Tag Archives: National Government (1931 to 1935)

Echoes From The Past: Stanley Baldwin, Minority Governments And ‘The National Interest’


Stanley Baldwin: he lost, he won and he lost again. Then he won in 1935.

Many voters and politicians aren’t students of history and it shows. Postmodern politicians, especially, see history like ideologies as meta-narratives that can be ignored or cherry-picked to suit weak arguments. We’ve had two hung parliaments in the space of seven years, yet to hear the media and some politicians talk, you’d think the hung parliament was a recent phenomenon. It is not. On the other hand, we have Tory politicians like Crispin Blunt complaining that it’s the electorate’s fault that we have a hung parliament. Blunt needs to look at our deeply-flawed electoral system and his own party’s dismal election campaign before spouting such nonsense.

I have already commented on Heath’s disastrous 1974 snap election, which resulted in a hung parliament and a Labour minority government. Like Heath, May’s own snap election was born partly from arrogance and partly out of stupidity. Both Prime Ministers wanted to cling onto power at any cost, and neither wanted to admit defeat.

One previous Conservative Prime Minister that hasn’t been mentioned in the history of hung parliaments, and who gambled away a decent-sized majority was Stanley Baldwin, who later became the First Earl of Bewdley and who supported Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy towards Nazi Germany in 1939. Baldwin is also remembered for failing to rearm Britain during the 1930s, while he was PM. He was also known for the ‘Iron Gates Crisis‘.

In 1923, Bonar Law, the shortest-lived PM of the 20th century, resigned because of terminal throat cancer. His chancellor, Stanley Baldwin, was chosen by the ‘men in grey suits’ to succeed him. Law had fought the previous year’s general election on free trade and tariff reform and Baldwin felt committed to his pledge during the 1922 election, namely that there would be no introduction of tariffs without an election. But external pressures were exerting themselves upon the Tories’ trade policy and Baldwin felt compelled to introduce a degree of protectionism. This violated Law’s pledge and Baldwin called a snap general election for 6 December, 1923 to strengthen his grip on his restive party. It was a gamble, for the election resulted in a hung parliament. The Tories lost their 70 seat majority and although they were the largest party, they could not command the confidence of the House. Baldwin remained as PM until the new parliament in January 1924.

The Tories’ King’s Speech was defeated in the Commons on 24 January, 1924 and Baldwin resigned immediately. This led to the first Labour government, which lasted until October 1924 when it was brought down by a combination of intrigue and a smear and fear campaign, remembered mostly for the notorious Zinoviev Letter.  The Tories won a landslide and had a 220 seat majority. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party was reduced to 151 seats, while Herbert Asquith’s unpopular Liberals lost 118 seats and were reduced to 40 seats.

Baldwin’s Tory government of 1924 – 1929 contained former political allies of Lloyd George, and former Coalition Conservatives like Austen Chamberlain, the half-brother of Neville.  It lasted for around five years and is remembered mainly for the General Strike of 1926. Baldwin went to the country in 1929 and expected to win a similar majority to the one he had. He lost again. Memories of the General Strike were still fresh in the memories of many voters and, consequently, MacDonald’s Labour Party won the largest number of seats and formed a minority government but this wouldn’t last. The Great Depression, which began in the same year, created fresh problems for MacDonald and George V urged him to form a National Government. This was the beginning of the end for MacDonald but signalled a new beginning for Baldwin, who would lead the National Government to victory in 1935.  It was this government, which comprised mostly of Conservatives, that fought the 1931 general election.

Let’s come back to the present. Over the weekend there were some murmurings from some commentators that the only way to solve the Brexit Crisis is to form a National Government. This would be an unwise move for any self-styled ‘moderate’ Labour members tempted into such an arrangement.  However, I am aware that many of these ‘moderates’ are completely ignorant of their own party’s history.  In 1931, Labour suffered heavy losses that were mainly caused by MacDonald’s formation of a National Government and the creation of the National Labour Organisation to support it. The Liberals split into three parties, while the Tories remained a single bloc. When Tories talk of wanting to govern in “the national interest” what they really mean is that they will govern in the interests of themselves and their class.

Have a look at this British Pathé film clip of the National Government.

If Labour and the rest of the opposition parties work together and peel off some socially liberal Tories, May’s government can be defeated. They should not pass on that opportunity.




Filed under General Election 2017, History & Memory

In the national interest

When the Tories and Lib Dems came together to form the coalition, they told us that they did it in “the national interest”. In 1931, the National Government was formed between Baldwin’s Tories, the Simonite faction of the Liberal Party and the scumbag faction of the Labour Party led by Ramsay MacDonald. They told the people that they formed this coalition in “the national interest”.

Then, as now, the National Government’s solution to the ever-deepening economic depression was to have no solution. The “Invisible Hand of the Market”, they believed, would magically come to their aid. It never did. Today’s Tories think the “Invisible Hand” will rescue them and the crocked economy. It won’t. Instead, the lessons of history are arrogantly ignored to promote such fallacies as The Laffer Curve.

Politicians in the 1930s were treated as demi-gods: they were practically untouchable. The press fawned over them and it was more or less forbidden to mock them in print or on stage.

These days, we know our politicians are human. The trouble is that some politicians – especially the Tories – believe themselves to be superior to the rest of us. This is demonstrated to us on a near-daily basis by the numbers of Tory MPs who accuse the unemployed of choosing to live on benefits as a lifestyle choice. These people have never had to claim dole or work in a low-paid job. None of them have had to make the choice between paying their heating bill and eating.

Nick Clegg (see this excellent blog by The Mambo) is fond of saying how he formed the coalition with the Tories in “the national interest”. He repeats this mantra as often as anyone will listen. The trouble for him is that none of us are listening because we’ve heard enough. Clegg hates dissent… that’s because he’s never dissented in his life. Without dissent, we’d still have slavery and women would not have the vote. Clegg thinks that we should all shut up and let the coalition carry on destroying lives. The Cat has news for him: we dissenters won’t go away.

The national interest is just another way of saying “self-interest”. If these people were really working in “the national interest”, then they would be working hard to improve the economy. They would be working overtime to create jobs. They wouldn’t be punishing the unemployed and disabled for the crimes of the feral rich. Handing out tax cuts to millionaires is not working in “the national interest”, it’s working to shore up and extend the interests of your class.

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Sir John Simon lays his ghostly hand on Clegg’s shoulder


Sir John Simon

I wonder if Nick Clegg would recognize the photo of the man above? If he doesn’t, then he should familiarize himself with it. Sir John Simon took his faction of the Liberal Party into the National Government in 1931. Simon’s reasoning was similar to Clegg’s: he was acting in the national interest. In order to understand how things got this way for the party we need to go back a little further to the end of the First World War.

The  so-called “Coupon” election saw Andrew Bonar law’s Coalition Conservatives come in first place with Lloyd George’s Coalition Liberals in second place.  The National Coalition, which had governed during the war, was thus returned in a landslide.  But there was simmering discontent among the Tories who formed the largest group within the coalition.  The Conservatives managed to prove that Lloyd George’s had been selling knighthoods and peerages (quite possibly one of the biggest open secrets of its time).  There was also anger among many Tories and Unionists over the creation of the Irish Free State. Other events added to the mess, the coalition collapsed and an election was called.

There had been a division among the Liberals that stemmed from 1918 when many of their MPs rejected the coalition coupon (we could, of course, go back to the split over Home Rule but let’s leave that for another time). This group was led by Herbert Asquith, whom Lloyd George had replaced as party leader in 1916. Deep cracks had developed within the Liberal Party during the years of the coalition and matters came to a head when coalition ministers were shouted down and heckled during the 1920 Liberal conference.  Lloyd George formed his own party, the National Liberals, to contest the election. The 1922 election saw the Lloyd George’s party split the vote while Asquith was pushed into third place by the ascendant Labour Party. The Conservatives under  Andrew Bonar Law were returned with an overall majority. But this was not to last. In 1923 another election was called when Law resigned due to ill-health. Stanley Baldwin replaced him and although he held a decent majority, he called an election. The result was a hung parliament and the Liberals, newly reunited under Asquith, won 158 seats and were in third place.

The following year, another election was called, ostensibly on the issue of tariffs. Baldwin fared better. Nonetheless Labour increased its share of the vote, which led to a realignment of the political poles. The tension was now between the Conservatives and Labour with the Liberals officially becoming the third party. 1924 was a disaster for Asquith, as well as losing his seat, the party’s 158 seats were reduced to 40. Baldwin didn’t have enough seats to command an overall majority and declined to form a government and a confidence and supply arrangement was negotiated between Asquith’s Liberals and Ramsay MacDonald, while Lloyd George was left to smoulder on the backbenches.This put the Labour Party into power for the first time as a minority government. But this didn’t last, thanks in part to the Campbell Case, the infamous Zinoviev Letter and some latent anti-socialist feeling that had been whipped up by the Tory press (plus ça change).

The 1929 election was fought against the backdrop of the 1926 General Strike and resulted in a hung parliament, with Labour forming a minority government.  In 1926,  Lloyd George replaced Asquith for the second time and the party took 13 more seats but it was all over for the Liberals as a major force in British politics. Decades of divisions, splits and tensions had finally reduced them to a parliamentary rump.

Labour were split over their response to the Depression with prominent members of the cabinet, such as Arthur Henderson, threatening to resign. MacDonald was urged to form a National Government and when the general election was called in 1931, Baldwin’s Tories formed the largest party in the Commons. Lloyd George fell ill and de facto leadership of the party fell to Herbert Samuel, whose report in 1926 had partly led to the General Strike and was tasked with leading the party in the election. Ironically, Samuel had been a  supporter of Asquith. Liberals were divided over support for the National Government and Samuel’s party split into three factions: the Liberal Nationals who supported the National Government, Lloyd George’s Independent Liberals and the mainstream liberals led by Samuel. They never really recovered.

Sir John Simon – a cold fish of a man by all accounts – took the bulk of the party (the Simonites) and joined the government, while Samuel took the rest (the Samuelites) and,  in 1935, crossed the floor to oppose the government. But it was hopeless, in the General Election that year, Samuel lost his seat and the number of Liberal MPs was cut by a third when they lost 12 seats. Simon’s Liberal National party was virtually indistinguishable from the Conservative Party and in those constituencies where the party stood candidates with a healthy majority, they were unopposed by the Tories. In 1935 they held onto most of their seats and lost only 2.

After the war, the mainstream Liberal Party under Archibald Sinclair won 12 seats. The Liberal Nationals won 11 seats. But the writing was on the wall for both liberal parties. The Woolton-Teviot Agreement between the Liberal Nationals and the Conservatives merged the two parties at the constituency level in 1947. They even changed their name to the National Liberals but they were nothing more than a Tory-owned brand name. In 1950 they won 16 seats, while the mainstream Liberals’ number of seats dropped from 12 to 9. By the time of the 1951 general election, this number had fallen to a mere 6. The Liberal Party’s number of seats never broke through into double figures until the elections of 1974 and, even then, the party could only win 14 seats under ill-fated Jeremy Thorpe.

Nick Clegg was elected as an MP in 2005 after serving as an MEP,from 1999 to 2004 but he had plotted to take control of the party a year earlier. Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy, had done much to improve the Lib Dems fortunes and the party held 62 seats. Clegg was given the job of the party’s spokesman on European affairs and was being tipped as a future party leader. This seems to have gone to his head because later in the same year, he was one of the signatories to a letter demanding Kennedy’s resignation. Kennedy was forced to resign and Sir Menzies Campbell became caretaker leader. Campbell was then rudely pushed aside by Clegg and Huhne, whose supporters declared him to be “too old”. Clegg and Huhne distanced themselves from the ageist comments but there’s little doubt that they played a part in Campbell’s departure from the leadership contest. Et tu Nick? Et tu Chris?

Nick Clegg has never faced a split in his party but like Simon, he believed that he was acting in the national interest.  He inherited a party that was in much better shape than when Paddy Ashdown had been leader. Clegg effectively squandered the good work that was done by Kennedy by dragging his party, first to the right and then into the arms of the coalition. If he’d have done the sensible thing, he’d have taken the option of a confidence and supply arrangement with a Tory minority government. Instead his miscalculations and lust for power are likely to cost the Lib Dems badly in the next general election. The public will not forget the Lib Dems behaviour over tuition fees, the NHS, benefit caps and the EMA.

So far, Clegg has kept an iron grip on the parliamentary party but the constituency parties are more restive with numerous defections from the Liberal Democrats to Labour in local councils across the country. Even so, Clegg seems to have  marginalized any opposition. Even Charles Kennedy sounds as though he’s on-side these days!

The Lib Dems have two choices: they can split or they can stay together and be slaughtered at the ballot box. There is another way: they can dump Clegg but how easy is that? If that happens, the Lib Dems are likely to see a repeat of 1935 and we know how that movie ends.

So what happened to Simon? He was Home Secretary under Baldwin and Churchill kicked him upstairs in 1940, but he did not sit in the War Cabinet.  He was a Tory in all but name. And Clegg? What will become of him? Well, a similar fate awaits him: he will lose his seat and will be elevated to the Lords. That’s what happens to toerags: they’re rewarded with ermine robes and a seat on the red benches.

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Nick Clegg: we are no longer a party of the left

Courtesy Daily Mail

To be honest I never thought of the Lib Dems as a party of the left. I never thought of them as anything other than opportunists.  When The Orange Book was published it became clear that the Lib Dems had moved closer to the ‘libertarian’ wing of the Conservative Party. On the eve of the Lib Dem’s conference, Nick Clegg says  in today’s Independent that there is “no future” as a  left wing alternative to Labour. He says,

I totally understand that some of these people are not happy with what the Lib Dems are doing in coalition with the Conservatives. The Lib Dems never were and aren’t a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. There is no future for that; there never was.

Really? Well say goodbye to your seat come the next General Election. The Independent notes that,

His comments suggest Mr Clegg is resigned to losing a section of his party’s support after departing from the strategy of Charles Kennedy, who opposed the Iraq war. An Ipsos MORI poll this week showed Labour and the Tories neck and neck on 37 per cent with Liberal Democrats on 15 per cent, down from the 23 per cent they won at the May election. Some 32,000 people have joined Labour since May, including 10,000 who formerly supported the Liberal Democrats. Although 600 members have quit Mr Clegg’s party, another 4,500 have joined.

I still find it hard to believe that the Lib Dems have attracted as many as 4,500. Nonetheless they have haemorrhaged over 10,000 members many of whom have joined Labour.

But it seems that Clegg isn’t prepared to learn the lesson of history: in the 1930’s the Liberal Party split 3 ways over support for the National Government. The Simonites, followers of Sir John Simon supported the government while the rest of the party followed Herbert Samuel and became the ‘Official Liberals’. The third Liberal group was led by Lloyd George and became known as the Independent Liberals and opposed the government. The Simonites would eventually be absorbed into the ranks of the Tory Party as Liberal Nationals or National Liberals. Clegg and his followers risk going down the path trod by Simon.

In this week’s NME (a paper I haven’t bothered to read since the mid-1980’s), Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers compares Clegg to David Brent of The Office.

“He just reminds me of David Brent, he’s a terrible motivational speaker, real third rate,” declared Wire. “He’s a desperate politician, he’s desperate for power. [He’s] much worse than the Tories themselves. You know what you’re going to get from the Tories, there’s no surprise there, they just want to make loads of cuts and privatise things.”

When Clegg was given the non-existent portfolio of Deputy Prime Minister, I wondered what role he would play in government. In the last 4 weeks, we found out that his job consisted of going around the country and picking fights with the electorate under the guise of  ‘listening to the people’.

The coming week is going to be a bumpy ride for the Lib Dems and as much as I would like to see splits in their ranks, this is unlikely to happen since dissent is no longer tolerated under Clegg.

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The Lib Dems: a spent electoral force?

The Liberal Democrats are finished as an electoral force. Having accepted the poisoned chalice of going into coalition with the Conservatives and with members leaving the party for Labour and others, the party faces losing its own identity too.  They would have stood a better chance as partners to Labour – at least they could have pretended to be left-ish. They would have even stood a better chance propping up a minority Conservative government under a confidence and supply arrangement. But Clegg and the rest of the leadership wanted power…and who could blame them?

79 years of hurt and all that…

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the rightward drift of the Lib Dem leadership began with the appearance of The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism. Published by the think tank Centre Forum, the book contained essays by David Laws, Vince Cable, Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and others.  This group is generally referred to as the Orange Book tendency.  The Orange Book appeared at the same time as pressure was mounting on Charles Kennedy to resign (some felt that he was leading the party too far to the left). The book was not a hit with everyone as Richard Grayson of Goldsmiths College writes,

Many in the party were deeply hostile to The Orange Book; others simply tried to ignore it. A response eventually came in 2007, in the form of Reinventing the State: Social Liberalism for the 21st Century, which I co-edited with Duncan Brack (also a former director of policy) and David Howarth, then the MP for Cambridge. This sought to give a more sophisticated account of internal party divisions, and indeed included chapters from Orange Book-ers such as Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. It argued that, although there was much wrong with the state, the answer was not to reduce it, but to reform and relocate it, principally by making public services locally and democratically accountable.

This is confusing me, Clegg and Huhne wrote chapters in a response to the Orange Book? No wonder there is a such a lack of real focus to the party or a uniquely identifiable ‘brand’  image. Grayson also says that there are few factions within the party, which suggests that the Lib Dems are less split over issues that would split Labour and the Tory ranks. Nonetheless,

Political culture helps to explain the party’s support for the coalition. The Liberal Democrats have become extremely leadership-loyal. The trauma of losing Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell in quick succession should not be underestimated. However narrowly Clegg won, the party was always going to stick with him, and his brilliant personal performance during the election campaign consolidated support for him. The culture of the Liberal Democrats is also in*herently reasonable. There is a willingness to try to see all sides of an argument and a long-standing belief that coalitions are desirable.

At this point, we need to remind ourselves of the factions within the party. There is the traditional bearded Liberal, sandal-wearing wing; the Orange Book Tendency which is  represented by the party leadership; and the residue of the old Social Democratic Party (SDP), which merged with David Steel’s Liberals to form the Social and Liberal Democrats, the Democrats which then became the Liberal Democrats.

A fine mess.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that Charles Kennedy is uneasy about the coalition and so is The Emperor. But the Orange Bookers are in the ascendancy: they are the engine that drove the Lib Dems into the arms of the Tories. There is little difference between the Orange Bookers and the libertarian wing of the Conservative Party; they both want a smaller state. But how much of this ‘small statism’ can the social liberals stomach? Kennedy was once a member of the SDP, while Emperor Ming has always been a Liberal. Campbell stood by and watched as his Young Turks plunged the knife into Chatshow Charlie’s back. Once he became interim leader he rewarded them with front bench positions.

A big mistake.

Campbell, too, would find himself ousted by the very same forces he unleashed within the party: the Orange Book Tendency. They said he was “too old” to lead the party: they wanted a leader that could match David Cameron’s youth. Step forward, Nick Clegg.  Huhne  stood no chance against Clegg’s youthful good looks and his aristocratic background (he’s the great-great grandson of Ukrainian nobleman, Ignaty Zakrevsky and the great-great nephew of Moura Budberg, who was also known as “The Russian Mata Hari”). Perhaps it was inevitable that Clegg and Cameron would engage in full-blown inter-party relations. Cameron is, after all, an indirect descendant of William IV and therefore a cousin of the Queen.

Two blue bloods for the price of one!

That’s the parliamentary party, what about the membership? Lord Greaves is appalled at the news coming from the coalition. The Guardian ran a story on 15 May that told of grassroots Lib Dem members deserting their party. The leadership denied this

A Lib Dem spokesman claimed that fewer than 100 people had left since the coalition was announced four days ago, while more than 400 had joined.

“We don’t believe it’s anything to do with disillusionment over the new government. On the contrary, we have gained more than 1500 members over the election campaign,”

I find it hard to believe that 400 would join the party because of the coalition but then the Lib Dems have never played with a straight bat. Other parties are working hard to attract disillusioned Lib Dem voters including the Greens and Labour.  Harriet Harman claims that Labour has attracted 21,000 new members many of whom are former Lib Dems. But can we believe this? Why would anyone want to join Labour? Libdemvoice claims that 4,500 have joined since the election. Again, this seems a little far-fetched; people don’t join parties because they like the ‘chalk and cheese’ nature of the coalition.

I suspect that the Lib Dem leadership is in denial about the potential loss of members and voters. They prefer to content themselves with how things might look should their plans in the coalition succeed. But the proposed referendum on ‘political reform’ is an awful abortion of a compromise; AV is not proportional representation nor is it the first stop on the road to PR. As with most compromises this one will please no one but those who want to keep the present system for voting. Once voters see AV for what it is, they may decide to stick rather than twist. This will not help the Lib Dem’s cause in any forthcoming election or by-election, because they will not only be seen as liars, they will be seen as weak and wishy-washy.

Here is a history lesson for the Lib Dem leadership: in 1931, Ramsay MacDonald’s second Labour government lacked the numbers to form an outright majority. The Liberal Party agreed to prop up the government but this was too much for some Liberals who broke away to form the Liberal National Party. This party moved closer to the Conservatives and by August of that year, a national government was formed and headed by MacDonald. This coalition government contained many Tories as well as Liberal Nationals. MacDonald was famously expelled from the Labour Party and led his breakaway National Labour Party in the coalition. Most Liberals wanted nothing to do with this arrangement and consequently the support for the Liberal Party plunged and the party split into two camps that would never be reconciled. In fact many Liberal Nationals and National Liberals (as they later called themselves) joined with the Conservatives and fought elections together until 1968. But by then the pretence was over and they were subsequently absorbed into the Tory party. The Liberals on the other hand never scored more than 12 seats from 1945 to 1974 and by 1979 the party could  comfortably squeeze itself into a London black cab. Could history repeat itself?

I think so.

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