In October 1922, the Conservatives voted to bring down the coalition. Churchill was not in a fit state to fight his seat. He’d just been operated on for appendicitis and was too ill to take part in the earlier stages of the election. Clearly unwell and unable to fight with his usual vim and vigour, he lost.
Out of Parliament for the first time in twenty two years (apart from a few weeks in 1908), he retired to the South of France, took up writing again – he embarked on a mammoth history of the First World War, The World Crisis – but he couldn’t stay away from politics for long.
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Looking the wrong direction in New York City
The budget estimates showed a deficit of £1 million (cause for real panic 50 years ago). and Prime Minister MacDonald tendered his resignation to the King. The King asked him to form a “no-party government, but WSC was not asked to take any part in it.
MacDonald prepared for another disarmament conference. Churchill’s voice from below the gangway seemed to most to be a voice of unreasonable alarms. He warned that Britain’s navy and army had been cut to the bone, that the RAF was an eighth as strong as France’s air force. His only support came from the leader of the “New Party.” Oswald Mosley. WSC elected Mosley to The Other Club!
Politically he made uncharacteristic turnarounds. A Free Trader all his life, he now called for Protection for British industry. Seven years before, as (‘Chancellor of the Exchequer’ he had put Britain back on the gold standard. Now it went off again, with hardly a word front him. In 1928 he had begun a series of cuts in the income tax (‘‘dc-rating’’). Now he was quiet while the Government raised the tax once more. It was a nadir in his political life, brightened only at the Polls, where Epping doubled his majority.
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“What The Pig Likes”
After the General Strike, Baldwin asked Churchill to join the Cabinet Committee on Coal. Churchill spent the rest of the summer unsuccessfully attempting to mediate a settlement. Churchill, in fact, felt betrayed by the mine owners. As Sir Martin Gilbert writes, “On June 15 the Government informed the Commons that it had decided to introduce a Bill legalizing an eight-hour working day in the mines, and that, in return, the mine owners had promised to put forward definite wage offers in each district within a national framework.”
The mine owners subsequently reneged on their agreement. Churchill, by now de facto head of the Coal Committee in Baldwin’s absence abroad due to an attack of lumbago, chastised the owners in what the Committee’s secretary described in his diary as a “Ding-dong debate at No. 10 between Winston and Evan Williams,” the mine owners’ representative: “I am quite sure of this, that if we had known that following the passage of the Eight Hours Bill into law a new obstacle to a settlement, a new complication, would arise through the closing of one of those doors to peace we never should have passed the Bill or proceeded with it. Therefore, if you take up the attitude that…there can be no national negotiations of any kind…I do think you will see that we shall have been placed in a position which is from our point of view at any rate, extremely unfortunate and even, as it might be thought, unfair….”
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Churchill played no part in the Baldwin government’s negotiations with the miners and the coal owners which led to the General Strike of 1926. The coal owners locked out the miners on Saturday, 1 May 1926 after the miners had again rejected a proposal for an immediate reduction in wages. A national strike in support of the miners was announced for Monday, 3 May. Government negotiations continued with both sides on Sunday, 2 May, until 11 PM, when word came that printers at The Daily Mail had stopped its publication because they did not approve of the lead editorial critical of the impending strike. Baldwin believed that a national strike was an unconstitutional attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy and, in response, he broke off negotiations, a move that received the unanimous support of the Cabinet.
The next day, Churchill spoke in conciliatory fashion in the House, acknowledging that the miners had a legitimate right to strike: “But that is an entirely different thing from the concerted, deliberate organized menace of a General Strike in order to compel Parliament to do something which other wise it would not do.” Churchill said that once the threat of a national strike is withdrawn, “we shall immediately begin, with the utmost care and patience with them again, the long and laborious task which has been pursued over these many weeks of endeavouring to rebuild on economic foundations the prosperity of the coal trade. That is our position.”
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“Prosperity is on our Threshold”
Churchill maintained a demanding speaking schedule throughout the winter months. Addressing the Leeds Chamber of Commerce on January 20th, he spoke of a brighter future for the economy: “The world is now peaceful; the harvests have been good; from many quarters come the reports that trade is on the mend. We know that unemployment has been sensibly reduced and, apart from coal, substantially reduced, and reduced in spite of a continually increasing population of wage-earners. None of these conditions was present in August. There was nothing but gloom then, and now there is modest hope. Hope for all; hope for the manufacturer; hope for the merchant; hope for the artisan; hope for those who are out of employment. [Cheers.] A brightening and a broadening hope. Prosperity, that errant daughter of our house who went astray in the Great War, is on our threshold.”
Some at this time looked upon Churchill with a jaundiced eye. Sir Samuel Hoare enjoyed WSC’s hospitality on a weekend at Chartwell on February 13th, and two days later wrote to Lord Beaverbrook that Churchill was “convinced that he is to be the prophet to lead us into the Promised Land in which there will be no income tax and everyone will live happily ever afterwards. The trouble is that he has got so many schemes tumbling over each other in his mind, that I am beginning to wonder whether he will be able to pull any one of them out of the heap.”
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“The Twelve Apostles of Reassurance”
Churchill spent October 1925 delivering almost a daily series of speeches defending his economic policy and his first Budget against criticism from friend and foe alike. In a speech at Colchester, Churchill mocked those who had attacked his income tax cuts: “In that Budget I committed some serious crimes. I reduced the income-tax, and I differentiated the income tax in favour of the smaller income-tax payer….I have been scolded for these evil deeds [but] if the Economy Committee over which the Prime Minister is presiding almost every day has not reaped the harvest of economy which it hopes to achieve, it is quite possible that it may be my duty to make amends in practical form for the past, and to restore to the taxpayer some portion at least of the burdens of which I so wrongfully robbed him.”
At the Engineer’s Club Annual Dinner at the Savoy on October 23rd, he surveyed in his optimistic fashion the economic picture: “I have been accused of not taking a sufficiently gloomy view of affairs. All I said was that things are not getting worse and that there is even a probability that they may get better. I can give twelve principal reasons which justify that conclusion. I call them the ‘Twelve Apostles of Reassurance’….Our share in the oversea trade of the world has not diminished since the war. It is true that there is a reduced amount of world oversea trade, but of that reduced trade we possess, in fact, slightly a larger proportion than before the war….There has been, if not a great, yet an appreciable diminution in the cost of living during the year….The consuming power of the people has not diminished, but has been maintained, and in many important commodities it has increased….The number of people who reached the employable age last year was 100,000. Still, there are 250,000 more people at work today in Great Britain than a year ago….What is the moral conclusion to draw from this recital? It is to ‘leave off barracking the Government, leave off trying to rattle the new party, leave off crying down the national credit, leave off spreading tales of despondency and alarm, and fear throughout the British Empire and the world. Show some measure of gratitude and fair play to the men who are called upon to bear the responsibilities of the day.'”
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“…I am getting my own way in nearly everything.”
Churchill’s Finance Bill was making its way through the House. “…I am driving forward at least ten large questions, and many smaller ones all inter-related and centering on the Budget,” he wrote his wife on June 5th. “So far I am getting my own way in nearly everything. But it is a most laborious business, so many stages having to be gone through, so many people having to be consulted, and so much detail having to be mastered or explored in one way or another.”
In the same letter, Churchill explained one of his techniques for getting support: “I am seeing a great deal of my colleagues now through the week end parties, and also at lunch and dinner in Downing Street….” Doubtless he needed the friendly talk because his words in debate were still sharp and cutting. Responding on 9 June to criticism of the Government’s reintroduction of the wartime McKenna Duties to raise revenues and compensate for his across-the-board income tax cuts, Churchill observed that the Duties had “been voted for again and again during the last ten years, and in the Great War, when the troops of the Dominions were sent to our aid from all parts of the world, when we were fighting for our lives, [and] when the hon. and gallant Gentleman was playing a much more useful part in the defence of the country than he is playing at the present time below the Gangway.”
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“A Forecast Of The Next War”
Churchill was hard at work on his first budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin’s government. He presented it in his first budget speech on 28 April, taking over two and a half hours to do so. He led off with the return to the Gold Standard (uncriticized by any party at the time). Next was his new plan of pensions for widows, their children and orphans, covering more than 200,000 women and 350,000 children.
“I like the association of this new scheme of widows’ pensions and earlier old-age pensions with the dying-out of the cost of the war pensions,” Churchill said. “I like to think that the sufferings, the sacrifices, the sorrow of the war have sown a seed from which a strong tree will grow, under which, perhaps many generations of British people may find shelter against some at least of the storms of life. This is far the finest war memorial you could set up to the men who gave their lives, their limits, or their health, and those who lost their dear ones in the country’s cause.”
Finally, Churchill introduced the centerpiece of his first budget: across the-board income tax reductions, with the greater benefits going to lower income groups. He termed his budget “national, and not class or party in its extent or intention,” adding, “I cherish the hope…that by liberating the production of new wealth from some of the shackles of taxation the Budget may stimulate enterprise and accelerate industrial revival, and that by giving a far greater measure of security to the mass of wage earners, their wives and children, it may promote contentment and stability, and make our Island more truly a home for all these people.”
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“Finance Less Proud and Industry More Content”
Churchill was active on many fronts, in turn taking on the United States over Allied war debts, the Royal Navy over expenditures, and the Bank of England over a return to the gold standard.
In January Churchill went to Paris for a finance conference of the Allied debtor and creditor nations. He had consistently opposed the American position that all inter-Allied debts must be paid bilaterally, regardless of what other nations did. He favored a general settlement. In the event, Churchill prevailed, but it wasn’t easy. He wrote in a letter to Clementine from Paris: “I have had tremendous battles with the Yanks, & have beaten them down inch by inch to a reasonable figure….I think on the whole I have succeeded.”
Indeed Churchill had succeeded very well. As Martin Gilbert notes: “All the former Allied powers accepted the principle that Britain’s debt payments to the United States should be accompanied by simultaneous, proportionate payments to Britain by France, Belgium, Italy and Japan, Britain’s principal debtors….the £1,000 million which Britain owed America was offset by over £2,000 million which the other former Allies owed to Britain.”
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“This Fulfils My Ambition”
In October 1924, Churchill returned to the campaign trail, standing for a seat in the House of Commons at Epping as a “Constitutionalist,” but giving “wholehearted support” to the Conservative Party. During the campaign, he attacked the Socialist government’s proposal to give a guaranteed loan to the Soviet Union of £40 million:
“Why should we do that? During the war we lent Russia £600 millions when they were fighting bravely on our side, but the Bolshevists, when they made the revolution, deserted the Allied cause and repudiated the debt. At the same time they stole £120 millions of British property in Russia, and we are at present whistling for our money….But it is not only a question of money‹it is a question of honour. Russia is a tyranny, the vilest tyranny that ever existed. The great mass of the Russian people are gripped by a gang of cosmopolitan adventurers, who have settled down on the country like vultures and are tearing it to pieces.
The election was held on October 29th and Churchill returned to Parliament with a substantial majority. The Conservative Party won in a landslide, 419 seats against 151 for Labour. As a consequence, Churchill wrote to a friend, “I think it is very likely that I shall not be invited to join the Government, as owing to the size of its majority it will probably be composed only of impeccable Conservatives.”
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A “Seat for Life” at Last
Churchill continued his search for a constituency where he could stand at the next General Election as an Independent with Conservative Party support, while maintaining a busy schedule of speaking and writing. On 27 June 1924, he spoke to the London School of Economics on “The Study of English”:
“To be able to give exact and lucid expressions to one’s thoughts, to be able to write a good clear letter upon a complicated or delicate subject, to be able to explain shortly, precisely, and correctly what you mean, what you have seen, what you have read, what you have been told, or what you want to understand; to appreciate and express the shades of meaning which attach to words – these are surely among the most important acquirements which young English men and young English women can possibly seek to aid them in their life’s career.
Churchill addressed the “International Financial Situation” in a speech to the Associated Advertising Clubs in London on 17 July 1924, attributing the economic slump not to foreign competition, but to “a serious and widespread decline in consuming power” which was caused by “taxation…and improvident methods of finance in many countries.”
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Out of Office, Opposing Socialists
On 6 December 1923, Churchill lost the West Leicester by-election, his last campaign as a Liberal and the last he would wage on the issue of free trade, the same issue over which he left the Tories for the Liberals in 1904. Churchill pulled no punches in the campaign, belying the claim of his enemies that he was currying favor with the Conservatives in order to foster a return to their ranks. If that were his purpose, Churchill would not have attacked the Tory Leader Stanley Baldwin in so personal a way. In a speech given 26 November 1923, he had compared Baldwin to “the March Hare and the Mad Hatter” and ridiculed Baldwin’s self-characterization as “a plain, blunt, man,” calling him “as rich as any man in Leicester.” When not engaging in personalities, Churchill enhanced his reputation as the most effective political defender of free trade in his time: “What is the use of pretending that this greatest of all exporting nations has got to lie down pusillanimously behind a network of tariffs, cowering in our own markets, living by taking in each other’s washing, feeding like a dog on its own tail? [Laughter.]”
Like many politicians before and since, Baldwin overestimated the electoral appeal of protectionism. The Conservatives returned to office with a reduced margin, having lost 88 seats. Meanwhile, Churchill’s divided Liberal Party was busy arranging its own demise. Former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith made clear on 12 December that his wing‹the larger wing‹of the Liberals would support Labour over the Conservatives at the earliest opportunity, ensuring Britain its first Socialist government. Churchill signaled his disagreement in a letter to The Times on 18 January 1924: “The enthronement in office of a Socialist Government will be a serious national misfortune such as has usually befallen great States only on the morrow of defeat in war.” On 21 January 1924, the Liberals voted with Labour to oust Baldwin and, that same day, Ramsay MacDonald formed his government. That same day marked the beginning of Churchill’s eventual return to the Conservative Party of his youth.
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“The Essential Principle Is Personal Freedom. . .”
Churchill, who suffered his second consecutive by-election loss on 19 March, opened negotiations with the Conservative Leader, Stanley Baldwin, to bring more than 30 anti-Socialist Liberal Mps into an informal alliance with the Conservatives, provided the Conservatives agreed not to contest their seats at the next General Election.
“How I wish you were here…”
On 6 April 1924, Churchill published an article, “Socialism and Shaw” in The Sunday Chronicle, vigorously attacking the minority Socialist government: “The leaders of the Socialist movement themselves have hardly succeeded in shaking themselves free from personal considerations. The Socialist Lord Privy Seal asks the House of Commons to raise his salary from two thousand to five thousand pounds a year‹a proceeding perfectly proper on the Capitalist hypothesis, but hardly in harmony with Socialist idealism.
“Mr Bernard Shaw, that sparkling intellectual and brilliant champion of the Socialist Utopia, squealed like a rabbit when subjected to the mild Lloyd Georgian supertax. Even Mr Moseley, the latest recruit, has not yet divested himself of his unearned increments or quit the life of elegance and luxury in which he has his being.”
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A Country Gentleman
Back in England from a cruise on the Duke of Westminster’s yacht, Churchill reflected, “I am very content to have for the first time in my life a little rest, and leisure to look after my own affairs, build my house and cultivate my garden.”
His primary focus was on the second volume of The World Crisis. The periodicals were full of pros and cons about his first volume. Everyone who had participated in the War seemed to want to get a word in. The Morning Post venomously said that Churchill “is mentally incapable of realizing the truth or anything like it” but most reviews were favourable. Stanley Baldwin probably summed up the feelings of Churchill’s colleagues: “If I could write as you do, I should never bother about making speeches.” Baldwin would live to hear Churchill’s immortal speeches of 1940 and 1941.
On the issue of tariffs, Baldwin called an election for December 6. Churchill answered the call to fight Protection as a Liberal. He beat the Conservative but came second to the Labour candidate who had advocated a special tax on high incomes.
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“A Whale Among Minnows”
The first volume of Churchill’s war memoirs, The World Crisis, was published on 10 April. Its publication raised a great deal of tumult, adulation and criticism. The question was asked in the Commons whether it was proper for a former member of the government to profit from such a publication and the answer, forced from the Prime Minister, was “no.”
But the book received tremendous reviews. The Observer commented that “Mr. Churchill, when they attack him, defends himself. He does it with such an amplitude of evidence, and a panoply of proof and a general effect so wicked that his habitual accusers must regard his book as not only a misdemeanor, but an outrage… .Much the best of all war books on the British side.” The reviewer, J. L. Gavin, called the book “a whale among minnows.”
‘Winston wanted to be a war wizard, and there he failed, but in the wizardry of words he is triumphant.’
In America, The New York Times said: ‘Winston wanted to be a war wizard, and there he failed, but in the wizardry of words he is triumphant. Over his own vicissitudes he casts the spell… it is the spell of a calculated— sometimes an artificial … detachment… He makes no excuses… He avoids the querulous, the malicious, the jealous note… He does not pretend to have been consistent. Good, bad or indifferent, he gives his reasons for whatever was done or left undone. The reasons are those noted at the time… there is no wisdom after the event. It is clever. It is masterful. But it is also Churchill … Churchill is too interesting for real sagacity.”
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