BOOKS OF THE DAY
" Cloudcuckooland "
Jr is not too much to say that if the Conservative Party were doing its duty in the matter of speaking and writing the things which require to be spoken and written at this time a book like this could never be published at all.
When Mr. Shinwell speaks of the desecration of the countryside by " vulgarised creations " thrown up according to the " limited ideas of stereotyped brains " whose " main purpose has been to make money," he speaks a truth about the planning muddle of the inter-war period which is evident to all. When he describes the appointments of a working-class house of the future or of a nursery school, when he passionately defends the right to work, when he protests that human labour is not just another commodity, or that considerations of old-fashioned financial doctrine must not always limit political or social objectives he is saying things which ought to have been made so much the commonplaces of political dis- cussion by Conservative publicists as to be hardly worth while repeating. If Conservatives had preached this gospel and had then gone on to say something constructive about the achievement of these common ideals Mr. Shinwell's book could at once be safely relegated to the dusty shelves reserved for the duller Victorian sermons.
For there can be no doubt that it is to a less sophisticated age that this work belongs. Mr. Shinwell belongs to the Old Guard— perhaps it is not unfair to call it the Old Gang—of class warriors, learning nothing of the lessons, and forgetting none of the bitter- ness, acquired from a long life of political controversy. For him the political world is as simple as the melodrama of our grand- mothers' days. On the one side is the hero, the Common Man, the apostle of " scientific, healthy, bountiful living "—of course a Socialist. On the other, is the villain of the piece—a " selfish minority," the " vested interests, throttling and retarding the develop- ment of a free and progressive society, starving and penalising the aged, thwarting and frustrating the young "—an " interested and self-centred ring," " greedy speculators," " scarcity-creators," " arch conspirators against the living interests of millions of human beings," " who have never executed any real work in their lives." The most sensible thing he can think of to say about the British railway service is to talk of " cattle-truck conditions in one part of a train which has hotel-lounge conditions in another." His valuable critique of the Public School system is to observe: "The late Private Wakenshaw, ex-newspaper seller of the streets of Newcastle-on- Tyne, could not have reached greater heights of bravery if, instead of being reared as a ' Dead End Kid,' he had been turned out by the Public School system "—oblivious of the fact that this obscurantist argument could be applied equally as a criticism of university education, the secondary schools, post-primary education, or indeed any improvement on present educational standards whatever.
Most enlightened people who believe in the party system do so because they think that each party has a characteristic and honour- able contribution to make to political life. Not so, apparently, Mr. Shinwell. He believes in it because it so accurately divides Socialist sheep from reactionary goats—because by it the •line is " clearly drawn between the forces of reaction and progress " and because independence is impossible " when there is only a choice between a policy of „social justice and one of black self-interest." In the introduction the volume is stated to be addressed " to all men and women of goodwill." With what beaming benevolence to all men Mr. Shinwell approaches his theme can be judged from the above quotations.
Mr. Shinwell's prescription is a simple one. We are shown the picture of a Britain " cleansed and invigorated "—with a national wage-system which " affords something more than subsistence," houses and schools tastefully designed and with ample and sumptuous accommodation, a prosperous agriculture, industry and carrying trade—a Britain, I suppose, for which all of us are prepared to strive. However, as the only difficulty in achieving this Britain recognised by Mr. Shinwell is his old friend the villain of the piece, who is as stupid as he is infamous, and whose " sickening shuffles of incapacity and gramophone-like speeches" are "only dictated by an interest in maintaining a wretched and unequal livintsystem," he has little to say of real assistance to us in our work.
Mr. Shinwell has a surprising capacity for refusing to look difficult or unpleasant facts in the face. In his refusal to treat financial considerations seriously he fails to realise when these do, and when they do not, correspond to economic reality. Ht does not think it right to remind his readers that, since the human race has for years devoted its energies to the invention and application 0/ engines of destruction, life after the end of the process is hardly like to be as " bountiful " or " healthy " or even as charitable as before. Except in one phrase, when it is used as an argument against Imperial development, disease-ridden Europe, with its transported and embittered populations, unfertilised fields, slaughtered live- stock and ruined houses and factories forms no part of the environ- ment of the " Britain I want." Our possession of the greatest un- developed industrial markets of the world is not considered an important asset. In spite of modern transport " the facts of our geographical situation are too strong."
The future of our export trade is to be left to a " projected international authority." Mr. Shinwell does not think it right to refer to the Republican Party or Middle Western opinion in the United States as possible bars to international co-operation. After having quoted some of the more enlightened utterances of the Administration in favour of co-operation, Mr. Shinwell goes on to say triumphantly:
We now know what representative Americans (sic) think of the future of the world. Backward British statesmen must be made aware . . . &c.
In such a world of make-believe it is perhaps superfluous to add that the chapter on Education contains no reference to the univer- sities, polytechnics or technical institutes, that on agriculture is practically confined to an attack on what is quaintly described as
privately owned, undeveloped land," that cn Parliament and Democracy contains a critique of some of the more obvious failings of the Conservative Party, but fails to mention the glaring short- comings of the party of which Mr. Shinwtll is a member.