CHURCHILL’S MAGNANIMITY: STANLEY BALDWIN (1867-1947)

CHURCHILL’S MAGNANIMITY: STANLEY BALDWIN (1867-1947)

 20 December 2021  Comments 0 Comments

Churchill’s censorious remark about Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was not, I was pleased to learn, his last words. Once again his characteristic magnanimity prevailed. My thanks to my colleague Dave Turrell for this information.

June, 1947

Sir Martin Gilbert published the arresting assertion by Churchill in 1947 (In Search of Churchill, 1995, 106). In June, WSC was invited to send a letter (I would think for a festschrift) on Baldwin’s 80th birthday, August 3rd. Writing to an intermediary, Churchill refused. “I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better if he had never lived.” Gilbert was taken aback:

In my long search for Churchill few letters have struck a clearer note than this one. Churchill was almost always magnanimous. His tribute to Neville Chamberlain in 1940 was among the high points of his parliamentary genius. But he saw Baldwin as responsible for the “locust years” when Britain, if differently led, could have easily rearmed, and kept well ahead of the German military and air expansion….

May, 1950

Dave Turrell was certain this wasn’t Churchill’s last word. He remembered that WSC had spoken at the dedication of a memorial three years after Baldwin’s death. Dave looked this up, and found that Churchill had ended the story with his more usual generosity. (From Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 8 vols., 1974, VIII: 8007-08):

…although I had several deep political differences with [Baldwin], we were always good friends, and I never remember a time when I could not discuss with him any matter, public or private, frankly and freely, as man to man. Here was a statesman who, over a long period of years, exercised a remarkable personal influence upon British politics and British fortunes…. In private life we must not forget how, after the First World War, he presented anonymously a fifth of his private fortune—£120,000—to the nation, seeking no thanks or political advantage.

[In 1924-29] he achieved two enduring triumphs. The first was the Pact of Locarno…the highest point reached in the peaceful settlement of Europe between the two world wars. The second was a five years’ steady improvement, judged by every test, in the standards of life, labour and employment of the British people….

Recounting their political arguments…

…Churchill continued kindly:

I had parted political companionship with him before he began his second long term of power. My difference arose about India. I hold to the views I then expressed today, but I am content to leave history to judge as it unfolds over the years that are to come. But the British nation, all parties in the State, have endorsed Mr. Baldwin’s views and the consequences that follow from them. No one who accepted his guidance then has a right to reproach his memory now….

A whole series of foreign and military events with which he was not specially fitted to deal then broke in upon his conduct of home affairs. As I was his chief critic upon these issues, and my words are upon record. I have a right to declare here and now, by this sandstone memorial, that his courage and patriotism did not fail, although the tragic course of events belied his judgement.

Perhaps a remnant of enmity survived when Churchill observed that the memorial was made of sandstone. Still, he added: “not all who now claim superior wisdom foresaw what was approaching.” Stanley Baldwin, he concluded, “was the most formidable politician I have ever known in our public life.”

“This sandstone memorial”

The Baldwin Memorial today. (Astley and Dunley Parish Council)

Dave mentioned finding the memorial in Astley, not far from the longtime Baldwin home. It was in “very sad and grubby condition, looking as if it had been knocked out of square by a passing lorry.” Happily in 2021 its trustees, the Astley and Dunley Parish Council,  carefully restored the marker. It really is made of sandstone. An expert stonemason supervised its gentle cleaning. Today again, it meets Churchill’s expectations that day in 1950:

Of all parts of England, Worcestershire stood in his mind honoured and preeminent…  The ground we now stand was his most sacred spot…. As the years roll by and the perspective of history lengthens and reduces so many of our disputes to their due proportion, there will be few who will pass this place without giving their respectful salute.

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