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Thursday, December 18, 1997 Published at 15:54 GMT

Special Report

Formative Years, Into Parliament, Lloyd George
image: [ Baldwin at ease with workers at the family firm ]
Baldwin at ease with workers at the family firm

Formative years

Stanley Baldwin was born in 1867, the only child of a Worcestershire ironworks owner. His father was a local MP; his mother was an invalid. The family was Methodist and Baldwin himself was strongly religious.

After attending Cambridge University, where to his later regret he spent most of his time "idling", Baldwin joined the family firm in 1888. This period of his life was important in his political development as it combined the paternalistic factory owner with the setting of rural England.

The former gave him real experience of working people, an understanding that later caused Labour leader Clement Attlee to say of Baldwin: "I always felt that although he disagreed with us, he understood better than any man on the [Conservative] side the reasons and emotions that inspired our actions."

[ image: At home in the country]
At home in the country
And the latter element, the countryside and the rural way of life, inspired Baldwin's view of what England was and what it should be.

In one speech he evoked "the sounds of England, the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil in the country smithy, the corncrake on a dewy morning, the sound of a scythe against a whetstone and the sight of a ploughteam coming across the brow of a hill ... for centuries the one eternal sight of England."

Into Parliament

Baldwin's father Alfred was MP for Worcestershire Bewdley and in 1906 Stanley stood in neighbouring Kidderminster but was defeated in the Liberal landslide.

Two years later, however, Alfred Baldwin died and Stanley assumed the seat unopposed. He was to hold it for nearly 30 years.

Baldwin's early Commons career was far from outstanding. He made only five proper speeches between 1908 and the outbreak of war in 1914.

He was thought to be a safe pair of hands, however, and became a junior minister in 1917 at the relatively advanced age of 49.

While a minister, Baldwin proved that his commitment to his country was not just romantic. In 1919, he anonymously donated the then huge sum of 150,000 - a fifth of his wealth - to the nation to help pay off the war debt.

He had hoped others would follow suit to the tune of 1bn, but in this he was to be disappointed, with only 500m being raised by the campaign.

The dominant political figure of this era was David Lloyd George and Baldwin played a significant part in his downfall. He had been promoted to the Cabinet in 1921 as President of the Board of Trade but detested the corruption which surrounded the Prime Minister.

[ image: Tory MPs leave the Carlton Club]
Tory MPs leave the Carlton Club
Lloyd George led a coalition government and in 1922 the Conservatives had a debate at the Carlton Club on whether to continue supporting him.

The party's grandees and most of its ministers wanted to support the coalition but the rank and file did not.

The meeting was turned by Baldwin's speech, in which he attacked the Prime Minister as a "dynamic force" who had smashed the Liberals to pieces and who would do the same to the Conservatives.

The vote went Baldwin's way and Lloyd George resigned.

Overview: Stanley Baldwin - a little-known Prime Minister

Part 2: Prime Minister Baldwin, the General Strike and "Safety First"

Part 3: National Government, Abdication Crisis and the Failure to Re-arm

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