The Home Secretaries (12): Sir John Gilmour

Sir-John-Gilmour-2nd-BtSir John Gilmour, 1932-35

Conservative, in the National Government, under MacDonald

Sir John Gilmour (left, courtesy of the National portrait Gallery) was born into Scottish Conservatism. His father, Sir John Gilmour, had been president of the Scottish Union of Conservative Associations. After an education at Glenalmond College, Edinburgh and Cambridge universities, he served in the Boer War, being twice mentioned in dispatches and being made major. He then sought a career in politics, entering the Commons in 1910. By the outbreak of war, he was a popular Conservative whip. He returned to the colours in 1914, seeing service at Gallipoli and Palestine, where he was wounded, earning a DSO and bar.

As the war ended, his first wife died, and he married her younger sister; at his father’s death, he inherited the family title of baronet. He also returned to the whips’ office. He almost resigned in 1922, and was present at the 13th September meeting at the Metropole Hotel, Birmingham, in which a group of junior ministers demanded that the Conservatives fight the next election as an independent party and not under another Coupon. Despite his role in the ‘under-secretaries’ revolt’, he loyally voted for Austen Chamberlain at the Carlton Club and refused to take the Scottish Office under Bonar Law.

Nonetheless, when the party returned to power in 1924, Gilmour was the logical choice for the Scottish Office. The job required a degree of cross-party cooperation and political sensitivity. As a Scot noted for tact, calm and not making enemies, he was ideally suited to the task, and proved a success. In 1931, he was given Agriculture, but when Sir Herbert Samuel resigned over tariffs, he was a wise choice as home secretary.

At the Home Office, she showed the now familiar sureness of touch, in the face of rising disorder from the right, the form of the BUF, and the left in the form of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. He also oversaw the 1934 Betting and Lotteries Act, which regulated on course betting bat Greyhound Tracks. Like Churchill had (as chancellor) and like Clynes before him, he resisted curbs of greyhound racing as inherently unfair. He also began to impose reform on a Metropolitan police beset by low morale and corruption.

When Baldwin became prime minister again, in 1935, Gilmour happily stood aside. With the outbreak of war, he returned as minister of shipping, but died soon after. He was never in the front rank, but was a steady pair of hands when needed. Worse can be said of many.

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