The Home Secretaries (8): Bridgeman

NPG x162741; William Clive Bridgeman, 1st Viscount Bridgeman of Leigh by Walter StonemanWilliam Bridgeman

Conservative, under Bonar Law and Baldwin, 1922-24

Wiliam Bridgeman came from a conventional enough background for a Tory politician in the first half of the twentieth century. He was the grandson of an earl (and descended from Clive of India), who distinguished himself at both Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was also a very good cricketer, winning a blue, playing for two minor counties and for the MCC.

Conservative politics ran in the family, and he eventually won a Shropshire seat in 1906. By then, he was already a supporter of tariffs, and an opponent of Balfour. In 1911, he was made an opposition whip. Thus, with the creation of the coalition in 1915, he became a government whip. He then held junior posts under Lloyd George.

What won Bridgeman his very substantial promotion was the fact that he was one of the junior ministers who turned against Austen Chamberlain and Lloyd George at the Carlton Club. When the defeated coalitionists refused to serve under Bonar Law, the way lay open for the plotters to get the plum jobs. Curzon, who had turned late, kept the Foreign Office and Baldwin, as the senior plotter, got the Treasury. That Bridgeman got the Home Office was testament to his reputation as a safe pair of hands and, perhaps more, to the role he had played in the run up to the Carlton Club.

His time as home secretary was uneventful and, in truth undistinguished. In that regard, he fitted in well with an undistinguished government. His role in the history of the Conservative party was more significant. He was close to Baldwin, they shared a similar avowed Christian faith. When Bonar Law retired, Bridgeman pressed Baldwin’s case and helped Baldwin get number ten. When Baldwin went to the country in 1923 over tariffs, Bridgeman backed him. When he lost, he encouraged Baldwin to stay on as party leader.

Similarly, Bridgeman backed Baldwin after the 1929 defeat and was perhaps primarily responsible for persuading Baldwin not to resign in May 1931. By then, Bridgeman, who had been first lord of the admiralty in the 1924-29 government, had left the Commons. Though he remained in public life until his death in 1935, he had done his last major service. Characteristically, it was to Baldwin, and the Conservative Party.

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