Stanley Baldwin: On England (1926)
by The Editor
Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, KG PC FRS served as Prime Minister (1923-1924, 1924-1929, 1935-1937) as a One Nation Conservative. Leading a unifying party, his articulate speeches displayed an abiding patriotism both evocative and georgic. His 1926 speech 'On England' showed his rhetorical abilities and love for his King-Emperor's country.
When the first Reform Bill, a little over a century ago, was passed, the bulk of the Tories, as they then called themselves, believed they would be excluded from power for ever, and that the country and the Empire would be destroyed. I am old enough to remember the Reform Bill of 1885 and the giving of the franchise to the agricultural labourer. Sixteen years there was universal suffrage, since when the Tory Party has been the greatest numerical party in that combination--and in my view for this reason, that the Tory Party has always been a National Party. I do not mean a class party I mean a party that acts for all classes. Disraeli laid our principles down at the Crystal Palace many years ago, and you cannot go wrong if you stick to them. There were: ‘the maintenance of our institutions and of our religion; the preservation of our Empire, and the improvement in the condition of our people’. If there is one other thing which Disraeli stressed--and I think when I joined the Primrose League we all took it very much for granted, and I dare say many of us wondered why he did stress it was the maintenance of religion. I do not know how far Disraeli had in his mind the continuation of the establishment of the Church of England, although at that time I daresay it did play a part in what he was thinking, because in those days there were attacks of great weight made against the establishment of the Church of England. But I have always interpreted that word myself in the widest sense. I little thought, as you can have little thought in those days before the War, that we should live to see ministers of the Gospel--and I use that word in its widest sense--suffering for their belief in countries that we had believed to be civilised. I wish to say no more about this but I do not want you to lose sight of certain anti-Christian movements in Europe at the present moment, and to resolve firmly that in this country at least there shall not be one inch of ground that shall even be ceded to those who fight the battle against whatever we may mean by religion.
But all these things of which I have spoken--your Empire, India, your industries at home, your defensive forces--are of no effect without a unity of spirit amongst our people at home. And it is for that reason that I an my colleagues are devoting a great deal of our attention now, while we are still in opposition, to see what means we can suggest and devise to make it more difficult to indulge in the luxury of industrial disputes in this country. Something may be done by legislation; but whatever may be proposed and whatever may be effected can never succeed until you can drive out of men’s minds that militarist spirits which exists in industry, and can replace it by that spirits of goodwill to their own fellow-countrymen which any of those who talk most of goodwill towards foreigners fail to preach. We know in our Party, and we are in full sympathy with, the aspirations of our people after the War--we know what lies beneath so much of the unrest.
Disraeli said that you can never achieve success without comprehension of the spirit of the age. The spirit of this age is a spirit restless and dissatisfied, and yet that restlessness and dissatisfaction do not arise wholly from motives otherwise than good. One of the right motives is the desire that the bulk of the men and women of this country should be able to enter into the wonderful heritage that science and knowledge and education have opened in all branches of learning, to all those who can take advantage of it, during the last generation. It is a hunger for better things, and it will be our duty to do what we can to make it easier for our people to satisfy that most legitimate hunger. That brotherhood which Conservatives and Unionists have among ourselves, and feel towards every class, will do far more to realise the ideals of our people than that preaching of class hatred which, though we hear little of it in the House of Commons, provides the motive force in many of the constituencies which returned the Labour Party to power. To me, England is the country, and the country is England. And when I ask myself what I mean by England, when I think of England when I am abroad, England comes to me through my various sense--through the ear, through the eye, and through certain imperishable scents. I will tell you what they are, and there may be those among you who feel as I do.
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 the scythe against the whetstone, and the sight of a plough team coming over the brow of a hill, the sign that has been seen in England since England was a land, and may be seen in England long after the Empire has perished and every works in England has ceased to function, for centuries the one eternal sight of England. The wild anemones in the woods in April, the last load at night of hay being drawn down a lane as the twilight comes on, when you can scarcely distinguish the figures of the horses as they take it home to the farm, and above all, most subtle, most penetrating and most moving, the smell of wood smoke coming up in an autumn evening, or the smell of the scutch fires: that wood smoke that our ancestors, thens of thousands of years ago, must have caught on the air when they were coming home with the result of the day’s forage, when they were still nomads, and when they were still nomads, and when they were still roaming the forests and the plains of the continent of Europe. These things strike down into the very depths of our nature, and touch chords that go back to the beginning of time and the human race, but they are chords that with every years of our life sounds a deeper note in our innermost being....The love of these things is innate and inherent in our people. It makes for that love of home, one of the strongest features of our race, and it is that that makes our race seek its new home in the Dominions overseas, where they have room to see things like this that they can no more see at home. It is that power of making homes, almost peculiar to our people, and it is one of the sources of their greatness. They go overseas, and they take with them what they learned at home: love of justice, love of truth, and the broad humanity that are so characteristic of English people.