Scandal before the internet

26 Oct

I was fortunate enough to recently read a book about Oliver Baldwin ( by Christopher Walker ). I have to confess I had never heard of him before I bought the book. Baldwin was an interesting character all right. Politician , author ( he wrote some odd stuff too), chicken keeper, soldier.

His grandfather was a Conservative MP , his father took over the seat and became Prime Minister 3 times. Oliver joined the army as soon as he could , served in World War 1 and then went to Armenia where his story is too complex for me to retell ( buy the book ) but he witnessed the mess of post WWI change and was imprisoned on the way ( and suffered snowblindness a condition you forget about ).

Back home he struggled to get a sense of normality and was also no doubt struggling with his sexuality and latterly his politics. He eventually joined the Labour party and stood in 5 elections for them , winning 2. The book is possibly light on Baldwin the politician ( for me anyway ). His 2 years as an MP for Dudley between 1929 and 1931 saw him briefly offer support for Mosley which he quickly rescinded when Mosley kept going right . Afterall if Baldwin wanted to be right-wing he had easier routes! He became an Independent MP following a spat with his local party over this and then returned to the fold to fight a hopeless seat in 1931.

He was briefly and MP in the 1945 Parliament though it seems bored by it, and perhaps and who can blame him he missed his chickens ( who he kept with his partner )..and was due to pick up a peerage when his father dies and he inherited one. So ended his career as an MP but he then entered the most interesting public phase of his life.

He was offered the Governorship of the Leeward Islands and took his clear passion that colonialism was on its way out with him. He offended the landed and commercial interests and seemed to get on superbly with the local population. He used what influence he had to get things done …but then came a strange scandal. In early 1949 he was asked to come to London. While making his way over on a banana boat a statement was released that the Colonial Office wanted to discuss some of the problems with the Islands. The press went hot..sensing something was up. Did the planters want him taken out ? Was his homosexuality now a problem. Baldwin had never hidden it , even though it was illegal. Was he going to be sacked ? The papers continued pursuit , questions were asked in the house and Baldwin still hadn’t arrived. There was plenty of gossip and he addressed this in a strange interview on arrival where he discussed being sacked , strange issues at play and if he didn’t return he wasn’t responsible for what might happen. None of which helped his cause. More strange interviews followed , cryptic and socialist is the best way to sum them up. After several weeks of meetings Baldwin finally met the Prime Minister. The press realised he was going back as Governor and then asked what it was all about ?

Although he didn’t last much longer the Colonial Office played a terrible hand. they had complaints and gossip and on that basis wanted to sack him without evidence. Baldwin overplayed his own hand but left them in a difficult position and they had to accept it. In his own way he forced them down. No doubt the sugar interests were dismayed. In the modern internet era the scandal would never have dripped out whilst a politician was travelling and if played in Baldwin’s favour.

Baldwin was a slightly eccentric character but his life is probably far more interesting at a human level than many more successful politicians.


(c) Dudley Museums Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


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