EFFORT AND AIMS
By KENNETH LINDSAY, M.P.
ON September 3rd, 1939, Britain became formally at war, but no one can pretend that the previous years were anything but an armed or disarmed truce. One has only to read Mr.
John Kennedy's short but devastating analysis, Why England Slept, to see the last ten years in perspective. There was no order in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain, Japan or the United States. Violent social and economic forces had been shaking the whole world. Hitler, Stalin, the Spanish Civil War, Roosevelt's third term, Japanese aggression, are not merely historical accidents. The dictators abolished unemployment and freedom, the democracies chose freedom and unemploy- ment. Mr. Bevin is still making the same choice, while talk- ing about "Social Security" after the war. It is surely the main criticism of pre-war statesmen, MacDonald, Baldwin and Chamberlain, that they failed to comprehend the revolutionary forces which the last War let loose on the world. Such is the irony and time-lag of democratic government that only now are we beginning to understand the full significance of twentieth-century economic conditions.
For the last eight years Britain has been more concerned to balance Budgets, enlarge empire trade, and improve social services than to match its armaments to its commitments or run the risk of genuine collective security. Disarmament and economic conferences completely failed. Democracy had neither glamour nor faith nor an independent message, until war came. Planning was mocked and youth was neglected; democrats ran hither and thither, some after Russian and some after Fascist models, some after New Deals, others after old nostrums like laissez-faire, while a few, like Lord Beaverbrook and Mr. Garvin, became Empire isolationists. The division became acute over Spain, because the many forces met on this common battle-ground. Meanwhile Germany was ruled by a few determined men, armed with a clear-cut political creed, who knew what they wanted, and who planned with ruthless force, secrecy and subtlety a vast industrial and propagandist organisation. They left nothing to chance; they harnessed all the forces of modern science to one main end— the destruction of British power.
At last, beneath the wide protection of an outstanding leader and Prime Minister, whose unique position puts him almost above the domestic battle, the supreme test of democracy is at hand. Can we find in the trials of war-effort the greatest common measure of agreement on war aims, or must fatal cracks in material unity accompany any such statement? Let no one minimise the danger. Not least among them are the politicians, the dogmatists and the phrase-makers. The average man and woman facing the facts will not wish to split hairs. Four months ago, in an article entitled "A Fight- ing Faith," I tried to indicate in concrete terms some of the growing points of a better social order, which were taking root and which commanded general acceptance. Since then bombardment has cruelly visited our shores, and invasion has been stemmed. Mr. Churchill has inspired the country and the people have held the forts and the shelters. But once again there is widely expressed uneasiness about the Home Front.
Economic policy appears hesitant and without grit ; it is difficult to discern a plan either in regard to wages, prices or finance. Mobilisation and training of man-power have lagged; appeals for a harder standard of living are not accompanied by stricter rationing. Local Government has not been equal to the calls made on it, either in the bombed or unbombed areas. Civil Service routine has too often obstructed un- orthodox and courageous action. Half-measures towards youth and Army education are not good enough. Delays and prejudice in dealing with refugees and pioneers, inadequate foreign propaganda at the Ministry of Information, cannot be tolerated, because they are an essential part of the war effort I am not here concerned with blue-prints for a new social and international order ; there is a time and place for that ; for- tunately many groups are working at that most important task. There are more actual matters facing us now—the spirit in which we wage the war, and the precise steps we take tomorrow to mobilise the full war effort. It is surely the hidden reserves of a democracy which give it greater strength and resilience. Now is the time to draw on some of these reserves, as we have already drawn on our capital. Mr. Bevin must find a way of using fully man-power and woman-power. Sir William Beveridge must, by now, have reported on the whole problem. What has happened to the report? It is not necessarily a question of compulsion, it is certainly a ques- tion of orderly direction. Mr. Greenwood is in charge of production. Either his many committees are not functioning properly, or he is incapable of driving the team. What has become of the Tank Board, since its chairman went to India? Is it advisory or executive? Are not new men wanted to initiate industrial reconstruction in the Bristols and Coventrys? We have witnessed the deplorably slow growth of Regional Executive powers in London ; must this be repeated in other Regions? In the wider field of health and education too little advantage is being taken of opportunities in reception-areas, of answering the clear demands for a "Youth Service" policy, of rising to the needs of the new civilian army.
According as we face these and other problems we are creating the basis of any post-war order. War aims and war efforts merge and mingle in present action. That there is wide support for the outlook can be read in speech after speech delivered recently in the House of Commons, from all sides of the House. Mr. Brooke, a young Conservative, after some candid references to delays in local government, used these pertinent words, "I ask myself whether we can expect to save the world by our example until in our own administra- tive system we have dug out the causes of these shortcomings."
Democracy in action may show itself as the most stimulating spectacle the world has ever known, if it can inspire total service, meet the plain economic and social needs and preserve a united country. Strange as it may seem, no statesman or leader has yet plumbed the heart of this amazing people. Nelson expected every man would do his duty, and the answer came back promptly from the bosun's mate, "What the hell does the old bitch expect us to do, anyhow?" Mr. Bevin doubts conscription of labour, but the first straw vote indicates a desire to be put on the same basis as servicemen. Mr. MacDonald opposes compulsory evacuation, but his investi- gators discover that ninety per cent. only want to be told what to do. What other people would voluntarily accept the recent conditions in London shelters with a shrug and a smile, as many of us have seen them do? The Prime Minister came nearest when he offered his new Ministers agony and bloody sweat.
We now have a Government which represents all the talents, and which might be described as "Eton and Labour." Over a score of its members wear the old school-tie ; an equal number are proud to have graduated from the elementary school. A handful of business men give it cement and indus- trial experience: new men like Mr. Oliver Lyttelton and Mt George Hicks should reinforce these qualities. The people only ask for the strategy of victory, for the same courage in the field of administration as they see in the field of battle. They will tolerate neither slackness nor incompetence. "After Victory" there will be other problems. Meanwhile the country and the world want another speech from the Pr:Ine Minister. When he sees fit to make it, the answer will c rue back as it did to Nelson.