To the Electors of Ashton-under-Lyne


Max Aitken, having made a fortune in Canada, came to England in 1910 and quickly moved into public life. He was elected Conservative M.P. for Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester in 1910; in 1911 he was knighted; he was made Baronet, 1916, and Baron, as Lord Beaverbrook, in 1917.

Kipling was introduced to Aitken in October 1910 and the two men were soon on friendly terms. Kipling had made political speeches before, but it was unusual for him to go so far out ot his way to do so as on this occasion, evidence of Aitken’s persuasiveness.

As Kipling wrote to his son John, “I have to go and make a speech at Ashton under Lyne which is Sir M. Aitken’s constituency. I ve been sweating blood for days just trving to think what the deuce 1 am to say”
[Thomas Pinney, Ed., Letters vol 4 p. 131].

What he said expresses his increasingly violent opposition to the political developments that had followed upon the great Liberal victory of 1906, particularly the Parliament Act (1911), curbing the power of the House of Lords. Kipling chose to regard this as unconstitutional. Then there was the National Insurance Act (1911), authorizing a contributory scheme of health insurance: this put people into a “shameful dependence on an all-providing Government.”
As for the Irish Home Pule bill, introduced in 1912, that would “sell a million or so of inhabitants of these islands [i.e., the residents of Ulster] out of the Union against their will to the open and avowed enemies of the Union.” The Parliament Act and the National Insurance Act soon ceased to be controversial, but Kipling never moderated his views about Home Rule.
Aitken was re-elected at Ashton-under-Lyne and continued to hold the seat until his elevation to the peerage in 1917.



MR. RUDYARD KIPLING, who was received with cheers, said: I thank you for the exceeding and undeserved kindness you have shown me on my first appearance here. There are many things which I should like to be able to talk to you about to-night, but as circumstances are now in England I do not see the least use in discussing them. We are in the middle of a revolution. The men who have brought about that revolution tell us it is going to be a peaceful one. That remains to be proved. Up to the present the revolution has deprived us of the right to say what laws shall be made bv our representatives, of the right to discuss those laws fully in the making, of the right to refer those laws back to ourselves in time of doubt or danger, and more recently of the right of our full control over our day’s earnings after the King’s taxes have been paid. (Cheers.) We have been induced to part with those rights bv means of a confidence trick. You know what a confidence trick is? (Laughter.)

To make quite sure 1 have got here a summary of a confidence trick prosecution as recently reported in the police court news in the papers. Mr. Kipling then read the following report:

“Witness met prisoner, who seemed a pleasant and well-spoken man, who appeared to know all about witness’s private affairs, and expressed great admiration for witness’s character and personality. Prisoner informed witness that he had just come into a legacy that he intended to distribute among deserving, honest men. Prisoner told witness he was just the type of deserving man that prisoner was looking for, and promised witness a share of the legacy. Prisoner then stated that mutual confidence was the basis of business between honest men and the he could never trust any man who did not trust him. Prisoner suggested that witness should entrust him with a small selection of valuables in order to show witness’s confidence in prisoner’s integrity. Prisoner promised on his word of honour to restore the valuables in five minutes, at the end of which time he would return and give witness his share of the legacy. Witness was much impressed by prisoner’s evident sincerity. Questioned by the magistrate, witness admitted that he expected to get something for nothing after he had proved his confidence in prisoner. Witness eventually entrusted prisoner with seven pounds ten shillings in gold and silver, a bank bill for fourteen pounds, his sleeve links (gold), one seal ring, and one gold watch. The gold watch was an heirloom. Prisoner tied all the valuables in a bundle and went round the corner with them. Prisoner did not return.”

Proceeding, after the reading of the case, which was punctuated with loud laughter, Mr. Kipling said: And that is the confidence trick. (Renewed laughter.) I have described it fully because, some six years ago, we English met half a dozen smooth spoken, well-dressed, confidential gentlemen—in the political line. They told us what fine fellows we were, and how we were being kept out of our rights. They told us that they had millions and millions of pounds to spend on honest deserving men like ourselves. But they said there was only one thing that stood between us and our share of the benefit, and that was the Upper House in the Constitution. They said it was out of date and oppressive, a barrier to the people’s will, and not in harmony with democratic requirements. They said it needed reform. They promised on their word ol honour that if we would let them have it for five minutes they would take it round the corner, fettle it up, and bring it back reformed and up to date. (Laughter.) Partly because they said such pleasant things about us, and such unpleasant things about our neighbours, but mainly because we hoped we would get something for nothing, we let them have the Upper House, and they took it round the corner to reform it. (Laughter.) That was fourteen months ago and they have not brought it back yet. (Renewed laughter.)

The House of Commons, controlled by the men who engineered this confidence trick, is now supreme, and has been supreme for the past fourteen happy, hopeful months. The first thing it did, as soon as it realised it was supreme, was to appropriate to itself £400 per annum per head—(laughter)—£100 free from income tax, out of the public revenues. This was disgraceful but human. (laughter)The Constitution we had just thrown away was expressly designed to guard against the worst weaknesses of human nature. Our forefathers had a large knowledge of human nature. They knew by bitter experience that no man, no body of men, can be entrusted with supreme power for any purpose on any pretext whatever. We are just relearning that lesson. Having done good to themselves—(laughter)—our supreme authority set about doing good to us, precisely as infallible Popes and divinely anointed Kings have set about the same object in times past, and they failed for the same reasons. There was no check on their action. This is not a knowledge that sobers any men, least of all gamblers still dizzy with their amazing triumphs. (Hear, hear.)

If you remember the early debates in the House of Commons on the Insurance Act, when the Unionists wasted a good deal of time in trying to pull it into shape, their criticism was looked upon as blasphemy. If you look up the speeches delivered outside the House by the man who said he was chiefly responsible for the bill, you will remember how his knowledge and power acted on his unstable mind like a strong drug. But he had some reason on his side. If one has omnipotence one must be infallible, and if one is infallible it follows that the legislation he proposes must be inspired and should be accepted like the Tables of the Law came down from Mount Sinai. (Laughter.) In that spirit the bulk of the Insurance Act was passed.

With rational discussion under constitutional government that Act could have been made a just and honourable possession for free men and women. In its present shape, as we become more and more committed to its workings, we shall realise what a subtle and far-reaching form of slavery it imposes on us. This weekly ticketing and being inspected by paid overseers must involve us in slavery and kill self-respect. The National Insurance Act creates a senile class whose time and mind and energies are converted from the control of their own and their country’s affairs to a series of degrading exercises calculated to break them into the idea of shameful dependence on an all-providing Government. But we can do nothing. The Act has been passed by a supreme authority, from which there is no appeal. It cannot be made the subject of a general election, because the House of Commons will
dissolve when the House of Commons sees fit, and not before, and since the House of Commons has suspended the Constitution by the Act of Parliament there is no reason why the House of Commons by Act of Parliament should not prolong its well-paid life—(laughter)—for whatever length of time it chooses. Meantime we, if we do not comply with the requirements of the Act, are, as you know, liable to be fined, and may possibly go to gaol. (Laughter.) On the other hand, we are informed by the gentlemen who promised to restore the Upper House that we shall receive in a short time enormous material benefit from the moneys we have been compelled to pay. I believe that particular five minutes of theirs expires on the 15th of next January. (Laughter.)

Now a few months back these same persons found themselves compelled to grant Home Rule to Ireland or run the risk of losing their salaries. (Laughter.) The Irish hunted and hounded them towards Home Rule through ever)’ dirty political by-lane and every black political bog, like cattle in a Connemara drive. (Cheers.) So now for reasons that will be appreciated Home Rule, on the largest and most incalculable scale, will be given to Ireland, and what right have we in England to object? If we have the right, what power have we? In the name of social reform we have sold our freedom on the promise of getting something for nothing. In the name of democracy we have parted with every safeguard for securing the expression of the peoples will. In the name of progress we have placed ourselves unreservedly in the hands of a single self-paid Chamber. Even the hardest-mouthed Radical paper does not pretend that Home Rule was laid before the electors at the last election or that it has been discussed in the House of Commons. The power of the Upper House to refer the Bill back to the electors when it comes up to them has gone. These are admitted facts. There is one other fact—Ulster. (Cheers.)

But we have our consolations if we know where to look for them. 1 was cheered the other day by reading a speech of a verv prominent Liberal who pointed out that his side had not given them the beneficent legislation promised, but now that the “barriers” had been removed—that was just after Ulster signed the Covenant—he expected great things. For fourteen months and one week the Liberals have had an absolutely free hand in everything, from pitch and toss to—manslaughter. (Laughter and cheers.) In that time they have produced two pieces of unhampered and undictated legislation. Under the National Insurance Act they imposed slavery on fifteen or sixteen million or so of inhabitants of these islands. The Home Rule Bill proposes to sell a million or so of inhabitants of these islands out of the Union against their wall to the open and avowed enemies of the Union. I do not know what the prominent Liberal expected to happen inside fourteen months, but if he wanted any more than this I think he is a glutton. (Laughter.) But let us be thankful for what we are about to receive. (Laughter and cheers.) With this organised slavery and anarchy they propose to make a raid into the Church in Wales, so that will be our happy lot in the future.

His Majesty’s Ministers have banged, barred, and bolted every door by which a constitutional people might regain their freedom. (Laughter and cheers.)
What is the remedy? I am not a politician—(laughter)—but I know what we all admit in private life, and what we all forget in public life, that men are responsible for the consequences of their own acts. If we give a blank cheque to a plausible adventurer, whose fault is it if he draws out of the bank everything we have laboriously accumulated? If we give the power of attorney to an enterprising solicitor, whose fault is it if he assumes our possessions? We gave the power of attorney and the blank cheque for a consideration, because we hoped to get something for nothing. What have we gained? We have lost the Constitution, and we are within measurable distance of civil war, under the very shadow of Armageddon, for which by sea and land, and in our disturbed souls, we are quite unprepared. And on our fate hangs the destiny of one-fifth of the human race. (Loud and prolonged cheers.)
—Morning Post