St. George’s and the Empire Crusade

  • Gillian Peele


The St George’s division of Westminster does not, at first sight, appear a likely setting for one of the most eagerly awaited by–elections of the inter-war years. Sedate and very prosperous, the constituency included within its boundaries many of London’s most fashionable residential districts as well as Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace. Yet here, in March 1931 — watched by the inhabitants of Mayfair and Knightsbridge — was conducted a bitter and abusive election campaign which commentators of the time believed would have an enormous impact on the course of political events. On the outcome of this by-election hung the future of Baldwin, the future of Indian constitutional advance and the future of the Empire Crusade. Today, when by-election results are generally interpreted as a verdict on the performance of the government, it may seem curious that the central issue of a by-election could have been the adequacy of the Leader of the Opposition. But that was clearly the case at St George’s: in the absence of a government candidate (the Labour Party had contested the seat in 1929 for the first time and did not put up a candidate at the by-election), the electors had to choose between Alfred Duff Cooper, the nominee of the local Conservative Association, and Sir Ernest Petter, an Independent Conservative who was backed by the rudimentary Empire Crusade and United Empire Party organisations together with the Beaverbrook and Rothermere press.


Labour Party Conservative Party Selection Committee Daily Mail Conservative Association 
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  1. 1.
    A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook (1972). I am greatly indebted to Mr Taylor for his help with my researches into this by-election.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    I am aware that the term ‘populist’ can cause confusion. I think, however, that it is justified both in relation to the style of the Empire Crusade and to its specific policies. For a general discussion of the phenomenon of populism, see Ernest Gellner and Ghita Ionescu, Populism (1970) esp. pp. 9–27, 153–250.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Robert McKenzie, British Political Parties (1970) for a full account of this episode.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    See K. Middlemas and J. Barnes, Baldwin: A Biography (1969) pp. 530–44.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See Robert Rhodes James, Memoirs of a Conservative (1969) p. 324.Google Scholar
  6. 22.
    See A. Duff Cooper, Old Men Forget (1953) for an account of this move; also The Times, 9 Mar 1931, for Baldwin’s letter to the chairman of Win-chester Conservative Association.Google Scholar
  7. 24.
    Lady Diana Cooper, The Light of Common Day (1959).Google Scholar
  8. 25.
    Lady Diana Cooper, The Light of Common Day (1959).Google Scholar
  9. 31.
    See Henry Pelling, The Social Geography of British Elections, 1885–1910 (1967)Google Scholar
  10. 2.
    See below, p. 124–6, for a consideration of how Liberal voters reacted at East Fulham. The concept of a block of ex-Liberal voters in the 1930s is discussed in D. E. Butler and D. Stokes, Political Change in Britain (1969) pp. 249–74.Google Scholar
  11. 5.
    A. L. Rowse, ‘Reflections on Lord Baldwin’, in The End of an Epoch (1947) p. 86.Google Scholar
  12. 8.
    See T. Harrisson and G. Madge (eds.), Britain, by Mass-Observation (1939), Google Scholar
  13. And Hadley Cantril, Public Opinion, 1935–1946 (Princeton, 1951).Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    During the Abdication crisis the mood of MPs changed dramatically over one crucial weekend. Baldwin said: ‘I have always believed in the weekend. But how they do it I don’t know. I suppose they talk to the stationmaster.’ G. M. Young, Stanley Baldwin (1952) p. 242.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    D. E. Butler, The Electoral System in Britain (1953 ed.) p. 184.Google Scholar

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© Gillian Peele 1973

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  • Gillian Peele

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