Churchill: Wilderness Years (India) by Martin Gilbert

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Martin Gilbert: Churchill and India


Notes from The Wilderness Years



1929, ahead of election, Baldwin asked Churchill (then Chancellor of the Exchequer), to become Sec of State for India. John Simon already in India as head of a Royal Commission to make recommendations on steps towards Indian self-government.  Baldwin wanted Churchill to be in charge of subsequent reform. Churchill declined. “I was not attracted by this plan”, he said later.


After Labour got the largest number of seats, Baldwin authorised Churchill to talk privately to Lloyd George, but any coalition was scuppered by Chamberlain, for whom Churchill had some antipathy.

MG” “Churchill’s Liberal background, experience and outlook were becoming increasingly out of place in the defeated Tory party”.


[2] Strongly held views on Empire. MG: “With Labour now in power, Churchill feared that the fabric of the Empire would be weakened... and that Baldwin would not oppose” this.


“Not only British rule in India, but British control over Egypt, seemed proof to Churchill of the benefits and merits of Inperialism”. The new Labour government recalled the British High Commissioner in Cairo, and announced that all troops would be removed from Egypt except for thos in the Suez Canal zone. (He tried to rally Conservative opinion against MacDonald “and failed dismally”.

-  the Conservative party had been instructed by the Whips not to criticise MacDonald’s policy.

-  as he spoke: “it was evident I was almost alone in the House”.


1929 - took three month break travelling in Canada and the US - was in New York when the crash happened. While he was away, Labour Government took further steps towards Indian self-government, with Baldwin’s support.



31 October 1929: new India policy in Declaration issued by Viceroy, Lord Irwin, in which the outcome of constitutional progress was defined as “the attainment of Dominion status”. On return to UK he wrote column for Mail saying that Dominion status could not be attained by country that branded 60m of its people as ‘untouchables’.


The principal decisions had been taken without Churchill being consulted, even though he was one of the most senior members of the Shadow Cabinet.


Irwin’s Declaration debated in House on 8 November. Baldwin announced Conservative support, but got hostile reception: one third of Conservative MPs seemed likely to vote against, according to one of Baldwin’s close advisers.


“It seemed that the Conservative Party might split.” But Baldwin’s support included the editor of the Times. Geoffrey Dawson, and Sir John Reith, the Director General of the BBC, which was quick to turn down Churchill’s request for a ten minute slot to speak against the India policy. 



“Churchill was certain that a “real majority” of the nation was opposed to the Labour Party’s India policy,” and many Conservatives shared his unease.

1930, MacDonald invited Indian leaders to London for Round Table Conference. Churchill thought this would encourage ‘false hopes’ among politically minded Indians,


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