“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.”
Baldwin called Churchill’s speech “One of the most striking Budget speeches of recent years” and wrote to the King: “The general impression was that Mr. Churchill rose magnificently to the occasion. His speech…was a first-rate example of Mr. Churchill’s characteristic style. At one moment he would be expounding quietly and lucidly facts and figures relating to the financial position during the past and current years. At another moment, inspired and animated by the old political controversies on the subject of tariff reform, he indulged in witty levity and humour which come as a refreshing relief in the dry atmosphere of a Budget speech. At another moment, when announcing the introduction of a scheme for widows and mothers pensions, he soared into emotional flights of rhetoric in which he has few equals; and throughout the speech he showed that he is not only possessed of consummate ability as a parliamentarian, but also all the versatility of an actor.”
Even Neville Chamberlain gave Churchill grudging credit for the pension scheme which Chamberlain had been too timid to advance that year, writing in his diary: “Winston’s exposition of the Budget was a masterly performance, and though my office and some of my colleagues are indignant at his taking to himself the credit for a scheme which belongs to the Ministry of Health, I did not myself think that I had any reason to complain of what he said. In a sense it is his scheme. We were pledged to something of the kind, but I don’t think we should have done it this year if he had not made it part of his Budget scheme, and in my opinion he does deserve special personal credit for his initiative and drive.”
During this same period, Churchill was instrumental in defeating a proposal in the Cabinet, by Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain for a defense pact with France based upon maintaining the Versailles treaty and guaranteeing Britain would come to France’s aid if attacked by Germany. Churchill was opposed to helping France until she backed off the oppressive terms of Versailles and agreed to a “real peace” with Germany, one which involved a “substantial rectification” of Germany’s frontier with Poland. As Churchill had earlier told the French President, Doumergue, he “was personally convinced that [Germany] would never acquiesce permanently in the condition of her eastern frontier.” Without such a revision, Churchill presciently told the Committee of Imperial Defense, a new war loomed on the horizon over Poland:
“This war which has occurred between France and Germany several times has broken up the world. What guarantee have we got while things are going as they are that we shall not have another war. In fact, it seems as if we were moving towards it, although it may not be for twenty years, certainly not until Germany has been able to acquire some methods of waging war, chemically or otherwise.”
In March, the senior Cabinet ministers assembled, in Austen Chamberlain’s absence in Paris, and endorsed Churchill’s view that no defense pact with France would be concluded unless it included an arrangement with Germany as well.