May 7, 1924. Working Men’s Conservative Association and Women’s Unionist Federation Joint Meeting, Sun Hall, Liverpool
This meeting – the first Conservative gathering Churchill had addressed for twenty years – was organised by Sir Archibald Salvidge, who had also organised the last Liverpool meeting of Lord Randolph Churchill in 1893. It marked a major turning point in Churchill’s attempt to rehabilitate himself with the Conservative Party.
This is the first great Conservative meeting I have addressed for twenty years, but for nearly ten years I have been working in close accord in the Cabinet, or outside, with many of the principal leaders of the Conservative party. I do not feel, therefore, that my presence at this meeting need be taken as marking any exceptional or extraordinary departure either by my audience or myself.
I recall that in February, 1922, Mr. Lloyd George, then Prime Minister, wrote to the official chiefs of the Unionist party offering to resign the Premiership, to withdraw from the Government with his followers, and to give whole-hearted support to a Conservative Administration. I, like other prominent National Liberals, was consulted in the drafting of this letter, and agreed thereto. My only regret is that our sincere and well-meant offer was not at the time accepted by our Unionist colleagues. In that event much of the confusion and weakness which has since come upon us all would have been avoided.
Both the Conservative and Liberal parties in succession have, in my opinion, thrown away great opportunities in the last year or so through a sincere but excessive indulgence in purely party feelings and purely party views. If you want to measure how great is the opportunity which the Conservative party have lost, you have only to read Mr. Snowden’s Budget. [Cheers.] Here you find this Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer distributing a great surplus raised by the Conservative party, a surplus gained by the labours and sacrifices of his opponents, and distributing it in the manner most likely to win votes for the Socialistic party at an approaching general election.
This political cuckoo [loud laughter] – if I may without disrespect borrow a metaphor from our tardy spring [laughter] – is strutting about in borrowed plumes. This Socialist, whose life has been one long sneer at the British Empire, is able to appropriate as unearned increment to himself and his friends the whole of the fruits of the toil, the thrift, and the self-denial of his predecessors. Without that constitutional authority which springs from a majority at the polls, and without having had to do a hand’s turn of work or make the slightest effort, he has been placed in a situation where he was able to distribute a surplus for which he had neither toiled nor spun. [Cheers.]
What a pity that the Conservative Administration, who had all the pain and toil of preparing the ground and of gathering the surplus, should have cast itself off from the harvest which was its due, and which might so easily have been its lot. That was one great opportunity lost, and lost through an unwise indulgence in what I will call over-specialised party views.
It was reserved for Mr. Asquith to cast away a second opportunity. After the general election men of all parties turned cordially and even eagerly to a veteran statesman whose sterling qualities, though tried by both extremes of fortune, have always commanded respect. But Mr. Asquith would not help. He proclaimed himself first and last a party man. Assuming airs of superiority for which there was little warrant, Mr. Asquith and his friends declared that all common action with Conservatives was improper, immoral, degrading in the last degree, and not to be thought of in any circumstances. Farther than that, they would place and keep a Socialist minority in office and beg in the most humane manner for any crumb which might fall from their table. [Laughter and cheers.]
Under this guidance the Liberal party deliberately cast away their opportunity of rendering an immense service to the public, and delivered themselves over bound hand and foot to their implacable Socialist foes. How swift are time’s revenges? Only a few months have passed, but now they can appreciate the almost fatal consequences of their failure to place country before party at a fateful juncture.
But what of the future? What is the great danger to our national trade and prosperity with which we are confronted at the present time? It is purely the rapid growth in numbers, in influence, in prestige, of a great body of our fellow citizens who are being taught to repeat and believe in the false doctrines of Socialism, which, if ever seriously put into practice, would reduce this island to chaos and starvation.
Now it is in the face of this danger that I ask: How long are we going to continue to allow the artificially fomented jealousies and quarrels of Conservatives and Liberals to play into the hands of the Socialists? How long are the interests of the country to suffer from sterile party conflicts in the presence of an advancing peril? How long are the Liberals and Conservatives to paralyse each other so that both may be ruled by a Socialist minority?
The deliberate policy of the Socialists is, of course, to prevent any common action between Liberals and Conservatives in order that Socialism may progress and devour the Liberals at leisure. [Laughter.] All their tactics are conceived with this intention.
Take, for instance, the repeal of the so-called McKenna Duties. What was the need of that? What harm were they doing? Who ever claimed that he was being injured by them? The trade was flourishing. Competition both at home and with foreign imports was active. The public consumer was continually receiving better motor-cars at a cheapening price. The revenue was securing two and a half millions per year from articles admittedly a luxury, and the dollar exchange was improved by the restriction of unnecessary purchase in the United States. With all the troubles and difficulties there were in the country, with all this unemployment and discontent, what was the need to pick out these particular duties for immediate repeal?
I will tell you. For the object not of doing good, but of breeding strife, for the squalid and sordid purpose of maintaining the Socialist Government in office by placing a difficulty in the path of Conservative and Liberal co-operation. I am well known in Lancashire, and you would probably describe me as a notorious and unrepentant Free-trader. So is my wife [laughter], – and it is because I am a Free-trader – [“shame” and laughter] – that I regret this aggressive act of pedantry and faction which gives a new stimulus to a great controversy which otherwise was subsiding into its proper place in national affairs.
The industries covered by the McKenna Duties have a serious and legitimate grievance against the State. I say that it is a harsh and rough measure suddenly to strike away the duties and plunge the whole of the arrangements of the industries into confusion, especially when it is the State which for purposes of its own has created these artificial conditions. No doubt there is a great deal of inevitable disturbance and movement in the industrial world, but to add to it needlessly, wantonly, is an extremely callous action. [Cheers.] It is characteristic of the Socialist habit of mind that while they have wonderful theories for humanity in the mass, they care little or nothing about the individual home.
I am of opinion that if those duties were to be removed, not three months’ notice, but three years’ notice should have been given, and that the duties should have been brought down by successive steps over that period. In this way the trades affected would have had an opportunity of adapting themselves to the new conditions, and would not have been subjected to a violent and needless shock.
The attitude of the Government towards Imperial Preference is characterised by the same unnecessary partisanship, and a chilling disdain for the sentiment and interests of the Dominions. Now Mr. Snowden has gone out of his way to denounce the guarantee given to the West India Islands, and used language in the House of Commons, the only effect and the intention of which was to plunge the West Indian sugar industry into uncertainty. Again I ask, what is the object of this gratuitous act of disturbance? Is it not quite obvious that it is a party and political manoeuvre? It is intended to make bad blood between Conservatives and Liberals and to put the Liberals in a position where they can be attacked from both sides, and so fall an easy prey to Socialist designs.
The Budget furnishes an example from beginning to end of Socialistic inconsistency and insincerity. Mr. Snowden has simply remitted taxation to the utmost and left the Exchequer absolutely bare as far as social reform is concerned. If any of these schemes for which Socialists have clamoured so loudly are to be carried forward it can only be by the imposition next year of heavy new direct taxation, which must be deeply damaging to the trade and industry of the country. [Cheers.]
But this is only one illustration. The present Government is one vast monument of sham and humbug. It presumes to speak in the name of the people. It represents less than one-third of the electors. It maintains itself in office precariously by playing upon the jealousies and divisions of the two older parties and by giving a sop now and again to the Liberals. Sometimes it offers what you might call an inverted sop, pleasing the Conservatives by offending the Liberals, or pleasing the Liberals by irritating the Conservatives. There never has been such a condition of log-rolling and intrigue.
The Government has no political principles. It is purely an opportunist party living perforce from hand to mouth and from day to day. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald is assiduously courting France and Belgium. [Laughter.] This is the same Mr. Ramsay MacDonald who has solemnly testified- and I am making no imputation upon the sincerity of his convictions, because he certainly was ready to suffer for them-that in his opinion France was who was wrong in the war and provoked it, and that Germany was innocent and guiltless in the most unscrupulous manner.
Everywhere they let it be understood they had some great remedy or scheme which would improve the position and put an end to this lamentable state of affairs. Yet although the session is half over it is perfectly clear that they have no scheme or plan for dealing with unemployment except to go on in a more or less feeble way with the plans and schemes for unemployment of the Liberal and Tory parties in the past. As for housing, they propose, I understand, to build fewer houses next year-if they are there to build them – [Laughter] – than the wicked, reactionary Coalition Government were building three years ago.
I say that these are examples of political inconsistencies beyond compare in modern life. While the Socialist Ministers are priding themselves on doing the same sort of thing that Liberal and Conservative Governments would have done, while they have put themselves off in practice and in office from their wild theories, they tell us in the same breath that they believe in those theories as ardently as ever, and that they are only waiting for an opportunity to put them into force. Somebody is being deceived. [Cheers.] Either it is the public, who are lulled into a sense of false security, or it is the Socialist party, if they allow their creed to be repudiated by their leaders for the sake of office.
It is time this farce should end. [Loud cheers.] The truth is that Socialism in England is permeated from end to end with humbug. The leaders do not believe in the doctrines they preach. They do not weigh with them for one moment in comparison with the prospect of obtaining office or retaining office. They cater for one side of their followers with every argument of Christianity and altruism, while another set receive instruction in the Socialist Sunday school in the vilest garbage of atheism and revolution. [Cheers.]
They are a minority holding office on sufferance, and are always claiming fair play for themselves. What fair play do they show to others? Even the elementary right of free speech has been challenged by the Socialist party in a manner unknown to this country for generations. No word of censure of this rowdyism has been spoken by their leaders. I read a speech delivered by the Solicitor General at Leeds on Sunday. No doubt it would be Sunday. [Laughter.] The Socialist Solicitor General was so shocked at a body called the British Fascisti having intervened to prevent the supporters of his Government from breaking up Sir Donald Maclean’s meeting that he said that the proceedings of this body appeared to him and other high authorities to be highly seditious, and might indeed require the intervention of the Law Officers of the Crown. Sir Henry Slesser, if he asked some of his friends and supporters, would find them good judges. But what an illustration of the kind of mentality with which we have to deal!
But my gravest accusation against the Socialist party is that they are deliberately and wantonly corrupting the character of the British nation. If their only object is to carry out practical reforms without revolution or disorder what is the need and what is the sense of teaching great masses of great-hearted English people to perform the antics and grimaces of Continental Socialism, to mouth the exploded doctrines of Karl Marx, to sing or drone that dreary dirge the Socialist International instead of the National Anthem [cheers], – and to be proud of the Red Flag instead of the Union Jack?
The harm that has been done already is very great. Nearly a third of the electorate has been marshalled around these foreign standards and taught to regard the institutions, the history, and the greatness of our country and Empire as if they were odious means of oppression to be repudiated or swept away at the earliest possible moment.
My proposal or policy which you have allowed me to lay before you to-night is simple and plain. I do not seek, as has been suggested, to bring division to the Conservative party. God forbid! It is a reinforcement, not a division. I propose to you that we should return to the arrangement offered to the Conservative party by the National Liberals in the spring of 1922 -and it was also the position in 1886 of the Liberal Unionists -that is to say, a strong and active Conservative party united under its own leaders with a Liberal wing co-operating in whatever may be found most useful and helpful for the national and common interest and honourable principles.
Co-operation means that we should make common causes, that we should stand together, and, laying aside every impediment, that we should fight shoulder to shoulder in the endeavour by every means in our power to secure the defeat of Socialism at the polls.
Such co-operation would also involve the adherence by the Conservative party to the broad progressive platform of public policy such as their leaders have now definitely adopted and formally and definitely proclaimed. That is the road to victory, it is the only road to victory of the cause which we have at heart.