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The National Government of 1931

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Film broadcast by Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin in 1931.
©British Film Institute

Full transcript of the film "Rt. Hon Stanley Baldwin"

Duration: 0:05:17

The Rt. Hon. Stanley Baldwin delivers a speech

Text slide: The Rt. Hon. STANLEY BALDWIN
Image shows Stanley Baldwin sat in front of microphones.
Audio: Every voter must remember that the future destinies of the country and of the Empire rest upon his or her decision. 

The country is face to face with a grave crisis and the simple issue is this: whether the electors at a time of grave national crisis, a time of national emergency, are going to entrust the Government of the country to the party which brought us to the verge of ruin and then ran away because they had not the courage to face up to the crisis. Or are they going to put their trust in the leaders of the three parties who have joined together in order to carry through a great policy of national reconstruction and international reconciliation, and set our country once more on the road to better times. 

On the one side are Mr. Henderson's Socialists, who by their extravagance wrecked the financial stability of the country. And when faced with the responsibility of taking the necessary measures to save a crash in the value of the pound, which would have brought suffering and privation to all classes in the country, deserted their post through fear of the consequences, and left it to those who were prepared to put country before party, to rescue the nation from the impending disaster. 

On the other side stands the National Government led by the Prime Minister Mr. MacDonald who had the courage to put country before party and refused to desert the ship in the hour of need.

The National Government asked for a free hand to carry out the steps that are necessary to restore our trade and to establish our credit on a firm and permanent footing. With a free hand we have power to use tariffs as a means to restore the trade balance. We have power to enter into trade agreements with the Dominions in order that we may find new markets for our manufactures in the Empire. We have power to take effective action to rescue agriculture from its present plight.

I have no doubt as to the answer which the country will give. The return of Socialist government today would bring down upon our country the very catastrophe which was so narrowly averted last August. The only way to avert that disaster and to set our country on its feet again is to return a National Government consisting of men of all parties resolutely determined to put the national interests first.

In October 1929 the Wall Street Crash sent the US economy into turmoil. A worldwide economic depression followed. The government tried to implement schemes to create employment, but achieved very little.

As well as the economy, politics was in turmoil at this time. In the 1929 general election, although not in an overall majority, the Conservative Party won the most seats in the House of Commons. Ramsay MacDonald became Labour Prime Minister but was forced to depend on the Liberals in the House of Commons to pass legislation.

MacDonald was from the moderate wing of the Labour Party and his attempts to work with the Liberals caused problems between him and the more radical elements of Labour. MacDonald felt that he had to cut government spending to keep the country solvent through these hard times but many Labour MPs could not reconcile themselves with this idea.

Striking London dockers gather outside union offices in 1931.
Striking London dockers gather outside union offices in 1931.
©TopFoto

In 1931 there was no improvement in the economic situation and there was real danger the government would not be able to balance its budget. Facing serious difficulties, the government was forced to make hard choices. One option was to introduce tariffs on goods coming into the country to raise revenue and protect British industry from competition. The downside of this was that it might lead other countries to do the same, making it harder for British industries to export. Another option was a 20 per cent cut in unemployment benefit. The Cabinet was split on these issues and in August 1931 Ramsay MacDonald resigned as Prime Minister.

Formation of the National Government

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Conservative party political broadcast from 1931 called The Right Spirit.
©British Film Institute

Full transcript of the film "The Right Spirit"

Duration: 0:09:23 The animation starts with a hand drawing the scene of the MacDonald and Co.
garage, which then comes to life. The scene looks rather run down and dirty and
has signs around the garage such as 'BROKEN LABOUR PROMISES',
'SPEADTHRIFTS', SOCIALIST WIND' and 'CLOG STOPS THE WORKS'. John
Bull brings his car to the garage for petrol. MacDonald, representing the Labour
Party, offers John Bull a mixture of 'DOLE', 'FOREIGN DUMPING' and
'INCREASED TAXES'. He also pumps the tyre full of 'SOCIALIST HOT AIR' and
when John asks 'HOW MUCH?' MacDonald replies 'BAD TRADE - HIGH
PRICES'.

As John Bull drives away, the words 'DEPRESSION IN INDUSTRY',
'BANKRUPT INSURANCE FUND', 'UNEMPLOYMENT DOUBLED', 'NO HOPE',
'NO CONFIDENCE' and 'NO WORK' come from the bad of the car. Then the car
comes to a complete stop. John Bull walks up a hill to Lloyd and Co. garage,
representing the Liberal Party, but doesn't receive any better treatment.

When Lloyd George tries to start his service van a spider with the word
'UNEMPLOYMENT' on it keeps jumping on to him and retreating back to its web,
even when he swots it away several times. Then the service van's tyre falls off.

TEXT SLIDE: 'THIS IS WORSE THAN THE LAST!' SAYS JOHN BULL, AND
GOES TO PROSPERITY GARAGE.'

At Baldwin's Prosperity garage, representing the Conservative Party, John Bull
gets treated very differently. The garage looks much tidier and cleaner and has
signs around it such as 'I RESTORE HOPE AND CONFIDENCE', ' NO
DUMPING OF FOREIGN BOUNTY' and 'CURE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT'.
Baldwin tows John Bull's car to his garage.

TEXT SLIDE: 'THE FIRST THING TO DO SAYS MR. BALDWIN IS TO EMPTY
THE TANK AND GET RID OF THE RUBBISH.'

Baldwin removes the petrol and out comes 'DEPRESSION IN INDUSTRY AND
AGRICULTURE', 'DUMPING OF FOREIGN FRUIT AND VEGETABLES',
'INCREASED TAXATION', ADDITIONAL BURDENS OF TAXATION' and
'INSURANCE FUND BANKRUPTCY'.

TEXT SLIDE: "NOW TO FILL THE TANK WITH SOME REAL GOOD SPIRIT!"

Baldwin then fills the tank with a combination of 'REDUCED TAXES', 'EMPIRE
UNITY' and 'SAFEGUARDING'.

TEXT SLIDE: "......AND SOME OIL THAT IS OIL!"

He pours some 'CONFIDENCE OIL' into a jug and then into the car.

TEXT SLIDE: " .... AND A TYRE THAT WILL LAST!"

Baldwin replaces the 'SOCIALIST HOT AIR' tyre with a 'BALDWIN'S
PROTECTED TYRE'. John Bull pays and they shake hands.

As John Bull drives away smiling the words 'EMPLOYMENT', 'SAFEGUARDING',
'PROSPERITY' and 'THE RIGHT SPIRIT' come out of the back of his car.

The scene fades.

TEXT SLIDE: ' THE NEXT PICTURE WILL BE SHOWN IN TWO MINUTES'.

 

 

On 24 August the King asked MacDonald to form another government. This time, believing it best for the country, MacDonald formed a National Government with ministers from the Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties. The majority of the Labour party refused to support the National Government, expelling members who supported it.

Despite the National Government winning a landslide victory in the October 1931 election, MacDonald remained almost a hate figure for trade unions and the Labour Party. When the Conservative leader, Stanley Baldwin, was put in charge of most domestic politics, the situation worsened. Although Ramsay MacDonald was the first Labour Prime Minister in British history, the harsher critics see him as a traitor to the Labour movement.