Great Britain and a Better World
LAST year the Christmas Number of the Spectator took the form of a " Better World " issue, and this week we repeat the experiment. At a time when there is so much acute Party controversy an impartial survey of our national life may not be without its uses.
This year has been a difficult one for most countries. A spirit of scepticism and disillusionment has been abroad when men's spirits have flagged and when there has been less talk of reconstructing the world and more of the need for studying national self-interest to the exclusion of wider horizons. In the past year the cause of international co-operation has undoubtedly received a set-back. The doctrines of economic. nationalism and national self-sufficiency have been widely expounded. Such events as the signing of the Naval Pact and the handing back to China of Wei-Hai-wei, outward proof that the West no longer desires to exploit the East, were but gleams of light in a stormy sky. And yet if Europe is to be re-made and Western civilization placed on an enduring foundation the need for international co-opera- tion was never greater. Let us hope that the present phase is but the swing backwards of the pendulum, or a case of reculer pour miens saltier.
In Great Britain the popular Press, taking the oppor- tunity of public alarm at the Government's inability to deal with the unemployment menace, has been preaching a Sinn Fein doctrine of " Ourselves alone "—interpreting " ourselves " in the widest sense as meaning the whole British Empire. But even the most fervent Empire crusaders have had to admit that Empire Free Trade is not at present practical politics, because the Dominions show no intention of letting in British manufacturers duty free to compete with local industry. This is not to say that we are in any way satisfied with Great Britain's present economic plight ; far from it. We think that it may become necessary to adopt temporary tariffs on imports in order to raise revenue, or to devise a scheme of a " quota " to help the British farmer through a period of extreme crisis. Nor are we less anxious than those who shout loudest to draw closer the bonds of friendship that unite us to the other States in the British Commonwealth. But whatever fiscal changes may be necessary we hope that there will be no real attempt to organize the British Commonwealth contra mundum. We must never forget that Great Britain is in Europe, and without her help the prospect of European co-operation would be poor indeed.
There was never greater need for dissipating the clouds of suspicion on the European horizon or for seeking to make its peoples better acquainted. Not more tariffs and bars to international trade are wanted, but less. The nations of the world must get to know each other better. Such gestures as Signor Mussolini's despatch of the steamer Leonardo da Vinci,' with its priceless cargo of master- pieces to us was a symbol of how to promote good will among nations ; France's sympathy over the loss of ' R 101 ' at Beauvais was another.
In Great Britain there is need for an overhaul of our parliamentary machinery, for we are not satisfied with a system which involves much waste of time and the mini- mum of legislative output. How many really important matters have had to be shelved while the Mother of Parliaments devotes its attention to the parish pump ? Sooner or later a system of devolution will be necessary whereby local problems will be dealt with locally and Parliament in London will confine itself to the national problems of Great Britain as a whole, Perhaps the blackest page in the record of the present Government has been its inability to deal with growing unemployment. Not that we under-estimate the problem nor fail to remember that the depression is practically
world-wide. Nevertheless, an urgent situation calls for urgent methods and we think that a committee of economic experts should be able to devise methods of reducing the total of over 2,000,000 workless by at least half within a reasonable period. Much of our national equipment is out of date. Schemes of drainage, afforestation, reclamation of waste land, of public works, of slum clearance are urgently necessary.
We refuse to believe that there is no better way of employing two million of our fellow-citizens than by letting them aimlessly walk the streets. Much as we dislike dic- tatorships, we almost wish we had an unemployment dictator in this country to grapple with the problem. We would say to him something as follows : " At present the nation is spending vast sums of money on unemploy- ment doles for which it gets nothing in return. We do not suggest withdrawing the dole because we recognize our responsibility to our fellow-citizens, it is our duty to provide them with work, or, if through a faulty social system there is no work for them, we must feed them: Instead of giving a dole for doing nothing, however, we are going to pay for urgent national work. Let us start off with the problem of slums. Successive Governments have talked about the slum menace but the problem still remains largely unsolved. We propose organizing a great mobile reconstruction army, half a million strong, and we shall keep it in the `field' pulling down slums and rebuilding our cities until there is not a single human rookery left. Granted war-time enthusiasm and intelligent direction the task could be accomplished."
Then our educational methods are much below those to be found in Scandinavia, Northern Europe, and in our own Dominions. If we wish to compete with the rest of the world we must see to it that our people, man for man, are as efficient as, say, the Danes, the Swedes or the Swiss. We wish we had the time to dwell on this theme and to tell of Denmark's wonderful agricultural education. And closely related to the question of giving the citizen a proper training and equipment for life's battle is the question of drink.
A drink-sodden nation is not and never will be as efficient as a sober nation. Great Britain is much more sober than she used to be, but it would show a wilful ignorance of facts to ignore the extent of the evil caused by drink and by the resultant loss of efficiency in our whole industrial machine. In terms of profit and loss tens of millions of pounds must be lost in this country in inefficiency, loss of time, and inertia as a result of drunken- ness. We have never wavered in our sup- port of the policy of public ownership of the Drink Trade as laid down by Mr. St. Loe Strachey. Within fifty hours of Great Britain is a country which, in our view, has largely solved the Drink problem without any of the drawbacks of prohibition. No British temperance worker can afford to ignore the Swedish example, but we are by no means regardless of the excellent work already done by the State Management Scheme in Carlisle. We have frequently referred to that scheme, and hope_to do so again. Somehow or other we have got to create a " land enthusiasm," to use a phrase of Sir Horace Plunkett's. Whatever panaceas may be advocated for our present economic plight, there will be no permanent prosperity unless a real policy of " back to the land " is put into operation. Our idle and weed-overgrown acres must be reclaimed. We are not pessimists- as to Great Britain's agricultural future, we think that the price of agricultural land has nearly reached bottom and that a great future awaits those who copy North European methods. We do not advocate Great Britain trying to compete in grain-growing with Canada, Australia or the Argentine. Our people should concentrate on mixed farming, dairying, breeding pigs and poultry, growing more fruit for bottling, and the cultivation of vegetables. In the fruit-bottling and vegetable-canning industry we are far behind the United States.
Much has-already been done to awaken our people to the state of the national health by the Ministry of Health, by the New Health Society, and by others, but we have a very long road to travel before we can rest content. The dietary of our people must be revised. In the science of dietetics we are but beginners. Millions of our people are suffering ill-health through wrong nutrition. The dietary of our industrial workers is deplorable : alcohol, strong tea, white bread, and an excessive use of starchy foods and an absence of vegetables, apart from potatoes,' are the rule in most British homes. And only second in importance to a revision of our feeding habits is the urgent need of teaching British housewives to cook. Some observers, not without justice, have said that one of the causes which sends the British workman to the nearby public-house is the bad cooking in his home.
We are only beginning to appreciate the aids to good health which nature has given us in sunshine and fresh air. Pioneers like Miss Rachel MacMillan have shown what they can accomplish in the case of ailing children ; the same benefits, to an even greater degree, would accrue to normal children so educated. New Zealand, which has its Society for the extension of open-air schools --open to the air all the year round in a climate very like our own—is also pointing the way. There should be open-air nursery schools in every town and village throughout this island ; if there were, a miracle would take place in the national physique.
Other causes on which we hold strong views, and which with the help of our readers we hope to advance, arc the abolition of the smoke nuisance ; the pulling down of the railings round most of the squares in our big cities and the banishment of the soot-begrimed laurel hedges in them—the provision of up-to-date and hygienic public baths in our large cities, with sliding roofs open to the sun, similar to those we have seen in Vienna and other European cities ; the reform of men's' clothes in the summer ; the extension of out-door eating places in Great Britain ; the preservation of the natural beauty of the countryside.
Also there is the urgent need for the introduction of humane slaughter and the abolition of the private slaughter-house. We must insist that humane methods of slaughter be employed in the case of all cattle, sheep, calves, and pigs killed for food. Rabbit coursing, stag and otter hunting must be stopped ; the campaign against steel traps must be intensified and the horrors of the fur trade must be broadcast from the house-tops until the consciences of our women are stirred and they refuse to wear furs that have been obtained by cruel methods.
The problem of India should have an article to itself. Here we can only repeat our view that the day for paternal government has gone, never to return. That the task of helping India to become a world-Power, as free as ourselves, is a wonderful opportunity for the display of statesmanship and generosity on the part of this nation. We do not under-estimate the difficulties ; we know how great they are. But we have never wavered in our belief that the only way to keep India within the British Commonwealth is to win India's good will ; compulsion will lead nowhere. And if India is to remain within the framework of the British Commonwealth, an equal with Great Britain and the other Britannic nations, she will only do so of her own free will. We think the greatest safeguard which we could have in Asia at the present time would be a real and lasting friendship between Great Britain and India, but it must be based on absolute equality. This does not mean that we think the work of Great Britain in India is over ; far from it. In the task of helping India to fulfil her destiny we think that British help will be required for many a long day.
One last paragraph must be about ourselves. During the past year the Spectator has lost some old friends and has gained many new ones. We cannot expect all our readers to agree with us. But with the passing of the years we find ourselves less inclined to tie ourselves to any Party. Mr. Strachey used to define the position of the Spectator as" left centre.' Perhaps that definition still holds good. But of one thing our readers may rest assured. The independence of this journal is very dear to us. We think that the need for a weekly review, untrammelled by party affiliations and seeking only to serve the national interest, was never greater, and if we may judge by present indications, the future of the Spectator was never brighter. Our readers may often disagree with us, as they do, but we know they believe in the sincerity of our desire to work whole-heartedly and without respite for a " Better England " in a better world,