The Chancellors (7): Stanley Baldwin

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Stanley Baldwin, 1922-23

Conservative (under Bonar Law, then briefly as prime minister)

As Conservative leader, and as prime minister or lord president of the council (nominally under MacDonald in the National Government), Baldwin deserves to be remembered as one of the great figures in Conservative history and as the key figure in the history of Britain between the wars. His rather less successful stint as chancellor might even have ensured that he never had the opportunity.

The Baldwins were from the iron business. Baldwin was an undistinguished pupil at Harrow, and gained an inert third in History at Cambridge. He entered the family business, and then when his father died he succeeded him as MP for Bewdley. He then became Bonar Law’s PPS in 1916, and was later financial secretary to the Treasury. As such, he became close to Bonar Law. In 1921, when Bonar Law retired, he went to the Board of Trade, at Bonar Law’s request, in part to reassure backbench Conservatives increasingly unhappy with coalition. His disillusionment with Lloyd George, and his aspiration to see the re-foundation of an independent Conservative Party, saw him take a leading role in the ousting of Lloyd George, and Austen Chamberlain, at the Carlton Club (see the article below).

He was promoted to the Treasury in Bonar Law’s 2nd XI (as the cabinet of 1922-23 was nicknamed); in large part as a reward for his role in bringing down Lloyd George, and thanks to his experience at the Treasury and the Board of Trade. When offered it, he at first suggested the return of McKenna (an idea he pursued again on becoming prime minister). Relations with Bonar Law were badly strained by an American loan that Baldwin had negotiated and which the prime minister thought was too harsh; a crisis loomed, but both stepped back from the brink. Thus, Baldwin was able to make his mark in his one budget and in a speech in the February. This undoubtedly helped smooth his path to number ten when Bonar Law’s ill health forced him to resign.

Like Macmillan and Major, a brief stint in number 11 led directly to number ten. He stayed on as chancellor while trying to woo McKenna, until he appointed Chamberlain, thus being the only prime minister since 1900 to serve as chancellor simultaneously, and one of only tow chancellors to serve whilst they were party leader. Baldwin was one of ten Chancellors since 1900 to have gone on to be prime minister (one of twelve to go on to be party leader), and one of six to go direct from number 11 to number ten (seven went on directly to the party leadership).

A previous article looks at Baldwin in these years: Tiger: Stanley Baldwin the Gambler

There is also an article on Baldwin’s role in the abdication crisis, here: The Abdication Crisis: Stanley, David & Democracy

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