The Chancellor's Christmas Card
In last week's debate on the White Paper on Capital Investment, Sir Stafford Cripps said that we could look forward to 1948 with quiet confidence. But he characteristically—and rightly—qualified his message of good cheer, by adding that we were not out of the wood yet. This has come to be regarded as the sensible attitude to the economic situation. It would certainly be ungracious as well as unseasonable to reject the Chancellor's message out of hand and to look only on the black side of 1948. But it must be said that such indices as we have of Britain's economic progress give little ground for confidence, however quiet, in the immediate future. The capital cuts with which the Chancellor was primarily concerned may reduce investment next year by k180,000,000. It cannot be said for certain that they will, because on the one hand there is no com- plete machinery for enforcing the cuts and on the other hand the sheer absence of physical resources could make the actual cuts much larger than those proposed. In either case confidence is hardly appropriate. Again, the fall last month in the adverse balance of trade was only achieved by a fall in imports which happened to . be more than sufficient to offset a rather unencouraging performance in exports. There is nothing in present trends to indicate that the trading deficit, which can hardly be less than L600,000,000 this year, will be reduced to a safe level next. As to the proposed rise in coal exports, including bunkers, to 200,000 tons a week from January 1st, Mr. Gaitskell himself pointed out that it was not sufficient to meet the commitments entered into at Paris (upon whose fulfilment Marshall aid may in part depend). A million tons a week would be a healthy level for exports and bunkers. It is difficult to be con- fident that it will be reached. The story is the same all along the line. It is not impossible to reach the desired goal, but it can only be reached by a tremendous effort, accompanied by willingness to accept at least another year of austere living. The Chancellor is confident that the effort and the forbearance will both be forthcoming. But as to the effort the workers will be willing to put out and the sacrifices they will be willing to bear next year he knows no more than any other prophet.