Conservative Government in the 1920s

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Early Career

  • 1908 became the MP of Brewdley after his father
  • Little impression of ambition or driving force
  • 1921 - President of the Board of Trade
  • Carlton Club speech = bought him to the limelight
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer under Bonar Law in 1923
  • Leader of Conservatives in 1923

Outlook and Beliefs

  • Little time for dynamic politicians (LG & Churchill)
  • Conciliation & preservation of balance = "Safety First" - no risk taking
    • contrasting LG's dangerous radicalism
  • Broadly consensual, Christian, patriotism
  • Intuitive understanding of middle & professional classes
  • Bring together - not emphasise divisions
  • Faith, Hope, Love and Work


  • Common sense & integrity, humane, tolerant, decent - not greatly talented
  • Sympathy for views of others - fair in debate, never lost temper
    • Respected by opponents
  • Wide audience through popular press and BBC - broadcasts reached 50% of voters in 1935
  • "Safe"
  • Although - "masterly inactivity" - "person of the utmost insignificance" - Curzon
  • Skilful political operator & excelled in art of political tactics


Major contributions to British politics were:

  • United Cons party through wars
  • Did not underestimate & appreciated Labour as competition
  • Ensure survival of democracy in GB at a time where it was challenged in Europe


  • Too cautious?
    • Reluctant to make decisions - "wait and see"
    • Economic problems & Nazi menace = unimaginative/cautious
    • Used speeches to make up for a lack of action
    • "actor" rather than a "doer" - Robert Blake
    • "platitude after platitude"
    • Style suited 1920s but inadequate for 1930s


Baldwin's Appointment

  • November 1922: Cons win election - BL = PM, cancer
  • May 1923: BL resigned, two candidates to succeed:
    • Lord Curzon: Viceroy of India, Foreign Sec since 1919: aristocratic, tactless and arrogant - unpopular but pedigree
    • Stanley Baldwin: Carlton Club, settlement with US over payments, common sense & honesty - popular
  • King appointed Baldwin on May 21st, Curzon cont as Foreign Sec

Baldwin's Ministry 1923-1924

  • One solid piece of legislation:
    • Housing Act 1923 - Chamberlain: Subsidy of £6 p.a. for each house built (private/public)
      • For sale
      • Benefitted lower middle class
      • Attacked by Lab - no housing for poor?
      • However, embodied govt responsibility

Baldwin's Plymouth Speech, October 1923

  • Traditionally, Free Trade was spearheaded by Libs & disregarded by Cons
  • Unemployment 1.25m in 1923
  • Baldwin proposed tariffs to protect for competition
    • enthusiastically by country, but suprise
    • called election - why?
      • Genuinely thought Protectionism was answer to economic problems - more sales for Steel if foreign supplies were reduced
      • To outmanoeuvre LG and his threats of a "Centre Party" & Protection policies - division between the Cons and Libs
      • Provoked crisis to defeat - enemies to make a mess, return stronger
  • Results:
    • Reunion of Liberal Party - superficial in the face of protecting Free Trade, would never play subordinate to Asquith

November 1923 Election

  • Lab & Lib = Free Trade - essential for a seafaring nation, protection = higher prices
  • Cons 258, Lab 191, Lib 158
  • Cons could only stay in power with Liberal support, Asquith supported


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