Accounts from Harold Wilson, Stanley Baldwin and the men who knew themby Ian Irvine / December 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
In his diary on 10th December 1936, the Labour MP Harold Nicolson described Stanley Baldwin’s announcement to the Commons of Edward VIII’s abdication, which soon set in train Baldwin’s exit:
“The prime minister rises. He tells the whole story… The ‘Hear, Hears!’ echo solemnly like Amens. There is no moment when he… indulges in oratory. There is an intense silence broken only by the reporters in the gallery scuttling away to telephone the speech paragraph by paragraph. I suppose in after-centuries men will read over the words… and exclaim, ‘What an opportunity wasted!’ They will never know the tragic force of its simplicity. ‘I said to the King…’ ‘The King told me…’ It was Sophoclean and almost unbearable. We file out broken in body and soul, conscious that it was the best speech that we shall ever hear… There was no question of applause. It was the silence of Gettysburg.
“I went off to the library to sign some letters… I bumped straight into Baldwin in a corridor. It was impossible not to say something. I murmured a few kind words. He took me by the arm. ‘You are very kind,’ he said, ‘but what did you really think of it?’ I detected in him that intoxication that comes to a man… after a triumphant success. ‘It was superb,’ I answered. ‘I regretted only that Hitler, Mussolini and Lord Beaverbrook had not been in the Peers’ Gallery.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it was a success. I know it. It was almost wholly unprepared. I had a success, my dear Nicolson, at the moment I most needed it. Now is the time to go.’”
How others responded
Baldwin had already decided to resign during the summer after a bout of nervous exhaustion. In April 1937 he announced that he would retire following the coronation of George VI.
Winston Churchill, a strong critic of Baldwin for his seeming blindness to the German threat, wrote to a friend:
“I am glad Baldwin is going. I think we shall come to some real and straightforward politics now that he is out of the way.”
Nicolson observed of Baldwin’s final appearance in the Commons:
“I arrive… to hear Baldwin make his last statement amid loud applause. With characteristic subtlety, he does it in the…