Summer 1926 (Age 51)

“What The Pig Likes”

After the General Strike, Baldwin asked Churchill to join the Cabinet Committee on Coal. Churchill spent the rest of the summer unsuccessfully attempting to mediate a settlement. Churchill, in fact, felt betrayed by the mine owners. As Sir Martin Gilbert writes, “On June 15 the Government informed the Commons that it had decided to introduce a Bill legalizing an eight-hour working day in the mines, and that, in return, the mine owners had promised to put forward definite wage offers in each district within a national framework.”

The mine owners subsequently reneged on their agreement. Churchill, by now de facto head of the Coal Committee in Baldwin’s absence abroad due to an attack of lumbago, chastised the owners in what the Committee’s secretary described in his diary as a “Ding-dong debate at No. 10 between Winston and Evan Williams,” the mine owners’ representative: “I am quite sure of this, that if we had known that following the passage of the Eight Hours Bill into law a new obstacle to a settlement, a new complication, would arise through the closing of one of those doors to peace we never should have passed the Bill or proceeded with it. Therefore, if you take up the attitude that…there can be no national negotiations of any kind…I do think you will see that we shall have been placed in a position which is from our point of view at any rate, extremely unfortunate and even, as it might be thought, unfair….”

When Williams denied there was ever a link between the Eight Hours Bill and a national framework for agreement, Churchill shot back: “I cannot possibly accept that. ” Mine owners, he said, well knew of the linkage and had said nothing at the time: “You singularly failed to undeceive us.”

Churchill proposed to Baldwin that the Government “amend the Eight Hours Act so as to deny its indulgence to any pit which does not conform to certain conditions.” But, in the event, Baldwin agreed with those Tories who were critical of what they perceived to be Churchill’s sympathies for the mine workers, and did nothing.

One Committee member observed that Churchill was “jolly difficult when he’s in a Napoleonesque attitude, dictating instructions in military metaphors, and the spotlight full on him….he is a most brilliant fellow, but his gifts aren’t those of judgment, nor of appreciating industry, nor of a negotiator.” Another participant gave a milder report: “I don’t think Winston’s activities are at present beyond what the circumstances of the situation call for, or are actuated by any desire for self-advertisement.”

Even his closest friend, Lord Birkenhead, was critical, writing in a telegram: “I am not happy about your attitude….Why should we impose upon owners national settlement if they are strong enough to obtain district settlements?” Finally, while not offering her opinion on the merits, even his wife Clementine offered a gentle suggestion on how to treat his cabinet colleagues on the Committee: “You are having an anxious but a thrilling & engrossing time with power & scope which is what the Pig likes….I suppose Steel-Maitland and Lane-Fox are not often allowed near the trough? I hope you let them have a tit-bit now & again. If the Cat were Minister of Labour or Mines she would not give up her place there without a few ‘miaows.'”

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