Baldwin by Roy Jenkins Read Free Book Online

Book: Baldwin by Roy Jenkins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Roy Jenkins
Tags: General, Biography & Autobiography
not, but the suggestion was not pressed. They were all offices which indicated that he was held in good regard, but not considered a serious candidate for major political advancement. 1
    Baldwin himself, however, had already raised his sightsrather higher. At the time of Chamberlain’s appointment he had written to his mother: ‘I am pretty certain that I shall be left where I am which is what I wanted, for the only promotion I should care about would be the Exchequer itself which would never be given to a minister of only two years’ experience. I anticipate that Austen will be my new chief, an appointment that will meet with a good deal of criticism.’ 1 Baldwin’s modesty, about which he wrote and spoke frequently, was not excessive.
    The outside offices for which his name was subsequently canvassed were all posts in which Lloyd George took little interest. Baldwin, in the Coalition Government, was a moon who moved with and around the leader of the Conservative Party. With the Sun King himself he had little direct relationship. Of course he saw him occasionally, but rarely if ever alone. During 1918 they met principally at Lord Derby’sbreakfasts, from which Baldwin recorded impressions and interchanges which indicate both that the Prime Minister was a near stranger to him and that he was not above a little daring toadying. On 4 March he wrote: ‘[The breakfasts] give me a good opportunity of studying that strange little genius who presides over us. He is an extraordinary compound.’ And on 15 May, the morning of the Mauricedebate, 2 he recorded: ‘We proceeded thus: S.B.—“You know, PM, that for ten years we have been trying to catch you deviating by an inch from the strict path of veracity and pin you down. We never succeeded. But now others think they have got you and they will find out this afternoon that they have caught you speaking the truth. They will have the shock of their lives.” The little man roared with laughter and it evidently pleased him for he went about afterwards telling the Cabinet that “he had been caught telling the truth”.’ 2
    So indeed it might have pleased him, for as has subsequentlybecome clear, the best that can be said about the debate, from the Prime Minister’s point of view, is that he had one facet of the truth while General Maurice had another. But what is of greater Baldwin significance is the clear indication that at this stage he had developed little of the pervading antipathy towards Lloyd George which was to be the making of his own career.
    Baldwin’s most notable act as Financial Secretary was to write an anonymous letter to
The Times.
It appeared on 24 June 1919. It was of some length and contained a number of
obiter dicta
about the obvious gravity of the crisis through which the nation had passed, the less obvious but equally searching crisis which it still faced, the dangers of living in fools’ paradises and believing that there could be play without work, the crushing burden of debt, and the responsibilities of the wealthy classes. A voluntary levy, he decided, was the answer. The operative part of his letter ran as follows:
I have been considering this matter for nearly two years, but my mind moves slowly; I dislike publicity, and I had hoped that somebody else might lead the way. I have made as accurate an estimate as I am able of the value of my own estate, and have arrived at a total of about £580,000. I have decided to realise 20% of that amount or say £120,000 which will purchase £150,000 of the new War Loan, and present it to the Government for cancellation.
I give this portion of my estate as a thank-offering in the firm conviction that never again shall we have such a chance of giving our country that form of help which is so vital at the present time.
Yours, etc.
    The gesture was generous and public spirited, with an element of naïveté about it. The anonymity (not perhaps best protected by the choice of pseudonym) held just

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