CAN DEMOCRACY BE TRUSTED ?
WHEN Mr. Italdwiri takes to thinking aloud the. result is always interesting and sometimes disconcerting. His speech in the defence debate last week, from the point where he apparently substituted improvisation for preparation, makes the latter adjective the More appropriate of the two. For the Prime Minister; whose speeches on democracy in' the last few years have been numerous and arresting, enunciated in the course of this particular soliloquy a theory of democracy that has left every convinced democrat aghast. It is likely • enough that the Prime Minister's intentions were better than his words. No one who has watched his political career through the last twenty years will • believe that he meant to tell the House of Commons that he had deliberately fooled the people of this country for • a party advantage. But no speaker, in the House of Commons or out of it, can complain seriously if he is assumed by those who hear and read his words to mean what he plainly says: And what did Mr. Baldwin, fact, Say to the House of Commons ? The relevant passage of his speech, is too long for verbatim quotation here, but it can be summarised. quite fairly. From 1938 he and w his colleagues were " worried " about the state of Europe ; they realised that rearmament was neces- sary, but the electorate was pacifist, and " supposing I had gone to the country and said that Germany was rearming and that we must rearm—does anybody think that this pacific democracy would have rallied' to that cry at that moment ? I cannot think of anything that would have made the loss of the election from my point of view more certain." So the country was not told, and there was no election till the end of 1935: Now when Mr. Baldwin is given the benefit of every doubt, and the most favourable construction possible is put upon his words, this can be accounted as no other than disastrous doctrine. The Premier's argument as framed in his own mind was no doubt broadly this : rearmament was necessary ; only a Conservative (if you will, a nominally National) ' Government could be relied on to carry that through ; the people in 1933-4 were pacifist and would vote against rearmament proposals and defeat the party that went to the polls with that for its programme ; therefore a more propitious opportunity must be awaited, not merely in party, but in the national,, interests. There would be a great deal to be said for that line of reasoning if Mr. Baldwin, when he rose in the House in November, 1936, had been able' to claim that he had put the case for rearmainent assiduously before the country, with the result' that when the election came in November, - 1935, it gave him an overwhelming mandate to rearm. That would have been- incontestably sound ; demo- cracy needs to be educated -hy its -leaders, and 'that education must reach a certain stage before necessary' action can be taken. But no one turning back to Mr. Baldwin's speeches in the month before last year's election can accept that as an accurate description of their tenor. Occasional references to a stronger - defenee policy can be- found in them--few -election - speeches fail to include some kind of sop for every Cerberus—but the essential note of the .speeches was collective , action and collective security (econmpc sanctions against Italy were . just coming. into force) and "the Prime. Minister . emphasised not the magnitude but the movie_ sty of his rearmament intentions. " There has not been, there is net, and there will not be any queStiOn of huge_armaments or materially increased forces "—only of modernising the NaVy and establishing a one-power parity standard in the air, he told a Wolverhampton audience on October 29th ; and two days later the International Peace Society received with satisfaction the pledge, " I give you my word that there will be no great armaments."
What the words " no great armaments " imply is, no doubt, arguable. But the public that read and marked them (and voted on the basis of them) can be" excused if it failed to appreciate that they meant an intensification of production unparalleled since the Armistice was signed, the enlistment 'of the great motor firms of the country for the manufacture of aircraft, an increase of £40,000,000 in the Servica estimates, with far heavier increases to come; the appointment of a special Minister to co-Ordinate the new armament expansion, by land, sea and air. To that programme in itself no exception can be taken. Even the Parliamentary Opposition cannot question its necessity. It is forced on this country by the armaments which other countries are piling up—and of which Mr. Baldwin thought it unwise to apprise' the electors. The Government's critics are not those who find it bellicose, but those who, _like Mr. Chur- chill, find its action belated and inadequate. And to them Mr. Baldwin replies, with what he himself calls appalling frankness and others might term an alarm- ing naivete, that democracy is always two years late 'and that democracy cannot be told the truth.' That is the. ground on which Mr. Baldwin must be Can the people be trusted The answer of Herr Hitler, of Signor Mussolini, is unequivocal. The people must be driven and drugged ; for the independent-minded and coi. iirageOns rexile or con- centration camps or worse, for the rest a suppression of all criticism of the dictator, a suppression of all facts that run counter to the official pOlicy;. and a ceaseless perversion of truth by dictated edniment. What is Mr. Baldwin'S-ansAret? That the people must be persuaded by pledges 'of " no great armaments " to elect a Government to carry out rearmament ?
It looks disturbingly like that. And right -though the Prime Minister's objective is, the method by which - he claims to have achieved it is fatal to the survival of that democracy of which he is so constant and so sincere a eulogist.- 'The people of this country do net -need- to be manoeuvred into any policy:- •It may 'well need to be 'instructed, and- that- process may often mean delay in taking action which' under' a dictatorship involves no more than the writing Of a signature. .But Mr: Baldwin cannot claim that he spent his time in educating the people 'to the need" for rearmament. On own showing he' realised the- need- in-1938, he knew-how -Germany was arming, but it was expedient to keep silence about it then, and till the election ,was won at the end of 1935 on a League ' of Nations and collective security platform the education of the country in the need for rearmament was carried out not by the Prime Minister but • by his critics on his own baek benches or below the gangway. On this occasion no grave damage'has been 'done ; the Government has embarked on a policy which its leader declined to commend to the country, and the country, "recognising facts plainly visible, has rightly' given the Government its Tull support. It is for other reasons that the Prime Minister's speech has created profound disquiet. Democracy, to be effec- tive—perhaps even to survive—needs bold leader- ship ; it has too little of it iu this country today. It must have leaders whom it can trust, but the trust must be mutual. That is an immutable law. This people can face difficult situations with as high a courage as any. It will listen to everything so good a democrat as Mr. Baldwin has to say, and be convinced, and act. But it will not be led forward with bandaged eyes, and a leader who confesses that he kept back what he knew was truth because his countrymen would haVe rejected it and him, will soon find himself preaching to deaf ears. The people can be trusted, and only the man who trusts them will himself enjoy their trust.