It depresses the workers in the constituency. We should not let a constituency feel that it is fighting in a corner by itself, but rather that it has your sympathy and help.

I have said something to you about what we have been doing and trying to do. I want to talk quite seriously to you on some thoughts which have been passing through my mind during the last year and I think are not inapplicable to the political situation which we see in this country and in Europe. When the first Reform Bill, a little over a century ago, was passed, the bulk of the Tories, as they then called themselves, believed they would be excluded from power for ever, and that the country and the Empire would be destroyed. I am old enough to remember the Reform Bill of 1885 and the giving of the franchise to the agricultural labourer. Sixteen years ago there was universal suffrage, since when the Tory Party has been the greatest numerical party in that combination - and in my view for this reason, that the Tory Party has always been a National Party. I do not mean a class party, I mean a party that acts for all classes.

Some people say I am a supporter of Liberal principles. That phrase used to annoy me, as I do not know what Liberal principles are. Similarly when some of my friends write to me and say: ‘I wish you would give me some more Tory principles or govern in accordance with Tory principles,’ I say to myself, ‘What are Tory principles?’ Before I come to what they are just let us ask ourselves whether it is always easy to know what they are, because there does not exist any gospel of Tory principles which can tell you what principles to apply to the changing principles in a changing world. In the early days of the two-party system, when Whigs and Tories first took shape, there was a National Government, and it was formed with a very excellent object - it was to fight the French, and to fight the French to prevent the French Crown having a completely predominant position in Europe. A great many Tories left that National Government because there was more interest in pro­secuting legislation against Dissenters than in beating the French.

At the time of the Canada Bill, the first Bill that gave self­-government to any part of the British Empire, the Duke of Wellington said he could not support it, and that its passing would mean the absolute disruption of the Empire. Sir Robert Peel did not like it, but he said he would support it because the dangers of not passing it were greater than passing it. Is it the right policy to refuse self-government in the Dominions or not? I should like some clear answers to these questions when asked what are Tory principles.

Disraeli brought in a Reform Bill in 1867, I think, and in 1874, in Mr. Disraeli’s Government, we gave a charter of liberty to the Trade Unions, for which the Tory Government was thanked formally by a Labour member. Twenty years later the Tory Government refused to remodel that Bill to meet modern needs. What was the true Tory policy? Extra­ordinarily difficult to answer are these questions. They are questions which I should like to have answered, but if we want to ascertain the basic principles on which our Party rests we have to go back to the recreator of that policy after it was broken to bits in the second quarter of the nineteenth century - Mr. Disraeli.

In an autobiography written by a friend who was with me at Harrow the author had quoted me as saying that Disraeli would live as the gospel of the future. So you see what a dogged little Tory I was at 17. Disraeli laid our principles down at the Crystal Palace many years ago, and you cannot go wrong if you stick to them. They were, ‘the maintenance of our institutions and of our religion; the preservation of our Empire, and the improvement in the condition of our people.’ That does not tell you how you are to adapt your policy in changed circumstances and changed ages. That is the duty of a leader. The responsibility - and it is a great responsibility - that rests with a leader is to try and adapt the policy according to the deep-laid foundations of the Party principles to meet whatever may come in this world.

Equally as it is the duty and the responsibility of the leader to do that, it is the right of the Party, if they think fit, to challenge its interpretation. That is democratic. If in sufficient numbers they can challenge it so that it inevitably leads to the choice of a new leader; that is democratic, and that is the way we do things. But I want to say that I am at present leader of this party, and so long as I lead I am going to lead it. After all, I think our Party as a whole has risen marvellously to the demands that have been made upon it since the War. What experience had any of us of this age in which we live and yet how many of us, and especially our younger men, have got a true realisation of the age? And that is largely why there is so much confidence felt in us in the country. I think many people have realised what is the truth - that a great deal of this feeling of restlessness in the country is not a revolt of the ‘have nots’ against the ‘haves.’ It is something deeper and more honourable than that. It is a revolt against the subordination of the human to the mechanical, of the creative to the commercial function, and the recognition that there can be no permanent social order in any country except by the full recognition of the social needs and social ends of men and women.

‘Improvement of the conditions of the people.’ Never did those words mean more than they do now. There is going to be more leisure than there has ever been, more unemployment than there was before the War, until the world is properly adjusted. This is the social problem we have to face - to prepare the people to use their increased leisure worthily and to see to it that those who cannot get work do not lose their manhood and their woman­hood. We Tories, as part of our heritage, have a profound sense of the value of historic continuity and of our great Constitution, and it is a remarkable thing that in some of those years when all the world was rattled soon after the War there were Englishmen who said, ‘Look at America and Italy, and even look at Russia; see what they are doing.’ You do not hear so much of that now.

Did you notice in the last fortnight that the French Prime Minister and the President of the United States each bade their people look across the sea to this little island?

People look with wonder at this island and say, ‘How is it that you have stability which does not seem to exist in any other country in the world?’ The answer is that our Constitution has grown in that way, and the great danger of tampering with it is not the danger of changing it, but the danger of cutting out roots which go down to the very beginning of our history and to our very being.

I call on you to stand when the next Election comes as you stood at the last Election - to stand for the maintenance of our institutions and the preservation of our Empire and the improvement of the conditions of the people - in the full and certain knowledge that if you do this then indeed there is no fear for the future of England. She will be preserved once more by those things which, as Disraeli said, are of more value than her accumulated capital - her cumulative experience, her traditions, her character and her people.

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