THE PRODIGALITY OF ANTI-WASTE : THE NEED FOR AN OPPOSITION.
[ComaimmaTED.1 DEPEATEDLY, consistently, and untiringly, as your readers are aware, you have advocated in these columns the cause of Economy. You advocated. it before the term " Anti-Waste " was impressed into the political currency. You will probably continue to advocate it when " Anti-Waste "—as the result of the Abbey election portends—is clipped and effaced. " Anti-Waste indeed, as the barbarous, bombastic, and aggressive term connote; is as far removed from economy as axes are from pruning, hooks. The cry " Save us from our friends ! " right well come from the lips of every true- economist, for the cause of prudent and statesmanlike economy has been. hurt by the bungling intolerance and indiscrimination of the " Anti- Waste campaign. I should like it, therefore, to be clearly understood that in using the phrase " Anti-Waste " I do not mean economy. Rather the reverse. For economy postulates a certain wisdom, a cool diplomacy, a calm and far-seeing management, which is very far removed. from the stunt methods of the " Anti-Waste " campaign. A housewife who set herself the worthy task of saving, say, a pound a week on her housekeeping expenditure would be unwise to begin by shouting and screeching about the neighbourhood that she was being robbed and plundered. She would probably, on the contrary, go collectedly into her accounts, examine each item as to its dispensability, compare the prices of one tradesman as against those of another, and employ all those sane methods of housewifery which women understand so well.
In the sphere of politics the campaign known as " Anti- Waste " has preferred the former method. It has there- fore reduced itself to the dimensions of a. farce, and the public, far from being amused, are heartily sick and tired of the whole business. It is only because they feel that the farce may be nearing its conclusion that they are disposed to take the whole thing with a shrug, of the shoulders. It is with the conviction that I have accurately diagnosed the public sentiment in this matter that I proceed. briefly to survey the circumstances in which the economy campaign was conceived, how the present juncture has been reached, and to suggest the lines upon which conflicting tactics in the pursuit of economy should converge. I believe, in fact, that historically and constitutionally the only satisfactory way in which popular feeling in this matter can be given adequate expression is through the medium of a unified Opposition in Parliament. To endeavour to achieve a satisfactory consummation to the, agitation by other means than these is to court failure, and disappoint- ment. The recent election in the Abbey division of Westminster is a case in point. That election is an illus- tration of the futility of basing candidatures for Parliament upon a single and meaningless generality to which the candidate, in the event of election, would have no-means of giving effect. Any ending to most modern- theatrical representations— not excluding the election in the Abbey division—would be a happy one, and it is just possible that the smallness of the poll. in Westminster may be attributable, like the modest attendance at some of our theatres, to the incompetence of the actors or the stunt tactics of the management— perhaps even to the staleness of the farce. The polling booth, like the box-office, is not an end in itself, but a means thereto. If the end be undesirable, few indeed will avail themselves of the means. If Parliamentary institu- tions are to be degraded to the standard- of a Montmartre music-hall we may at least console ourselves that the public) will not be a party to the debdcle. They will leave that unenviable role to the lavish financiers who have made a special monopoly of Anti-Waste. Happily, signs are not wanting that before " Anti- Waste destroys the Constitution it will destroy itself. We have recently seen the spectacle of three of its hench- men hewing, not a common enemy, but one another, and although, of course,. " the only genuine Anti-Waste ' candidate " hewed himself to victory, he defeated more than the two other " only genuine Anti-Waste candidates " who were opposed to him. He defeated Anti-Waste. He conclusively demonstrated to an amazed and admiring electorate that the suffix " Anti-Waste " may be legiti- mately appended to the political denomination, or—as in this case—series of denominations of any, or—as in this case—every candidate for Parliamentary honours. More, it may be appended without risk of compromising the chances of the candidate concerned. General Nichol- son's election shows this, if it shows nothing else. In fact, it probably shows this and nothing else. From these facts it might be deduced that Anti-Waste, contagious though it would appear to be, was innocuous. Contagious, however, it is not, for an election was recently fought and won in Caerphilly without the assistance of the " economy without exception " Press. Nor is it innocuous ; for in so far as it has posed as a party it has merely masked a thoughtless routine of repetition with a false show of purpose. Its success would have meant neither more nor less than this, that the electorate 'would have been asked to barter . its opinions upon every question of vitality in domestic and diplomatic matters for the sake of a speculative saving of a penny in the Income Tax. The truth is, that before a motley gathering of men inspired by a purely destructive ideal can call themselves a party they must come before the electorate with a coherent policy. " Economy without exception " is not a coherent policy. It is not even an incoherent policy. It is no policy at all. It is as if the Labour Party were to put their programme into a phrase such as " Wages without excep- tion," or the recently-born Independent Group were to claim that they stood for " Independence without excep- tion." There is only one way of testing the good faith of an organization such as this and that is to ask, What does such a phrase mean on the supposition that you get into power ? The question is answered by its asking, and Nothing " is the answer. And yet Anti-Waste has been of service. It came into existence at a moment when the Coalition was beginning to be suspect, when the policy of Reconstruction was going bankrupt itself and was threatening to involve the nation in its ruin. Coming at such a moment, the campaign did seem to provide an alternative. The country was sick and tires and the citizen was harassed financially. He was harried by restrictions and by controls. He rushed to the standard. The standard, unfortunately, was not broad enough to give protection to all those who -wished to stand behind it. Since then its bearers themselves have not been strong enough to hold it aloft. Now the army of citizens who flocked to the standard were inspired by a very much more human ideal than the Anti-Waste League was capable of providing. They were sick not only of the tax-gatherer but of the pettifogging inspector. Had either of the two formerly great parties in the State seized hold of the prevailing discontent and translated it into one of their own great political principles, the battle by this time would have been won. But Liberalism has forgotten " Retrenchment," Unionism the Constitution. A restoration of the old principles of Government, whether of Gladstonian Liberalism or of Disraelian Toryism, would have won back for us economy and something more. It would have reconstituted Cabinet responsibility. It would have restored the old traditions of the Civil Service. It would have revived Parliamentary control. It would have expunged from the Statute Book all those measures which have made way for, and, indeed, necessitated an inflated executive—an executive inflated, not only in size, but in power. Government extravagance, as we know it, is not a policy but a symptom. Cut away the causes, restore the time-honoured procedure of Parlia- ment, bring back those practices and institutions which our ancestors revered, and you have economy, for you have the State in its proper place. Why have the great political parties forgotten Liberty ? Why do we no longer hear the thunderous eloquence of those who love the Constitution ? Was the proposed sale of Runnymede but a sign of the times ?
Economy is the great necessity of the hour and a bankrupt is not always ableeto make the best arrangement. But, like the country itself, he must make the best arrangement he can. The nation, as the facts of the situation clearly prove, is being taxed and rated beyond its taxable and rateable limit.. Money destined for the replenishment of industry— from which both taxes and rates come—is not reaching its destination, but is being tapped by the Exchequer. Local Authorities are spending more than they can conveniently raise from the rates. These two phenomena alone can be described only in the language that is applied to indi- vidual citizens as " bankruptcy." This, then, is the moment for constructive economy. The Anti-Waste campaign has failed because it is not constructive. It would attack the Exchequer with an axe. Such suggestions as you put forward last week for the overhauling of the administrative machine it would not countenance, for you cannot overhaul with an axe. You have shown, too, that the Anti-Waste attack on the Civil Service has lacked discrimination and would wipe out the good with the bad. It has lacked reverence for both Constitutional procedure and Con- stitutional practice. It has boasted that it will sweep the country with candidates of whom it will ask no question but this : " Are you prepared to cut down everything relentlessly ? "
Such tactics, I am convinced, do evil to all that is best in our State and Constitution. Those who feel as I do dislike the " booming." We dislike the sensationalism. We dislike the manner in which the campaign is run. That campaign has lasted a year. Its success has now been checked. To those who wished to glide easily into Parlia- ment " Anti-Waste " has been as the manna in the wilderness. The whole business has been most dis- tasteful.
Economy must be achieved not as a stunt, but on Con- stitutional lines. It must be achieved through an Opposition. An Opposition is as much a necessity in our Constitution as a Government. Let those who are on the Opposition Bench take this matter in hand, and take it in hand seri- ously. Let no pains be spared by them in criticizing every one of the Government's measures, not only on its individual merits, but from the point of view of administrative economy. Millions could be saved to-morrow if the central departments were put in proper working order. It is the business of the Opposition to see that this is done. Instead of flowery platitudes about extravagance let the cause of economy be consistently pursued by searching questions and unanswerable criticism. Competitive Anti- Waste must cease. There must be united effort by all who believe in economy. The end must be pursued quietly, persistently and logically. The disorganized character of the Opposition has but one achievement to its credit—the appointment of the Business Committee. Had it clung tenaciously to the principle of the " taxable limit " the Budget this year might have been several hundred millions less. I suggest that the " taxable limit " be put in the forefront of the Opposition demands during the next Session. The Coalition has one great virtue— that of stealing the enemy's clothes. Let this article be placed in a conspicuous position and I make no doubt that before long the Coalition will claim it as its very own. Before the principle of the " taxable limit " is adopted in our national finances there can be no hope for serious economy.
Unless, therefore, the Opposition can unite on a question such as this, the dissipation of its forces will be as much a matter for scorn as the present prodigality of " Anti- [We heartily agree that a real and strong Opposition was never so much needed as now. Unfortunately, the Independent Liberals are tied to extravagant proposals and the Labour members are the worst spendthrifts of all. However, if the doctrine of the taxable lirm't were adopted a great deal could be done, and the Opposition would certainly gather numbers and strength in proportion to its success.—En. Spectator.]