The Common Cold
by Marc Jones
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, November 22, 1922.
…Well, we’ve had our election for leader of the Party and, as I’m sure you know by now, Ramsay lost to old Clynes. It wasn’t the most inspirational of occasions – the room was draughty and the dust was very bad in places – and the two candidates didn’t help much. Clynes was his usual "lets-go-carefully" self, all caution and lack of oomph. Ramsay could normally have talked him off the table, but damn fool took himself off to Whitstable last weekend on a whim to get some sea air. I don’t know what the air was like, but he certainly came back with a dreadful cold.
From I could hear of what he was saying – over the coughing and the sneezing and the honking into an enormous red and white spotted handkerchief – he had some interesting ideas to capitalise on the current split amongst the Liberals, but frankly my dear Chloe most people were flinching away from him and trying not to look as if they were going to put their own handkerchiefs over their faces. I had a mental image of everyone looking like a ward of victims of the Spanish Influenza. What should have been a short speech took far too much time.
I think that Ramsay knew that he wasn’t making a good impression, and his general appearance became more frantic and less hygienic as he tried to get his point over. He looked even more depressed when the door flew open and old Grant tottered in with four of his friends, all with steam almost coming out of their ears. They apologised to the chair, said that their cab driver had tried to take them to Westminster via Walthamstow and then all beamed at Clynes, who perked no end. They were old friends of his and I think that their arrival certainly had an effect on the vote, swinging a few other votes his way.
When it came it was all a bit of an anti-climax. Ramsay did very well, getting 55 votes. Clynes got 64 and there were about 20 abstentions from the fence-sitters at the back. Yes, I know that Clynes isn’t at all like old Arthur Henderson, who is still drifting around like a ghost having lost his seat in the election and gnashing his teeth terribly at the thought of losing his position as leader, but the man is a safe pair of hands. Ramsay could have steered us God only knows where.
Anyway, what’s done is done. We now face old Bonar Law, who is a dreadful stick in the mud and who is already looking rather ropey and unwell. How long he’ll last is anyone’s guess and I…
Diary of Sir Thomas Graham, Conservative MP for Harrowdale.
2nd June 1923. Baldwin still seems to me to be too clever by half. There has been a bit of fluttering in the dovecotes here and there since he took over from Bonar Law, and I have a nasty feeling that he is planning something. The only good thing at the moment is the total shambles that is the opposition. Asquith and Lloyd George are still leading two separate factions of the Liberal Party, although I have heard that they have begun to actually speak civilly to each other again. If they ever unite again there might be trouble ahead. Fortunately they show no sign whatsoever of doing so.
As for our Socialist friends, I am astonished that they have more seats in the House than the Liberals, given the utter lack of talent in their midst. And as for their leader, John Clynes, I cannot say that he displays much in the way of actual leadership. The man can waffle a great deal and he seems to mean well, but he is hardly leadership material. His number two, Ramsay McDonald, speaks well but seems permanently depressed at the thought that he is not the leader of his party. We should do well facing such opponents over the dispatch box for the time being!
22nd October. I bumped into old Arthur Balfour this evening, looking flustered. He said that he had to get on, and that Baldwin has dropped a bit of a bombshell on the party leadership. I was surprised to get that much from him – he is such a damned tight oyster at times! – so whatever it is must have been quite startling.
23rd October. Baldwin is mad. The man is completely mad. His decision to call for an election on December 6th, when it has been just a year since the last election and when we already have an absolute majority of 90 seats in the House is flagrantly irresponsible and reckless.
And to call the election on an issue like Protectionism! What a feeble card to play! I overheard several Liberal MPs from the two factions talking excitedly about Free Trade this afternoon, which has always been their party’s strong point and a dreadful feeling came over me, like someone dropping cold water into my stomach. I fear the worst on this. I fear that Baldwin has just taken a step into the dark with no consequence of what lies in that dark. And he’s taken the Conservative Party with him.
1st November. It is as I had feared. Asquith and Lloyd George have buried their differences and we now face a united Liberal party. LG has started to tug on the purse strings of some of his more unsavoury backers from the Great War, mostly those that have peerages for services in procuring bootlaces for the troops, and they are already starting to sound like the united voice of the opposition that Labour is entirely failing to provide. Clynes is providing little if any inspiration to his people and McDonald is the only one who is trying to remedy that defect. As he is not the leader all he can do is, well, very little. That is the one small satisfaction that I can observe.
3rd November. I was driven past the old Liberal Club this afternoon. For three years the place has been increasingly shabby. Today it was alive with bunting whilst some workers painted the railings. There was even a crowd of people there, listening to some young man with a gift for demagoguery. From his rosette I deduced that he is probably my Liberal opponent. He seems to be about 20 and seems to shave with a sponge. I foresee no difficulty in seeing him off.
11th November. LG continues to raise roofs with his vulgar rants. Asquith is more restrained but I fear that the old fire is returning to his own eyes, from the language that I have seen reported in the paper. Strange to think that Free Trade has achieved what common sense on the part of their own party could not have done.
13th November. My initial hopes that I could see off the Liberal stripling who is standing against me have been misplaced. He is more tenacious – and more voluble – then I had feared. The failure of Labour to put up a plausible candidate has not helped – the man is a ranting socialist who repels three people for every one that he attracts at his meetings. I have a nasty feeling in my bones that this will not be an easy election and that I have a real fight on my hands for the first time since 1910.
20th November. Clynes made a wireless address last night that sounded as if he was talking at everywhere but the microphone. I still think that the new wireless is not something that should be used for so serious a subject as politics, but it seems that the newfangled BBC institution disagrees. I still sense a certain discomfort in many people on the streets, and I fear that the fight is getting harder. Damn Baldwin.
23rd November. More bad news. Less than a fortnight to the election and Baldwin seems to be unable to connect to the electorate. His own wireless address tonight sounded as if he was talking into his armpit. In the meantime my young opponent seems to be going from strength to strength. To make matters worse the Labour fellow now seems to be addressing meetings of on average ten people and four dogs at a time.
24th November. Not Asquith on the wireless tonight but LG. Damn the man, he can electrify any audience. Feeling depressed again, especially as that young blighter Davies in my own constituency is continuing to raise larger and larger crowds in his meetings. I fear a real Liberal surge in the offing, here at least.
6th December. A bleak day, cold and raw. Got up early, voted early. Encouraged by some enthusiasm by some loyal party members. What about the rest though? Sense a general feeling of, well, uncertainty in the air. Certainly no enthusiasm for our party. I continue to feel nothing but contempt for Baldwin and his inept leadership. The count will be completed by tomorrow morning. I can only pray for a favourable outcome.
7th December. It is as I had feared, both in my constituency and the country. When I got to the Town Hall early in the morning I could see at a glance that the Labour vote was paltry at best, leaving it down to a straight fight between me and my Liberal opponent. As they counted the votes from the last set of ballot boxes I could see that it was all up. The next MP from this constituency will be a Liberal. I was able to summon up sufficient oratory for a graceful concession speech. Young Davies gave a reasonably graceful victory speech of his own. The Socialist’s rant was roundly booed down.
The initial results from the country show a confused picture. The loss of my seat goes towards a Conservative drop of at least 40 seats so far. Labour seems to be remaining more or less steady, with an additional seat here and there but the Liberals seem to have gained at least 37 seats so far. Time will tell – the final results will be in tomorrow.
8th December. Catastrophe. Our majority of 90 has disappeared like smoke between our fingers. Damn Baldwin! Thanks to the miracle of wireless the results are in far faster than they would have been just a few years ago. We have 260 seats, making us still the largest party, but the Liberals have 204 seats and Labour has 142.
This throws all our plans in the air. We have not lost absolutely, but we can be said to have been rebuffed, if not defeated, on Protectionism. Labour has lost one seat overall (they picked up ten seats from us, but lost eleven seats to the Liberals) and the Liberals have gained 89 seats, mostly from us. They have even won seats off us in key areas of Lancashire that they never captured during their landslide of 1906! Ominously, when I look at the figures in the papers, I can also see that they came perilously close to taking seats in at least thirty other constituencies, both ours and Labours.
This places the entire political situation up in the air. Baldwin is still in office, but only for the time being. I would venture that a great deal of political manoeuvring is about to take place behind the scenes in Westminster. Perhaps it’s finally time to take up that director’s position that old Francis Dunworthy offered me last year. I will think on it.
Letter from Lord Marlborough to Lady Severn and Trent, December 20th 1923.
All this has placed the King in a real pickle. Although Baldwin’s Conservatives are still the largest party, the Liberals and Labour will be able to defeat him in any vote they choose. Anyway, the results of the election can and will be seen as a repudiation of Baldwin’s policies.
So who does His Majesty approach to form a new government? It can only be Asquith, but as the Prime Minister of a minority government, something that is by its very definition a fragile creature and not something that can last long if its opponents decide to join forces to bring it down. So we might have Baldwin losing a vote of no confidence and then Asquith forming a government – only to lose a vote of no confidence! As his Majesty said to me the other day, this brings up visions of the merry-go-round politics that we see in France and is hardly reassuring to business, which requires the country to be led by a stable government.
However, I have heard a few whispers – and open muttering here and there – that Austen is most dissatisfied with Baldwin’s leadership and is also highly uncomfortable about having to pay lip service to protectionism when he is in fact as devoted an adherent to Free Trade as any Liberal. And he is not the only one. It is being rumoured that the last ghosts of the old Liberal Unionists, who split from the Liberals over Home Rule for Ireland in 1886 before joining the Conservatives, might be exceedingly restive.
After the political events of the past year I fail to see that anything can now surprise me.
Diary of Viscount Rowntree, Conservative Member of the House of Lords, December 21 1923.
This has all been the fault of that bloody man Baldwin. He has not yet cultivated that thick skin that successful politicians at the top of the proverbial greasy pole require to survive in political life for very long. His handling of Austen Chamberlain and his supporters has been abominable, as he has failed to realize that troublemakers tend to repent of their sins once you dangle the prospect of power in front of their eyes. Giving AC a small plum like a lesser ministry would not have been beyond Baldwin’s power, but instead he cut him out entirely, claiming that AC had been too close to LG for comfort. I really do despair of the man at times, although there are signs that he might be realising the error of his ways.
If AC and his friends do jump ship this will scar the party, but I suspect that Baldwin will really be delighted, saying that it is better to have true Conservatives in the party, or some such rot. He needs to have his eyes opened to the advantages of having a broad church of opinion within a party, lest he drive everyone else away to be left with a party of one – himself.
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, December 23, 1923.
Ramsay is in a damned depressed mood. He continues to rail against the leadership of Clynes and says that we have lost a historic chance to forward the party. I can’t quite see it myself – we have exactly three MPs with ministerial experience, so why should the King have appointed us as minority government even if we had more MPs than the Liberals? Ramsay spluttered when I said this and pointed out that even a short minority government would still have shown that we could govern, given the chance, and that more people might therefore vote for a Labour Government in the future. I remain unconvinced and just feel that we would have made fools out of ourselves! Still, there is a nagging feeling at the back of my head that we have missed an opportunity with this election. Clynes’ leadership is dull at best.
It’s just… well I have a nasty feeling that Ramsay has a great number of ideas about how to gain power, but not many actual plans once he is in power, if you see what I mean. Again, another nagging feeling. At this rate I’m going to be like Grandmother and her ‘sight’. Ah well. Ramsay is taking himself to Whitstable again after Christmas by the way. Claims he likes the sea air, but given what happened the last time he went there, he should stay well away from it. He’s probably going to mope there.
Well, now all eyes are on the king and on Asquith and his restless fellow party member Lloyd George. What arises should be interesting.
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith to Lady Venetia Montagu, December 31, 1923.
…The revival of our correspondence after so many years has brought back many old memories, and I find that it does reassure my mind to be able to express thoughts within my letters that I cannot easily say out loud.
Well now, the New Year that is almost upon us will bring me back into my old position. A great deal remains to be settled however. The easy part will be when we reconvene in Parliament for the King’s Speech and combine with Labour to vote it down. This has, of course, been on the cards since the Election.
What remains unsaid so far, apart from in some private conversations that I have initiated, is the composition of my first Cabinet since I left office in 1916. The Goat, as Margot calls him, must be placated with a powerful position – more than likely his old position of Chancellor of the Exchequer, with perhaps a few additional briefs bolted on. LG has been rather careful to keep our relations free of any acrimony and arguments, and I must admit that we are now cordial to each other, something that has not been the case for some time. What is past is past however. It might also be that LG takes over from me in two or three years – before the next dissolution, if that can be arranged. Edward will likely go back to the Foreign Office, Simon to the Home Office and where we will place Winston is anyone’s guess. He held on to his seat by a hair’s breadth at the election and has Gallipoli hanging over him like a cloud, even if it was more Kitchener’s fault that it went wrong than his own.
That said, government will be difficult. A minority government is one that has to step carefully on a number of different fronts, as I am sure you are aware. Although there is little chance of Labour and the Tories uniting to drag us down on many votes, we must still chart a careful course.
That said, we have a number of advantages. The split in the Tories, whilst never as divisive as the one in our party, is still there. Austen Chamberlain is still nursing a most bitter grudge against Baldwin who, to be fair, has treated him abominably in the past. AC is very much his father’s son, albeit the younger version of his father. The title ‘Liberal Unionist’ has been making itself heard here and there – and not just from AC. He is simply one of the more voluble Tory members of LG’s former wartime coalition government who got on very well with LG. The Goat, by the way, wishes to bring them in, but I will confess to a certain reluctance about this matter. We cannot reassemble the old coalition and then fall prey to being held hostage by the Tories – as happened to LG up until 1922.
What we can do however is play up a few elements, like the common ground that we do have with AC. He has stated quite openly that he is a Liberal Unionist at heart – perhaps the distinction can be brought out into the open? Certainly he is a proponent of Free Trade to match my own belief in it. And with the issue of Ireland now having vanished along with its secession from the Union… well, we will see what we can do. LG has promised to encourage AC as much as possible but also as carefully as possible. When we form our government you will see many old faces in their old places. There might be a few so-called Liberal Unionists, or Anti-Baldwin Tories, in some lower positions when and if we can arrange it – if they can make some promise of some support.
Baldwin in the meantime sits in his position and sulks, I am told. His tactics for the last year have been relatively crude and fumbling, but he does seem to be learning the high stakes balancing act that is so crucial to living in the world of politics.
So. Things will remain somewhat in a state of flux until the vote on the King’s Speech. I have told the King of my plans, but have also warned him of the potential missteps that might lie ahead of me. We will have to see what we will see, but I can only hope for the best…
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, January 15th 1924.
…I was most shocked to see Ramsay this morning. He looked pale and ill and has a dreadful cough that seems to shake him with every paroxysm. He told me that he had a marvellous time walking in Whitstable, but that he was caught in a small snow storm at one point that chilled him exceedingly, leading to his current affliction. He claims it is merely a cold, but I told him to seek out a doctor, as he looks very ill indeed. He reluctantly agreed with me and said that he was going to do so anyway, as others had urged him to. I’m very much afraid that his depression has made him overexert himself on these walking holidays that he seems to love so much.
In the meantime we await the King’s Speech. There is a no small degree of anticipation at the thought of Baldwin’s imminent fall, but I do feel that Asquith is being rather intolerably smug about something. I suspect that the calving of the Tory iceberg has already begun.
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith to Lady Venetia Montagu, January 21, 1924.
On the eve of the King’s Speech I feel an odd combination of anticipation and anxiety at the prospect, two emotions that make for an odd mix indeed. The Goat’s efforts at getting Austen on board might well bear fruit, but we will have to step most carefully in the next few months, moving boldly in some areas and slowly in others.
But it only now becoming apparent to me just how much we need to do, both for the Country and for the party. The slowly building crisis in the mining industry has been quietly ignored in some areas, and must be defused at some point. French and Belgian meddling in the Ruhr must be stepped back, or at least reined in, and the least said about the issue of Bolshevik Russia the better. As for the party, the bitter divisions of the past must be repaired and our local organisations must be rebuilt and strengthened. I have asked Winston and the Goat to look into this closely. Winston mentioned to me this morning that he has a feeling that we have barely avoided an electoral disaster in the future, saying in his usual melodramatic way that he could almost feel the fatal bullet pass in the air over our heads. For once I think that his tendency towards melodrama might actually be understated.
I will retire to bed tonight in the frame of mind of someone putting on mental armour for the fight ahead. Tomorrow will see a great deal of activity.
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, January 22nd 1924.
Well, Baldwin is out on his ear. That wasn’t the surprise. Instead what shocked many was the vote. We combined with the Liberals to vote down the Government, mustering a total of 344 votes. Baldwin could have called up on 260 votes on his side – but only 228 actually did. It seems that AC and 31 of his friends sat on their hands and did not go into the Division Lobby. I was astonished when I head the clerk announce the totals, but I should have been able to guess by looking at the look of black fury that the Tory’s chief whip was trying to suppress. Baldwin merely looked old and sick and generally tired of everything, especially the cheering that had broken out on our side.
And then we had to address the issue of who would become the next Government. This was a difficult moment for many of us – should we support the Liberals, or abstain? Ramsay was talking wildly in the Lobby about voting with the Tories, and trying for a minority government of our own. He looked sick and feverish and was swaying so wildly that I thought he was going to fall over. I had to remind him gently that the smallest party, with little ministerial experience, could not possibly form a government. He glared at me a great deal.
So Asquith proposed a delicate motion that the Liberals should form a government as there were no other sensible options. This was a touch disingenuous of him, but he was able to smooth it over and we all trooped out again to vote.
Baldwin told his people to abstain, but by now his credibility had plumbed new depths and only about 100 of his MPs obeyed him. No fewer than 110 voted against, led by Neville Chamberlain, who is very unlike his brother and who would like nothing better than to see both opposition parties ground into the dust, leaving the Tories as the dominant party. The remaining 50 voted with the Liberals, showing that AC’s revolt is broader than I thought at first.
As for us, most abstained, but a block of about 40, mostly from the mining communities, voted with the Liberals. Ramsay and a few others voted against.
When the vote was announced Asquith and LG didn’t say a word – they just leant over and shook hands with a genuine warmth that had all of their people cheering them to the rafters. Not a pleasant sight for the Tories at all.
Then we had our moment of crisis. As we all wandered out of the Chamber there was a clatter and a cry of alarm from several members. Ramsay had collapsed. As I write this he is in Barts Hospital, where I am going first thing in the morning to find out what the devil is wrong with him.
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith to Lady Venetia Montagu, January 23, 1924.
Today I returned to Downing Street. It was a most odd sensation to walk back down the street and be greeted by the policemen at the door, as if time had rewound itself.
Baldwin had obviously prepared himself for his departure quite quickly and left last night, leaving me to settle in as best I can.
Well, I quickly started work on the formation of a government. That was easier said than done I admit. LG and I had made a quiet pact around Christmas about a division of power. I apologise at not being able to tell you about it at the time, but I had given my word for complete secrecy. I am sure that you can understand my motives.
The Goat has my assurance that I will step aside in a few years time – as long as we can last that long in office. A minority government, as I am very tired of hearing about, can often end in tears, something that I have no intention of letting happen for the time being.
As for positions in the Cabinet, here things will get rather tricky. LG is back in as Chancellor, along with a few additional portfolios that he has demanded. Edward, as I predicted is back at the Foreign Office, Simon at the Home Office and Haldane at the Woolsack.
I had to think long and hard about where the devil Winston would go, but I had a long chat with LG about this matter and we decided that the safest option would be to make him a Minister without portfolio. It is a somewhat paltry sop, but LG said that he can put him under him at the Exchequer with a brief to look around at the economy and work out ways of, as he put it, gingering it up a trifle. That seems to be the safest option, especially as LG has said that he has told Winston to seek out some economist chap called Keynes. It really is the best spot for Winston, the more I think about it. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would totally meaningless, whilst anything in the War Ministry might see us in a deadly conflict with Mongolia, if I might be permitted to be flippant.
As for Austen Chamberlain I had to do a great deal of careful dealing over his position, before finally settling on Colonial Secretary, in a throwback to his father’s time in the post with the Tories. He seemed pleased as punch over it, so we might have gotten away with it. Some of his so-called Liberal Unionist friends – the proof is really in the pudding on this matter, and I will breath more easily with them bedded in, so to speak with us – are in the lower ranking ministries and all in all I am quite pleased with the shape of the government.
Telegraph from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, January 26th 1924.
RAMSAY DIED THIS EVENING STOP FUNERAL TUESDAY STOP WILL WRITE STOP
Headline from The Morning Bugle, January 27th 1924
LABOUR POLITICIAN PASSES AWAY
Mr Ramsay McDonald, Member of Parliament for the constituency of Aberavon, died last night in St Bartholomew’s Hospital. According his doctor Mr McDonald had been suffering from acute double pneumonia, which caused medical complications that proved to be fatal.
Mr McDonald was admitted after collapsing in the chamber of the House of Commons on January 22, after the occasion of the King’s Speech…
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, January 27th 1924.
I cannot remember the last time that I felt so tired. This has all come as a dreadful shock. I went to see Ramsay yesterday evening, concerned about his collapse. Apparently the cold that he had been suffering from had been far more severe than he had let on and as a result it had progressed into pneumonia. Again, he had pushed himself far, far too hard, with insufficient sleep and food, in a feverish effort to persuade people to vote against the Liberals. I really do think that he believed his fever-dream that we could have made up a minority government of our own.
All this I found out later – when I arrived it was to see a great deal of scurrying on the part of nurses, before a doctor came wearily out of his room and told me that Ramsay had passed away a few minutes before. I cannot remember the last time that I was so shocked. The doctor said that Ramsay had pushed himself far too hard without realising that he was so ill, and by the time that he did seek medical help his cold had developed into full-blown double pneumonia. If he had sought out help earlier… well wishing it was so will not bring the man back.
Much to my disgust Arthur Henderson is already sniffing around to see when the by-election will be, despite the fact that Ramsay is not yet cold. I knew that he was desperate to return to Parliament, but not as desperate to be so unfeeling to Ramsay’s family.
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith to Lady Venetia Montagu, February 26, 1924.
It has been a somewhat fraught month at times, but I feel as if we have settled into government far more easily than I had thought possible. LG has taken the reins of the Exchequer as if he has never been away from Number 11 for a moment, and while the economy will, as always, take a while to heed his commands and turn the way that we want it to, I have no doubt that it will. Our return to office has certainly reassured business in the country a great deal. Apparently Winston has been sent on a fact-finding tour of the mining areas by LG.
As for everything else, things are settling down, although the scale of the task before us remains very much apparent. Edward has been busily trying to get the French and the Belgians to withdraw quickly from the Ruhr, making it clear that their occupation of it has not achieved what they wanted and that in fact it is making their goal of faster reparation payments almost impossible. Germany’s currency crisis is most shocking and I believe is rather worse than many of the papers here have reported.
In the meantime we have three by-elections to fight tomorrow. One is in a very safe Tory seat, but the other two are interesting ones - Aberavon is the late Ramsay MacDonald’s old seat and Granton is a marginal Tory seat that we just failed to pick up at the election. I have heard some very encouraging noises about the last, and Aberavon is reported to be closer than I had dreamt.
Headline from The Morning Bugle, February 28th 1924
Mr Henderson Loses Aberavon – Liberal Candidates win two out of three by-elections – Victories reinforce Mr Asquith’s position
Diary of Sir Thomas Graham, Conservative MP.
1st March. Well I’m back in Parliament again, even if I am now the Member for a place with an odd a name as Dunny On the Wold. I don’t trust my election agent at all, and as for his imbecile assistant, the less said the better. That said, I was lucky not to lose. The Liberal surge seems to be continuing. Arthur Henderson lost Ramsay MacDonald’s seat to them, which cannot have impressed his party, and we saw our tenuous 1,200 vote majority in Granton turned into a 5,000 majority for the Liberal candidate. Returning to Parliament after three-odd months away should prove to be interesting.
4th March. Today I returned to Parliament to be sworn in. Much to my surprise I have almost straight away been plunged into the strife and gossip over the leadership, being pulled this way and that in various corridors by members who wanted to mutter into my ear. It is all most typical of the idiotic way that we choose, or at least gossip about, our leaders in the Conservative Party!
The problem is that everyone seems to be complaining about Baldwin, but that no-one can suggest a replacement that will satisfy all elements of the party. Birkenhead cannot really be Prime Minister from the Lords, as these are no longer the days of Lord Salisbury. The Commons is the place that any Prime Minister will have to be. Hogg does not have enough influence, neither does Hoare, Amery is too erratic at times, Neville Chamberlain needs to keep his head down and refrain from criticising those who were in the LG Government too much – and of course his half-brother, once the great white hope of the party, has jumped ship entirely in high dudgeon over being treated so shabbily by Baldwin!
Which leaves… Baldwin, the man who got us into this mess in the first place. I have the oddest feeling of Déjà vu.
21st March. A fascinating evening’s debate and one which has left me with some nasty feelings about the situation. Asquith was transformed when I saw him in the Chamber. He really does look 10 years younger and there is a certain spring in his step and a bite to his tone that does not bode well for Baldwin, who was impaled on some very pretty little rhetorical barbs, if I may say so. We are pressing for a speedy return to the Gold Standard and some measure of protectionism here and there. Foolishly Baldwin said this in the chamber, only for Asquith to lean over the despatch box and intone in a voice of purest honey that "Mr Baldwin’s comments were among the reasons for the present Government being in office, as the country had objected to such opinions in strong terms."
He really did have a point and Baldwin looked like a deflated bloodhound, whilst the Liberals bayed behind Asquith. Ominously enough so did a few Labourites.
Apparently the Goat is to make some comments about economic affairs soon, while Churchill, of all people, is to make a statement on the affairs of the miners.
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith to Lady Venetia Montagu, March 28th, 1924.
LG discussed the Gold Standard question in Cabinet this morning, going into very great detail but with as much succinctness and brevity as he could muster. I do admire him when he deploys his undoubted genius in such matters. He has consulted with that young economist Maynard Keynes, who is a trifle unorthodox but who does have a certain grasp of the facts of economic life that many so-called experts lack. LG talked about a certain lack of vim in the manufacturing sector, of the need to keep our exports economically competitive and of the need to encourage inwards investment and to modernise equipment and machinery. In other words he is recommending, contrary to what the Treasury has been saying, that we stay off the Gold Standard. He then fielded a number of questions from various parties around the table and then stressed the advantages. Much to my surprise he was able to convert AC to his position, by careful statements of what the situation was and what might otherwise happen.
But that was nothing as to my amazement when Winston then piped in with not only a statement supporting LG on the Gold Standard – something that I know that he has expressed opinions on in the past – but he then made an almost passionate statement saying that something must be done to deal with the situation with regard to the miners.
Apparently Winston was taken down a colliery near Merthyr Tydfil for a morning, and having seen first hand what they go through every day he re-emerged rather pale and with a profound desire to plead their case. It was most un-Winston and I can only marvel at such sentiments. However, he then added that by dealing with the situation and achieving an equitable settlement with the miners, we can weaken the hold that Labour has on the mining areas and possibly encourage some areas – which had previously supported us – to return to the Liberal fold.
The fact that he stated all of the opinions mentioned above with not a trace of his normal grandiloquence leads me to believe that he either bumped his head on a pit prop, or that he has done some very serious thinking about this.
Russia is not proving to be as knotty a problem as I had first thought. Initially we had thought that the death of Lenin might prompt many more Labour MPs to press for us to recognise the Bolshevik Government, I suppose out of some kind of sympathy. The fact that we have no intention of doing so does not seem to have affected matters at all. This is a good thing, as recognising the Bolshevik Government of Russia would push away some of the more friendly members of AC’s little band. Besides, I have no desire to acknowledge what I know are a thoroughgoing group of murderous scoundrels.
Belgium, according to Edward, is more in favour of a rapid agreement over the Ruhr problem than I had thought. Our French friends are being far more intransigent over the matter. I’d rather not write too much about it, because it’s all very depressing, but Edward feels that a deal can be struck over matters.
Diary of Sir Thomas Graham, Conservative MP.
May 2nd. Stanley is out. He called a meeting of the 1922 Committee tonight, flung his resignation in their faces and then stormed out, leaving us all sitting there feeling stunned. I was expecting it, but I did not think that he would make it so personal. I understand his feelings though – his position has been steadily undermined for months now by the rumour-merchants and the doomsayers. It was like, well the best way I can put it, is that it was like a corrosive poison, bubbling away at his standing in the party.
Well, this put the ferret up the trouser leg of the party, as my election agent would so picturesquely put it. Who will succeed Stanley? Frankly I haven’t a clue.
May 6th. Neville has thrown his hat into the ring, although I don’t think he stands an earthly. A bit too early for him. Amery will make a decision soon and Birkenhead has ruled himself out. Hogg might run, but I doubt it. Hoare is said to be mulling it over. Horne is too interested in his new dealings in the City. Curzon is, like Birkenhead, hampered by his peerage.
Frankly the view looks bleak and I find myself wondering why on earth I agreed to come back to Parliament.
May 8th. Amery, Hogg and Hoare have all announced their decision to stand for the leadership. A four-way race does not appeal to me at all, especially given the entrants. Neville is bitter about his own half-brother making a deal with the Goat. Amery really is too clever for his own good – all brain and no political realism. A good man to rally behind if you want a figure dressed in armour on a white horse for A Cause. Just what we don’t need right now.
Hoare on the other hand is rather too ready to make too many compromises I think. It’s just a feeling, but I sense that he won’t be able to stick to one course, but would instead wobble a great deal.
As for Hogg, the mind boggles.
Wonderful. Four candidates, no enthusiasm for any of them, little time to make a decision. I have a very bad feeling about the future of the party.