The Common Cold
by Marc Jones
Letter from Lord Marlborough to Lady Severn and Trent, May 20th, 1924.
...Looking at the current leadership battle going on within the Conservatives does make me wonder what on earth seems to have possessed them. I may sit as a Conservative in the Lords, but watching the terrible foursome flail against one another has been the most depressing thing that I can think of and is quite possibly something bad enough to put me off politics for life. However, my dear, I do know your penchant for political and other forms of gossip, so I suppose that I must distil my thoughts for your edification.
First there is the champion of Doing The Right Thing For the Party, or Leo Amery to the rest of us. The man is too clever by half, is too opinionated, is too volatile… but has a great deal of brittle charisma.
Then there is the Angry Man, Neville Chamberlain. He wants nothing more than to see Lloyd George strangled, preferably with the entrails of Asquith, and has a certain amount of angry bewilderment over the de facto defection of his half brother Austen to the Liberal camp, even if the man does insist on calling himself a Liberal Unionist, after a party that died quite some time ago. Neville is rather older than his years, has developed a nasty tendency to lecture and is not right for job just yet. Worse still, he is about as sociable as a lemur.
Hogg is a rather Sound Fellow, but is hardly made of the stuff needed to lead a great political party. God forbid that he gets it, as he would reduce the House to gentle snores.
As for Hoare… well, the man is a hard worker and is undoubtedly able, but is rather too willing to blow his own horn. Or at least to have some compliant journalist do so for him. There is also a certain ugly cynicism beneath had hard face of his, and again he sometimes seen as being a little too clever for his own good.
And they’re all standing for the leadership of the party! What a collection! In the meantime Stanley Baldwin sits in Olympian silence, refuses to endorse any of them, and regards the entire lot with what I sense is a great deal of contempt! And rightly so!
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Lady Venetia Montagu, May 25th, 1924.
Edward has returned from Paris. He looks utterly exhausted but is quietly triumphant, as he has persuaded the French to join the Belgians in withdrawing their troops from the Ruhr over this endless squabble over reparations. The truth of the matter is that as long as they occupy the industrial centre of the Ruhr the German Government cannot pay reparations, as the French know full well, but they have been taking as hard a stance as possible towards them.
It is difficult to blame them at times. Edward told me that he was taken on a visit to see Rheims, the city that produces that splendid champagne. He said that the scars of the western Front are still very visible to the north, and that while the rebuilding of Rheims is proceeding well, there is still a great deal to be done.
He was also able to discuss the Russian problem. Far more French people than I had thought bought shares in Russian companies and industries before the Great War. These shares are effectively worthless now that the Bolsheviks have been nationalising everything in sight, but many in France still think that should at least be worth something. Edward is pessimistic about the subject, and I cannot say that I blame him. However, being back in office again has revived him a great deal, and I think that he is doing a great deal of pondering over this.
Speaking of pondering, LG and Winston have been continuing their high-speed circuit around the economy. Winston has fitted snugly into LG’s plans to use him as a roving agent with the power to bring things to our attention, and I really do think that the change has done him the world of good. For one thing I think that he’s seeing parts of the Kingdom that he would never have seen before, and what he’s seen has shocked him a great deal. We all always knew that LG’s phrase in 1918 that they had to build a Land Fit For Heroes was nothing more than a slogan.
I don’t know how long I’ll be in office this time around, but I can tell you one thing. There’s a great job of work to do, and I’m going to work with everyone, yes even The Goat, to get it done.
I feel quite uncharacteristically wrung with emotion, so I will conclude this note and then sit down and have a glass of port. I have another meeting with LG in a few days time to discuss the results of his economic findings.
Diary of Sir Thomas Graham, Conservative MP, May 26th, 1924.
I had an entirely unsuccessful lunch today with Robert Horne. He might be someone that I would consider voting for as leader of the party, as he has soundness and sense and isn’t likely to either go off at a tangent on some wild goose chase, or to bore us all to death.
Unfortunately he’s more interested in going back to a career in the City of London. I can’t really blame him, given the amount of criticism that came his way in the party for various reasons. Still, I do wish that he’d change his mind. Stanley might be the person to do this, but he’s busy sulking in his tent, like Achilles before the walls of Troy. Only less talented, obviously.
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Lady Venetia Montagu, May 27th, 1924.
Today I had a highly discomforting meeting with LG. It seems that the results are finally back in from the various reports that he commissioned when he re-entered the Treasury. Accustomed as I have been, all my life, to the certitude of British industrial might, it seems that we have lost our edge, as it were.
LG said that during the Great War we obviously had to concentrate on a number of things like winning said war and on focussing our economy to meet the challenge of beating the Germans. At the time we therefore lost a number of markets in South America and Asia, with certain key contracts going to obliging American or Japanese firms.
However, after the war was over those areas have not returned to doing business with us. Instead they have kept to our rivals for the simple reason that they made more competitive bids – and our firms not only refused to match them, but tried to offer the same bids as before the war!
In a nutshell, we have somehow become uncompetitive.
It’s the one thing that I never thought that I would ever have to write down. But there are growing signs that our industrial base is not only uncompetitive, but complacent to boot. According to LG Baldwin came to the same conclusion last year, but tried to remedy it with his swing against free trade! In other words he tried to treat the symptoms, but not the disease. Typical of the man.
LG saw my aghast face and then hurried on to stress that he has some ideas of his own to remedy the situation, including creating technical colleges to foster greater industrial creativity and a host of small regulatory measures. But this will take time and money, and the former is not something that we can be sure of as a minority government.
He and I are to meet with Winston again in a week and consider the possibilities. And the dangers. We have to stick things out. If we don’t before LG can put his solutions in place… well, if I know the Tories then anything that LG suggests or creates will be the first thing that they try and drag down if they ever return to power. And the country cannot afford that.
Well, we must stick it out and do our best to stay in power. Our base is sound, and we have won a string of by-elections that have built on that base, but we need more reliable votes in the house than we have at the moment. The Tories are still the largest party, but fortunately they seem to be in the middle of most bitter bout of in-fighting. As for Labour I think that we have succeeded in stealing some of the wind from their sails. We seem to have the momentum now, not they, and LG and I have a few ideas as to how we can go about this…
Letter from Lord Marlborough to Lady Severn and Trent, June 16th, 1924.
Well, the vote looms for the Conservative Party tomorrow – or rather for the MPs. It has been rather interesting watching the whole thing, although I have rather felt as if I have been observing a battle between a set of pygmies over who gets to lord it over a dungheap. Curzon and Birkenhead have been watching matters with a somewhat crestfallen air, as they wonder what might have been if they had not been stuck in the Lords.
I am sorry, my dear, if I appear cynical. However, frankly it has appalled me at the shallowness of the pool of the potential leaders. With Baldwin sulking and Horne off back to the City, then the prospects look rather black. Amery is not the man for the party, and Chamberlain’s hatred for Lloyd George is too blatant. Not the man to lead us into a General Election, where one has to be at least somewhat politic about our opponents.
As for Hoare, the present perception is that he is not the man as he is firstly too clever by half and secondly is correctly perceived as far too willing to rob Peter to pay Paul, or whatever the phrase is.
My money is on Hogg as being the straight-forward, plain, boring if you will candidate – who will do until someone better comes along.
One immense plus is that at least Mosley is no longer a member of the party and therefore cannot stand. I believe that he is currently an independent today. Tomorrow who knows? He might strike thirteen, point North and sound the alarm, for all I know. Your observation that he is a little rodent out for the main chance and who should not be trusted is, I believe, a very accurate one.
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, June 26th, 1924.
Six months today Ramsay died. I can’t quite believe it, even now. Every now and then I find myself thinking that I must tell him about this or that piece of news, only to bring myself up and shake my head at the thought that he is no longer with us.
Instead we have Clynes. The contrast is very great and, I fear, that the man is not up to the job. Ramsay could have got us going, perhaps, might have set us on the road to Government. I’m not sure where that road would have taken us, but at least we would have been moving. Under Clynes we feel becalmed. Now that Arthur Henderson is back in Parliament I can sense the undercurrents stirring as he assesses the options. I have a nasty feeling that Clynes will receive the political equivalent of the Black Spot if he doesn’t improve soon.
Ah well. Parliament will be in recess in a month or so, giving us time to rest and restore ourselves before the King’s Speech when Parliament next sits. I have a hankering to see the sea again and I…
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Lady Venetia Montagu, August 4th, 1924.
Edward dropped in for a quiet sherry this afternoon, to tell me about the latest news from France – such as it is. Apparently Paris tends to empty in July and August, so how they keep the government going is a mystery to many people. At any rate the Ruhr crisis has settled down and life is more settled there.
What was far more interesting was the identity of Edward’s guest at his place in Scotland last weekend – no less than Gustav Stresemann, the German statesman and former foreign minister. Edward said that he invited the man over when he bumped into him in Brussels a few months back, when they spent a quiet few hours relaxing over a drink at the British Embassy.
It was all very informal, but Stresemann came over and Edward taught him how to fly-fish! I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought and Edward smiled and said that the incongruities of the incident had amused him too. But apparently the man is a quiet fanatic of fishing, and had asked about the off-shoot called fly-fishing in Brussels. So the two of then spent several hours in the morning and the evening, up to their hips in water, trying to persuade fish that various feathers and pieces of red thread were in fact mayflies – or whatever mystery it is that Edward likes to do.
Apparently Stresemann caught the same number of fish as Edward, which I think is a testament to the diplomacy of both men.
In the process, however, they both talked about the international situation – in which language they did so I am not sure. However, Edward was able to tell me that with the Ruhr settlement in place the German Government has been able to get a hold on the hyper-inflation situation faster than it had hoped, with less severe repercussions to the economy than they had feared. It wasn’t enough to stop a ridiculous incident of comic-opera stupidity in Munich, where a former corporal called Hitter, or Hilter or something, tried to overthrow the regional government, only for the army to squash the attempt very firmly. Rumour has it that Ludendorff, the former Chief of Staff to the German Army during the Great War, was thinking about getting involved, but changed his mind after he realised how deranged this former NCO was.
Headline, The Daily Bugle, September 2nd, 1924.
Liberals Win Walthamstow East and Portsmouth South – Conservatives and Labour defeated in twin by-elections – Pronounced swing to the Liberal Party
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Lady Venetia Montagu, October 18th, 1924.
Winston and LG spoke at today’s cabinet meeting and they had a great deal of very good news for once. Their negotiations with the various factions in the mining industry – the miners, the mine owners, the safety inspectors and so on – have finally bourn fruit.
The Cabinet had nothing but praise for their patience and forbearance, as there were times when I myself would have liked nothing better than to grab the head of the most Bolshevik mining union leader and smash it into his opposite number from the obdurate mine owners group over their stupidity!
However, the long-drawn out negotiations are over and tomorrow they will be unveiled. It should be rather interesting to see the reactions in certain areas…
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, October 19h 1924.
… Well, you’ve probably seen the papers by now. The Government has pulled off the impossible and gotten a fair pay deal hammered out for the miners, something that I never thought was possible in a month of Sundays. And it is fair. It promises to keep hours as they are, but to increase pay by a pay scale that has to be the handiwork of Lloyd George. It’s covered in Welsh fingerprints, along with a few English ones – Winston’s work as well. The entire Liberal front bench looked deeply sincere and at the same time terribly smug as they announced it.
The Tories promptly damned it with false praise as Hogg proceeded to bore the entire chamber with his lack of eloquence. And Clynes… well, I don’t think that he has recognised the dangers from this, because he welcomed it in rather too woolly a manner. For the first time in a year I realised what we missed in not appointing Ramsay leader of the party. And now it’s too late. I think I can feel something hovering in the air, and I think that it’s the latest cosh that LG and Asquith are going to hit us with.
Diary of Sir Thomas Graham, Conservative MP, October 26th, 1924.
A day of nasty surprises. First of all Curzon is ill, which came as a shock, despite his age. Secondly the Liberals are now by a large margin the biggest party in the House. This sudden boost in their numbers has come from the deal they made with the miners – which was so popular amongst the mining areas that some 30 of the Labour MPs who represented mining constituencies have joined them!
When they took their places behind the Government benches there was a moment of utter shock, followed by absolute bedlam – Liberals cheering, as well they might, Conservatives asking each other what the hell was going on, and Labour members doing the same, albeit at the top of their lungs.
The Liberals now have 270 MPs. We have 224 MPs. Labour is almost back into double figures, with 110 MPs. The odds of us agreeing enough with Labour to vote down the Liberals in a vote of confidence are damned small.
The wind is blowing into the sails of the Liberal Party. Damn.