Carlton Club meeting
|Date||19 October 1922|
|Location||The Carlton Club|
|Participants||Conservative Members of Parliament|
The Carlton Club meeting, on 19 October 1922, was a formal meeting of Members of Parliament who belonged to the Conservative Party, called to discuss whether the party should remain in government in coalition with a section of the Liberal Party under the leadership of Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The party leadership favoured continuing, but the party rebels led by Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin argued that participation was damaging the party. The meeting voted decisively against the Coalition, which resulted in its collapse, the resignation of Austen Chamberlain as party leader, and the invitation of Bonar Law to form a Government. The Conservatives subsequently won the general election with an overall majority.
The Conservatives and Liberals, traditional rivals, had first come together in a coalition government during the First World War in 1915 under H. H. Asquith. A crisis of confidence in December 1916 led to Asquith's replacement by David Lloyd George, and the Liberal Party split between supporters of the two with Asquith's faction going into increasingly open opposition. The coalition continued after the end of the war with the 'Coalition Coupon' election, delivering a large majority for the coalition, although most coalition supporters were Conservatives. Lloyd George was never personally popular with Conservatives, and the government's introduction of Liberal policies led several Conservative MPs to go into opposition over the next four years. In October 1922, the overall state of the parties in Parliament was:
|'Coalition Labour' or NDP||11|
Conservative discontent with the Coalition was maximised by the sudden diplomatic crisis with Turkey and Lloyd George's willingness to see war over the Turkish threat to the British and French troops stationed at Çanakkale. The Foreign Secretary in the coalition government, Lord Curzon, was a Conservative but was absent when the Cabinet agreed a strong response. Curzon knew that the response would cause a diplomatic breach with France where the Prime Minister was friendly towards the Turks; in fact, the French had already ordered their troops' withdrawal. At the last minute, Curzon arranged with the French to negotiate an armistice rather than withdraw. The incident also caused some of the Dominion governments to protest. Conservatives blamed Lloyd George personally for a needless confrontation.
Calling of the meeting
Amid increasing public attacks on the Coalition and on Lloyd George personally, the Cabinet on 10 October decided to call a general election as a Coalition. Austen Chamberlain and David Lloyd George both arranged to speak at public meetings in defence of the Coalition. Opinion from the Conservative Party membership was reported to say that holding a general election as a Coalition would split the party, but there was speculation that if Lloyd George were replaced by a Conservative as Prime Minister, the situation might be different. Chamberlain, in his speech in Birmingham on 13 October, asserted that the Coalition was united and that Lloyd George had behaved with perfect loyalty to the Conservatives in it. He also stated that he did not intend to call a meeting for Conservatives to decide their attitude to the coalition.
On 15 October Chamberlain called a meeting of all Conservative Members of the House of Commons, to ask for a vote of confidence in his leadership and in the continuation of the coalition. Chamberlain intended that a common electoral programme be agreed for the general election and the precise details be settled after the expected victory despite the fact that Lloyd George had specifically opposed that in his speech.
Events prior to the meeting
Before the meeting there was particular speculation about the position of Bonar Law. He had been Leader of the Conservative Party for ten years, resigning both the leadership and his Government post in 1921 due to ill health, and he retained a large following within the party. On 7 October, a letter from Bonar Law was published by The Times, outlining his views on future British policy in the Near East, which differed from that of the Coalition. While his attendance at the meeting was not certain as his health was still poor, the driving factor for Bonar Law was thought to be Conservative Party unity. Bonar Law made up his mind the day before to go to the meeting, and to oppose the Coalition there.
Preparing for the meeting, several groups of Conservative MPs met to discuss the situation. Leo Amery, who disliked the idea of a Coalition which existed only for the "negative policy of anti-Socialism", called a meeting of 17 Conservative ministers on 16 October, at which he found many wanted Lloyd George deposed. Chamberlain heard of the meeting and accused Amery of plotting against him; Amery said that he was trying to arrange a compromise. On 18 October, Amery told chief whip Leslie Wilson that the coalition's future should be decided by a party meeting after the election; Wilson obtained Chamberlain's agreement. Also on that day, about 80 Conservative MPs met under Sir Samuel Hoare; they supported independence in the election with possible post-election co-operation with Coalition Liberals. This group organised a delegation to Bonar Law to persuade him to oppose the coalition and drafted a motion for the Carlton Club meeting.
Simultaneously with the crisis, there was a by-election campaign underway in the borough of Newport caused by the death of the sitting Coalition Liberal MP. The general expectation among the press was that the Labour Party would win. The poll was held on 18 October and counted immediately after with the result being declared at 2 AM. Conservative candidate Reginald Clarry won the seat, with the Liberal candidate finishing a poor third. Because of the timing, only two London newspapers were able to cover the result in much detail, but The Times gave it particular prominence including a leader, which described it as a "complete condemnation of the Coalition Government" and vindicating the anti-Coalition Conservatives.
The meeting itself
There was a large turnout of Members of Parliament to the meeting, which began at 11 AM on 19 October in the Carlton Club, with at least 286 present. At least 11 MPs were absent abroad on the day, none of whom were supporters of the Coalition. Many of those arriving at the meeting were still shocked by recently learning of the Newport result. It was noted that Chamberlain was rather coldly received, in contrast to Bonar Law and Baldwin. Although the meeting was private, a report was issued to the press by Conservative Central Office immediately after.
According to this report, Chamberlain as chair began by complaining that the "storm of attack and criticism" over the Chanak Crisis had weakened Britain's influence and undermined its authority. Chamberlain referred to the imminent general election and the need to unify the party, saying that the Coalition could not continue as it was and a critical decision was needed. Explaining that the real fight was not between Conservative and Liberal but between those who stand for individual freedom and those who are for the socialisation of the state, he asserted that it was not a moment to break with old allies and that it would be impossible to get a majority against the Labour Party without cooperation with the Liberals. He then rejected the idea of "half-hearted cooperation" in which the Conservatives would split with the Liberals after the election if they were able to form a government on their own. Chamberlain concluded that it would be arbitrary and mad to split from the Liberals "in face of the danger which confronts us".
Chamberlain was followed by Stanley Baldwin, who put forward the views of the anti-coalition ministers. He openly threatened to stand as an Independent Conservative in the election if the coalition continued and criticised the decision to call an election without consulting the party. Baldwin referred to the description of Lloyd George as "a dynamic force" and noted that the result of that force was the destruction of his own Liberal Party; he feared that the same destruction would be visited on the Conservative Party in time. As evidence he referred to the fact that both he and Chamberlain were prepared to "go into the wilderness" should the meeting go against them, a division he attributed to Lloyd George personally. This was famously summed up in his phrase: "a dynamic force can be a terrible thing".
Veteran MP Captain Ernest Pretyman spoke next, opposing the Coalition and asserting that the issues of the day could "best be met by Conservative principles rather than by a Coalition of which many members are very doubtful". Believing that the Conservative Party should come out on its own, he moved a resolution:
|“||That this meeting of Conservative members of the House of Commons declares its opinion that the Conservative Party, whilst willing to cooperate with Coalition Liberals, fights the election as an independent party, with its own leader and its own programme.||”|
The motion was seconded by George Lane-Fox, who said that it was impossible for a coalition to have principles. He believed it would be wrong to pretend to the electors that the Conservative Party was independent when it was intended that the Coalition would continue as before. Frank Mildmay regarded some of the criticism of Lloyd George as unfair and unpatriotic but referred to a previous speech by Chamberlain that declared that the Government should not go into an election as a coalition. He referred to his history as a Liberal Unionist and paid tribute to the measures introduced by Conservatives and Liberal Unionists in Coalition governments but appealed for "real true fidelity to the principles" of the Unionist Party. Sir Henry Craik also spoke in support of fighting the election independently, believing the party had not fully exercised its influence in Government.
Bonar Law then spoke, admitting it was only at the last minute he decided to come to the meeting. He described the idea of the Coalition fighting and winning an election and the Conservatives then asking Lloyd George to resign in favour of Chamberlain as dishonourable since winning the election would be a mandate for Lloyd George. Bonar Law had no fear of a Labour Government being elected and thought continuing the Coalition would help Labour by making it the only credible opposition. He then described the split in the Conservative Party in which many members had refused to stand as Coalition supporters and said that carrying out Chamberlain's intentions would repeat what happened when Robert Peel repealed the Corn Laws: a split in which "the body that is cast off will slowly become the Conservative Party, but it will take a generation before it gets back to the influence which the party ought to have". He concluded by referring to the replacement of Asquith by Lloyd George because of the loss of confidence in Asquith's ability to win the war and stated that he had the same feeling now about Lloyd George.
One section of Bonar Law's speech was suppressed from the official report. In it Bonar Law accepted that he was "an opportunist" and that the smashing of the Liberal Party by Lloyd George "did not disturb me a bit".
Bonar Law was followed by the Earl of Balfour, the former Prime Minister, who made a speech in support of the Coalition. He dismissed the suggestion that Lloyd George was insinuating Liberal principles onto the Conservative ministers and believed that breaking up the Coalition would destroy the machinery that would best tackle future political issues and artificially revive the two-party system. He concluded by strongly urging the meeting to support its leader, at which there were cries of "Bonar Law!". Colonel Leslie Wilson, the Chief Whip of the Conservative Party and a junior Minister in the Coalition, said that it would be impossible for any member of the Government to take the course proposed by Chamberlain; if asked at the election whether he would serve under Lloyd George if the Conservatives won a majority, his answer would have to be 'No'.
After James Fitzalan Hope made an attempt to adjourn the meeting until the following day, Sir A. Shirley Benn spoke of his recollection that the Coalition was to last one Parliament only. Lord Hugh Cecil urged a straight vote on whether there should be a Conservative policy supporting a Conservative Prime Minister, or a Coalition policy supporting Lloyd George. Chamberlain intervened from the Chair to accept that proposition and accepted that Pretyman's motion embodied it. He persuaded James Fitzalan Hope to withdraw his motion for an adjournment and then began to put Pretyman's motion to the vote. Wilfrid Ashley quickly intervened to point out that those supporting the motion were in favour of a Conservative Prime Minister and a Conservative government.
The vote was taken by cards marked with the name of the MP, and the result was announced as follows:
There were also many deliberate abstentions. A list of the votes of each Conservative Member of Parliament was among the papers left by Austen Chamberlain and was later analysed. Historian Michael Kinnear noted that MPs voted according to a clear pattern, with those in traditionally Liberal areas supporting the Coalition, while those in safe Conservative seats opposed it. The Coalition's strongest supporters were in Scotland, East Lancashire, the Southwest of England, and the East of England.
Immediately after the meeting, the dissenting Conservative ministers, including Baldwin and Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, gave in their resignations to Lloyd George, being followed by former Coalition supporters including Chamberlain and Balfour. Lloyd George drove to Buckingham Palace in the middle of the afternoon to offer the Government's resignation. King George V summoned Bonar Law and invited him to form a new Government, but Bonar Law demurred on the grounds that he was not leader of his party and could not accept until he was. His accession to the leadership was, however, regarded as a formality, and his first call after leaving the Palace was to invite Curzon to remain as Foreign Secretary when the Government was formed.
A meeting of the Unionist Party was summoned for Monday 23 October at the Hotel Cecil and unanimously confirmed Bonar Law as the new Leader; he "kissed hands" and formally succeeded Lloyd George as Prime Minister in the afternoon, and immediately obtaining a dissolution of Parliament and calling a general election for 15 November.
The Conservatives secured an overall majority at the election. The Conservative Members who were first elected to Parliament in that election formed the Conservative Private Members' Committee to discuss and influence political events; the membership expanded in subsequent years as more new Conservative MPs were elected, and in 1926 all backbench members were invited to become members. The committee became popularly known as the '1922 Committee' from the year of its formation.
- David Butler and Gareth Butler, "Twentieth Century British Political Facts", Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, page 242 note a.
- John Ramsden, "Newport and the fall of the Coalition", in "Byelections in British Politics" (Macmillan, 1973), p. 27.
- "Premier's Future", The Times, 11 October 1922, p. 10.
- "The Coalition Crisis", The Times, 12 October 1922, p. 12.
- "A Chamberlain Apologia", The Times, 14 October 1922, p. 10.
- "The Coalition Crisis", The Times, 17 October 1922, p. 12.
- "The Near East" (letter), The Times, 7 October 1922, p. 11.
- "Mr. Bonar Law's Position", The Times, 18 October 1922, p. 12.
- Michael Kinnear, "The Fall of Lloyd George", Macmillan, 1973, p. 122-3.
- John Ramsden, "Newport and the fall of the Coalition", in "Byelections in British Politics" (Macmillan, 1973), pp. 14-43 passim. Ramsden agrees with the consensus of historians that the result was highly influential on the meeting but argues that the by-election had unique characteristics and that the Conservative victory was not primarily motivated by the voters' wish to condemn the coalition.
- Michael Kinnear, "The Fall of Lloyd George", Macmillan, 1973, p. 124-5.
- "Carlton Club Meeting", The Times, 20 October 1922, p. 12.
- Michael Kinnear, "The Fall of Lloyd George", Macmillan, 1973, p. 128-9.
- The source for this section is the official report of the meeting, as printed in The Times, 20 October 1922, p. 8-9.
- Michael Kinnear, "The British Voter" (2nd edition, Batsford, 1981), p. 104-5.
- "Fall Of The Coalition", The Times, 20 October 1922, p. 12.
- "An Election At Once", The Times, 21 October 1922, p. 10.
- "Political Notes", The Times, 22 December 1926, p. 12.
- "Waiting for the verdict", a contemporary cartoon by David Low, published on the day of the meeting but before the result was known.