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No Mean City: 1914 to 1950s


Andrew Bonar Law

By W Hamish Fraser

Andrew Bonar Law Andrew Bonar Law is one of only two Prime Ministers that Glasgow has produced. He was, in fact, born in New Brunswick, Canada. His father was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, his mother a Kidston whose family had links with Glasgow. She, however, died when Law was only two years old and in 1870 he went to live with his aunts in Helensburgh. He spent three years at the High School of Glasgow before, at the age of sixteen, going to work in the Kidston family firm of merchant bankers and he remained there for the next eleven years.

Family members were conservative in their politics and, during the early 1880s, Law developed some debating skills at the Glasgow Parliamentary Debating Association. In 1886 he became a partner in a firm of iron merchants, William Jacks & Co. For the next fourteen years he prospered as a member of the "iron ring", a group of financiers who bought gold and sold pig iron speculating on future price changes.

A gradual interest in politics culminated in his election for the Blackfriars Division in the "Khaki Election" held in the midst of the Boer War. In Parliament he associated with those who favoured an end to free trade and the introduction of tariffs against foreign goods and with preference for those from the Empire. At the 1906 General Election he was defeated by Scotland's first Labour MP, George Barnes, but within months he had found a safe seat in London. In 1911 he emerged as leader of the Conservative Party, as a compromise candidate between two powerful rivals and gained the backing of Max Aitken (owner of the Daily Express), later Lord Beaverbrook, who was to become his greatest advocate.

Law was opposed to Home Rule for Ireland and to try to block this he backed resistance in Protestant Ulster, declaring that "there were no lengths to which the people of Ulster would go which he would not support". He came out early in favour of going to war with Germany in 1914 and when a coalition government was formed in 1915 he became Colonial Secretary. Eighteen months later he played a major part in ousting Asquith as Prime Minister and backing Lloyd George, in whose government he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. When the coalition government fell in 1922, Law became Prime Minister, but he was already gravely ill from cancer and after only 209 days in office he had to resign and six months later he died.

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