The truth about Stanley Baldwin and appeasement

Detailed research by historians has shattered the long prevalent myth that Baldwin failed to stand up to Hitler. However, the truth has yet to be fully recognised in some quarters. An article published inThe Times on 29 January was a case in point. Alistair Lexden replied to it in a letter published on 31 January. Two sentences—at the end of the first paragraph—were excised from the published version on grounds of space. The full letter appears below.

Sir, Max Hastings (Comment,  Jan. 29) rightly pays tribute to “the calming influence” exercised by  Stanley Baldwin, the first Tory leader to speak of “one nation”, who was often invoked by Sir John Major as an inspiration for his achievements(letter, Jan.30). But Honest Stan ought not to be “viewed with contempt because of his identification with appeasement”.  He should be praised for launching an ambitious rearmament programme in the teeth of widespread political opposition in an attempt to bring Hitler to heel—a mission not helped by Churchill’s habit of exaggerating German capabilities. Forty-one new RAF squadrons were commissioned in 1934, and another 39 the next year. Professor Philip Williamson’s deeply researched Stanley Baldwin: Conservative leadership and national values (1999) concludes that Baldwin “chose to plan for a possible war in the medium term (1939 and later) and  in the short term to build a deterrent air force, while seeking to tie Hitler down to negotiated agreements. It cannot be assumed that if Churchill had been in his position his actions—rather than his words—would have been much different”.

In his years of glory after 1939, Churchill encouraged people to view Baldwin with contempt, but in 1935 he described the prime minister who had brought him out of the political wilderness by making him chancellor in 1924, as “a statesman who has gathered a greater volume of confidence and goodwill than any other man I recollect in my long public career”. Baldwin is now rightly commemorated by a fine statute in his native Bewdley, unveiled last year.

Lord Lexden
Conservative Party historian