The Runcimans- Liberals in St Ives (Part three)

Beating Churchill at Oldham in 1907

After the years of slump and depression following the General Strike, life in St Ives continued to be hard for many men and women. Morale was maintained, despite unemployment, by the help of charismatic doctors. These included the splendid Dr Matthew, who had worked to develop the St John Ambulance Brigade. Others were no doubt sustained by their beliefs supported by priests and preachers-many of course non-conformist. Runciman himself was a confessed Methodists, indeed his coastguard grandfather was a stalwart impressed Metodist having originally been Presbyterian (http://www.guernsey.net/~sgibbs/runciman/wr-1810.html) . Incidentally, there was interest in the local paper about the controversial Red Curate of Delabole who delivered speeches smoking a clay pipe and stood beside a red flag and a crucifix. He is said to have referred to the Union Jack as an “Unchristian flag.”

When Hilda first spoke in St Ives she made reference to the fact that abundant and cheap supplies of all the necessities of life were not possible without Free Trade. Walter Runciman was a strong, indeed staunch advocate of free trade and opposed tarrifs. Eventually, however, because of the splits within the Liberals over the indisposed Lloyd George and their differences over cooperation in a National Government, this was all to change. At the same time constituency business became less important  to him and Runciman notified the town as early as 1931 that he would not seek re-election. He became deeply concerned and preoccupied by the recession in the shipping industry. He joined with the Simonite Liberal Nationals and thus opted for power, having then been appointed once again to the Board of Trade. It was thought that in relation to trade he might counterbalance the protectionist Excheqer, now Neville Chamberlin. Prime Minister MacDonald having been expelled from his own party, his influence in the House was somewhat curtailed. Thus by 1932 Runciman introduced protectionist legislation although he reversed his position on this again upon leaving office.From this point onwards his politically stated position did not differ from the Conservatives. Samuel, the leader of the dwindling Liberals had ominously predicted “if goods cannot cross international frontiers, armies will.”

Temperance was another instance upon which Walter changed his opinion.  Runciman had often gave his views upon demon drink, along with closing theatres, music halls and cinemas on Sundays. In 1931 local newspapers record that there was almost no drunkeness in the town and that magistrates were pleased that licensing laws were not being infringed. On this issue where Runciman had given his most vigorous non-conformist support was the cause of bitter disappointment to Isaac Foot in 1935, Runciman actually went as far as to lend support to Foot’s opponent at Bodmin where Isaac only just missed taking the seat. Foot was astonished by this and commented, ”I don’t suppose the brewers will send a formal vote of thanks to Mr Runciman but he will certainly have earned their gratitude.” By 1939  Runciman had by now joined his father in the House of Lords, and become heavily involved as a special envoy for Chamberlain on the Sudeten question in the lead up to Munich. There had also been a fevered debate in the House of Commons over his time as President of Trade from 1931-1937 when Runciman held many shares in the Moor Line and also held many directorships during this period in shipping and the railways. As a minister he effectively administered a £2 million subsidy to Merchant Marine service.Such actions must have left his previous constituents deeply disappointed as his previous constituents in St Ives, now represented by Alec Beechman who won the June 1937 by-election for the National Liberal and Conservatives,  once again awaited the outbreak of war.

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