We have now looked at Winston Churchill’s end of life and his involvement in the First World War. He had not been offered a job when the new coalition was formed under David Lloyd George in December 1916 and it was some months before Lloyd George felt politically strong enough to appoint him as Minister of Munitions. However, that post was outside the War Cabinet so Winston was still excluded from the higher direction of the war but proved a highly effective administrator. His behaviour was more stable and less unpredictable than it had been previously and, as his political maturity became clearer, Prime Minister Lloyd-George rewarded him with important Cabinet roles in his post-war coalition.
Outside of Parliament Winston played a significant role in helping people understand the war and its memories with his major work – the multi-volume history-cum-autobiography work, The World Crisis.
He also re-joined the Conservatives and, from 1924-1929, served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was during this time that Winston ‘learned a lot’.
Over the years the British coal production had declined. In the early 1880s the output had peaked at 310 tons per man per year. In the early 1900’s it had fallen but had still been close to 250 tonnes per man per year. Now the world was harder. There had been a heavy domestic use of coal during the war and this now meant that many of the rich seams were depleted. It also meant that Britain was not able to export as much coal as it would have done in peacetime – and this allowed other countries such as the USA, Poland and, and this really hurt, Germany. Between 1920 & 1924 the cost of coal dropped and, in Britain, output per man fell to less than 200 tonnes per year. To make matters worse Germany had re-entered the international coal market and was exporting “free coal” to France and Italy as part of their reparations for the First World War.
Something had to be done and, in 1925, Winston Churchill reintroduced the gold standard in 1925. This made the British £ (pound) too strong for effective exporting to take place from Britain and – because of the economic processes involved in maintaining a strong currency – raised interest rates in Britain which, in turn, hurt many businesses. From 1920 the Mine Owners had wanted to maintain profits during this time of economic instability, a decision that often took the form of wage reductions for their miners coupled with the prospect of longer working hours. The industry was thrown into disarray and miners’ pay dropped from £6 per week to less than £3 per week over seven years. The Miners Federation understandably rejected this situation with the statement: “Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day.”
The resultant stalemate of agreements led to the 1926 General Strike that lasted 9 days, from 3rd to 13th May 1926. It was called by the Trade Union Council in an attempt to force the government to act to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for 1.2 million locked-out coal-miners. In total over 1.7 million workers went on strike, especially in transport and heavy industry, but the government was prepared and enlisted middle class volunteers to maintain essential services. There was little violence and the TUC gave up in defeat.