Oliver Baldwin: A Life of Dissent

Oliver Baldwin: A Life of Dissent

Christopher J. Walker

Oliver Ridsdale Baldwin, 2nd Earl Baldwin, lived from 1899 to 1958. He has been called ‘a grandee of the anti-establishment’ and this biography gives him his due place in British life and letters.

He was the elder son of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and a cousin of Rudyard Kipling. Like his father, he entered public life, but with a difference: he was a socialist while his father was a conservative. For two years, in 1929-31, father and son faced one another on opposite sides of the Commons, although they always remained on good terms.

After Eton, which he hated and left early, Oliver Baldwin obtained a commission and enlisted in the Irish Guards. In France he participated in the decisive advance of Allied Forces in the autumn of 1918. After the war, he went to Armenia with the job of infantry instructor. The Bolsheviks imprisoned him for two months, as did the Turks for a further five months.

Back in Britain he was elected Labour MP for Dudley and took a house in Oxfordshire with his lover Johnnie Boyle. He was also a noted journalist and in 1934 the Daily Herald ran his powerful attack entitled ‘No Fascism for British Youth’, comparable to anything written by Orwell or Spender. He also wrote on women’s issues, films and the BBC.

The Second World War found him mostly in Egypt and Ethiopia. He returned briefly to the commons in 1945, but was compelled to enter the Lords on the death of his father. In 1948 he was appointed Governor General of the Leeward Islands, until the Labour Government dramatically recalled him – a trial of strength which both sides could claim as a victory, and which is told here for the first time. 

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05 Jan 2003
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