25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 39

The Baldwin Enigma

The Real Stanley Baldwin. By Wickham Steed. (Nisbet. 7s. 6d.)

MR. WICKIIAM STEED touches no subject that he does mot adorn with originality of thought and expression ; he can put. the heart out of a subject in a few sentences and summarize those few sentences in a penetrating phrase. It was not to be supposed that any political study by him would fail in these qualities, and this book certainly does not fail ; nevertheless, it is unsatisfactory because it does not answer the questions which it poses.

If Mr. Baldwin is really an enigma, as Mr. Steed says, the book leaves him an enigma. Had Mr. Steed told us that his object was to write a concise narrative of the political problems which have clustered round Mr. Baldwin's personality we should have had nothing but praise. Everybody knows that it is easier to acquire summarized information about politics which have become " history " than about politics which are not yet " history." Here is an admirable summary by one who is detached but not unsympathetic. Mr. Steed, however, sets out to suggest solutions of the Baldwin enigma. He begins by asking whether there is a Baldwin enigma, and pointing out that if there is one it exists in the contrast between the words and the deeds of Mr. Baldwin's public career. Before he reaches the end of his book, however, he takes the existence of the enigma for granted. Really " enigma " has become too much of a journalist's word ; it has been overworked and has acquired so many shades of meaning that it does not mean anything definite.

No doubt Mr. Baldwin has failed to :do many things which he expressed a desire to do, but does that justify " enigma " ? We think not. One might as well call Mr. Steed an enigma because he has asked questions which he cannot answer. Life is very difficult ; the reach of all high-minded men exceeds their grasp—but we over-dramatize the facts if we call the usual human contradictions enigmas. If we must talk of enigmas Mr. Gladstone, who was transparently honest yet often equivocal in language, was an enigma. So was Disraeli, who acted a part, yet often laid his heart open like a child. So was Lord Balfour, who thought that he was most positive when he seemed to others most sceptical. One might go on indefinitely with such a list. All that can be said for certain about Mr. Baldwin is that he lacks the art of leadership, which cannot be accurately defined but can always be recognized when it is there, because he was " made like that." In part his willingness to be led when he might lead is due to a too generous loyalty to his friends. No doubt if he had been his own Foreign Minister his policy would have been better than that of Sir Austen Chamberlain, but hardly any mishap, one imagines, would have induced him to displace Sir Austen. He took a leading part in breaking up the Coalition in 1922, but then he was under no such bond of loyalty to Mr. Lloyd George as tied him to those whom he himself later chose as Colleagues.

Mr. Steed gives reasons for thinking that Mr. Bomar Law was never impressed by Mr. Baldwin's abilities. But what- ever Mr. Bonar Law may have thought it is no longer a tenable supposition that Mr. Baldwin arrived where he is with the mere equipment of dilletantism and a lucky horoscope. Mr. Steed, at least, is in no danger of making that mistake. He sees plainly that Mr. Baldwin has great "English" qualities. He is a man of rigid yet attractive probity, a scholar, a man who has much art in the arrangement of the spoken word, a lover of his country, a man of extreme kindliness. In other words, Mr. Baldwin has been carried through by " character." If his motto " Safety First " seemed dull and damping, let it be remembered that he' shrank from exaggeration as from falsehood. Mr. Boner Law had delighted the nation by offering it " Tranquillity " after the rush, clatter, and uncer- tainty of the last months of the Coalition, and Mr. Baldwin may have thought that what was still needed in 1929 was a synonym of Mr. Bonar Law's phrase. He was wrong tactically because the popular mood had changed.

The sum of the matter is that Mr. Baldwin might have given us a " national " policy but did not. Explain this fact as we may, it does not seem to be more of an enigma than the case of other Prime Ministers who rose unexpectedly, were admired for a time, but whose light grew dim. Mr. Steed, however, would not have us end on this note. He suggests that Mr. Baldwin's deeds may yet match his words.