Britain After the War
RT. HON. MALCOLM MACDONALD
British High Commissioner I» Canada
BEFORE attempting any prophecy about Britain after the war, let me state a few facts about Britain today. Sometimes in North America the character of the British nation is misunderstood. For example, the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a Monarchy. It still retains an ancient aristocracy and its Parliament includes the House of Lords.
Some people deduce from these facts that it is a reactionary land, ruled by feudal barons with medieval ideas of social policy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Some of our constitutional appearancès may lend color to the theory. Admittedly also we in Britain have allowed some deplorable blemishes to mar our society. There have been appalling slums, serious class distinctions and a good deal of privilege and snobbery. Nevertheless, in spite of those things — which are not entirely lacking in other countries — Britain is one of the truest political democracies in the world.
One need only study the composition of its highest executive authority, the War Cabinet, to see how true that is. Many different sections of the nation are represented there. Anthony Eden is a baronet’s son who was educated at Eton and Oxford. Herbert Morrison is a policeman’s son who has educated himself since he left school at the age of 14. Oliver Lyttleton has had a highly successful career in big business. Ernest Bevin is an ex-dock worker who is also the foremost Trade Union leader of the day. If you look for a lord in the inner War Cabinet in London, you will search in vain. The nearest approach to a representative of the old British aristocracy is a ■certain person called Winston Churchill, through whose veins flows the blood of a family which has been ducal for two centuries. Though his blood may be technically blue, it seems to be well-established that it is not lacking in red corpuscles.
The British then are politically democratic. But many observers before the war thought they detected signs that the nation was also growing old and tired. They suspected, indeed, that the British were approaching senility. The war has shown that that also was one of those extraordinary British appearances which do not correspond exactly with reality.
When the enemy bombs whistled down on Britain four years ago, smashing buildings and killing and maiming people in cities, towns and villages alike, a new chapter opened in the story of the British people. I do not mean just a chapter of coolness and courage under tire such as has not been surpassed in human warfare. Certainly their valor was a glorious thing. But they were experiencing something more significant and deeper than mere physical heroics in those wild times. Being bombed was not only a physical experience. It was a psychological, even a spiritual experience as well. In a sense the bombs fell like storms of rain on the rich soil of British national character, digging into the ground and refreshing the roots of the finest qualities which lay beneath the surface.
Toughened By Blitz
THREE things in particular happened to the people then. First, the blitz toughened them, not only physically but also morally. The bombs caused other casualties besides human beings and buildings. Such things as complacency and slackness were also killed. Such virtues as energy, fortitude, courage and passion were revived to their highest pitch.
Secondly, the bombs produced a w’holesome correcting of values in Britain. There is now less worshipping of false gods than there was before 1940. For instance, material things are held of less account than they were. How that happened can be easily explained. Many people have had their houses,
furniture and private treasures blown to bits. They find they can get on without those things. But there are other things, which are also threatened nightly in the raids, without which life is not worth living. They are things like the right to be one’s own self; freedom to think, speak and act as one’s conscience or inclinations bid; the enjoyment of family life and of the affection of friends; liberty to choose one’s own line of creative work; liberty to worship. The British people know today that things like these are the most precious possessions in life.
But perhaps the most important product of the bombing has been yet another development. It is the emergence of a new sense of comradeship among all the citizens of the country, a feeling that in human society every individual is really dependent on every other, that they are all members of the same team.
Britain used to be a place where there were distinct social divisions between the classes. Generally speaking the upper classes did not know the middle classes, and the middle classes did not know the lower classes. Well, the bombs blasted many social differences away. When rich and poor alike share the experience of having all their material possessions destroyed overnight, distinctions between them mean less than they did before. When every individual in the community runs the same danger of losing life or limb, the social gulf between one and another is bridged. In the shambles of bombed streets every living person becomes a companion of everybody else.
So in Britain King and Queen, Lords and Commoners, rich and poor, men and women, old and young all met together on the ground of their common humanity, co-operating as equals in actions which were necessary to save the nation. They discovered how dependent they were on each other. They came to appreciate each other’s worth. If each section of the people had not played its part well, then the whole people would have been lost. So a new sense of the community has been born.
Won’t Easily Forget
OF COURSE, we shall not remember all these lessons when the mixed stress and exaltation of a struggle for existence have been removed. We shall slip back a bit to a less finer mood. But I think we shall retain much of what we have gained. It might be argued that that did not happen after the last war. But between 1914 and 1918 the population of Britain hardly experienced in their own persons the physical chastisement and spiritual searchings of battle. This time they have suffered them. They will not easily forget.
So the new spirit will outlast the war and continue to animate the British people in the peace that follows. Few in Britain ever want to see a privileged class re-established there. They want every individual to have a fair chance. They want to see real equality of opportunity between man and man. They want that sense of all being members of one community, working together for the common good, to inspire them in their future efforts.
One result will be immense fresh advances in social reform. Every serious student of British politics knows that enlightened social legislation will be nothing new there. The tide of progressive social reform has been rising steadily for a generation. A lot of nonsense is talked and written about the supposed weakness of British Governments between World War One and World War Two. No doubt those Governments made serious mistakes. But all the time they were creating a better Britain.
For example, in domestic affairs the slums were being systematically destroyed. In the 20 years prior to 1939 a huge program df state-aided house building had already settled one third of the entire population of the country, including many of the slum dwellers, into decent new homes. Widespread public health services were stretching their healing touch into every
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"Britain will move to the left, but not the extreme left . . . The result will be another example of British genius for compromise"
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corner of the kingdom. They were largely responsible for the physical and mental strength with which the population afterward survived the Battle of Britain. Again, the working people were given the benefits of Social Insurance schemes, which helped them in unemployment, sickness and old age more generously than almost any comparable system in the world. The educational standards in the national schools were being constantly improved.
After the war the pace of such reforms will quicken. It has been greatly accelerated even during the war. I need not describe the many remarkable new welfare services, such as those concerning nutrition, which have sprung up to protect citizens amidst the hazards of battle on the home front. They have been described in the newspapers. But they are only a prelude to greater changes. When victory has been won and the nation’s energy can be diverted from waging war against external enemies to continuing the fight against internal foes like poverty, unemployment and disease, the Parliament at Westminster is likely to pass a series of great measures which will alter many things.
Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps after its immense exertions during the war the British nation will be too weary to accomplish these things. Or perhaps the squabbles of political parties, or industrial disputes between capital and labor, will break out again to such an extent that the collective energy and will power will get hopelessly dissipated. There is some danger of this. But I do not think it will happen to too serious an extent. The strength and resolve of the whole people have been thoroughly aroused. Moreover, the different political parties are to a large extent agreed on what changes are necessary. And already the work is being put in hand.
As I write, a Bill which will radically alter the national education system has just passed by almost universal consent through the House of Commons. Legislation tackling public health problems will follow. This promises to inaugurate bold changes in our hospital system, our medical services and our general provision for the prevention and cure of disease. The Government is also preparing legislation to put into practice most of the recommendations of the famous Beveridge Report on Social Security. There are certain to be new laws for a nation-wide program of house building, for the reconstruction in more beautiful form of our bombed cities, and for improved town and country planning. Bills will be needed for the reorganization of industry and agriculture. Perhaps there will be national service legislation. Many reforms seeking to improve the conditions in which citizens can perform their duties and enjoy their rights in society will be produced, debated and passed into law.
Britain will move distinctly to the political “left.” But it will not be to the extreme left. The strain of moderation in the national character will, as usual, assert itself. Adventuresomeness and prudence will be nicely balanced. The result will be another example of the British genius for compromise.
In the matter of the organization of industry, for example, there is likely to be a marriage of two principles which are sometimes in conflict. Socialist leaders, who put the emphasis on the need for collective control, assert that
there will also be room for individual enterprise. Conservative leaders, who attach a high importance to individual enterprise, declare that there must be more collective control in future than there was in the past. Probably the two sides will not meet each other halfway, but at least the gap between them will not be very wide.
The fact is that Britain after the war will be one of the most interesting laboratories in the world for experiments in modern social legislation aimed at advancing the physical, intellectual and moral well-being of her people. The changes under way assume such proportions that they are more accurately described not as Social Reform but as Social Revolution. It is, however, a peaceful Revolution, achieved not by violence but by the typical English processes of parliamentary debate, constitutional legislation and evolutionary development.
Huge though it is, this will not be the only task which the British Government and people tackle. Their responsibilities do not end at their own Island shores. First, they are the centre of a British Commonwealth and Empire which stretches round the earth. In it are some 50 Colonies, Protectorates and Mandated Territories, the subcontinent of India and Burma, and five sovereign Dominions.
Let me write first about the Colonies. The British people recognize that in them lie problems which will test to the utmost their capacity for Government and statesmanship. They take an increasingly liberal view of their responsibilities to those parts of the Empire which are not yet fully selfgoverning. They are trustees for the colonial peoples, in honor bound to protect and promote their well-being until such time as those peoples are fit to take over the government of their own affairs.
How seriously the British take this responsibility was illustrated by legislation passed through Parliament four years ago. Previously only such development works and social services were established in a colony as the finances of that particular colony could support. In rich territories the revenue was sufficient. In poor territories it was not. So the peoples of those Colonies suffered some neglect.
Then Parliament passed a memorable Bill which put the burden of this onto the British taxpayers. The action received the enthusiastic support of the taxpayers themselves. They agreed that over the next 10 years they would supplement the Colonies’ revenues by providing from their own pockets a sum of approximately $250,000,000 toward development and welfare works in those countries. In the Colonies this sum is worth much more than its face value. Labor and other costs there are a fraction of what they are in Britain or in Canada. In fact the British people’s gift is the equivalent of about $2,000,000,000.
That was not all. The new law provided that if this money proved insufficient to do the job properly Parliament would vote more funds. The present Secretary of State for the Colonies indicated recently that probably a considerably larger sum would be required.
No Exception To Principle
That is one way in which the British people will carry out their trust to their fellow citizens in the Colonies. But at the same time they are doing something else. They hope that at any rate many of the Colonies will sooner or later evolve from their present colonial
status. They hope that their peoples, some of whom are the children of ancient and honorable civilizations, will one day become fully self-govern' ing. Our colonial administrators are training them for that responsibility. There is no exception to the principle anywhere in the Colonial Empire. The primary purpose of our administration, even among the most primitive races in parts of Africa, is to train them to stand always a little more firmly on their own social and political feet. That is in the best tradition of British Imperial rule, and it will be steadily maintained after the war.
Then there is India. That vast country is in a very different position from any colony. Its teeming population has advanced much farther along the road to complete self-government. No one can say yet when any particular colony will reach that goal. But so far as the British Government and people can determine it the time for India’s arrival has been fixed.
What is the position? Some critics suggest that a tyrannical British Government stands in the way of India’s freedom. But that is not the situation. No doubt we have made some mistakes in handling this remarkably difficult problem. But for many years past the British Government has been anxious to press ahead with reforms which would result in the assumption by India of the full powers of a sovereign nation. Certain practical difficulties stand in the way. They do not exist in Britain. They exist in India. Partly the princely Indian States complicate the issue. But the primary difficulty is that the great Hindu and Moslem religious communities, which play a crucial part in British India’s politics, have not yet been able to compose their political differences and to agree upon a constitution for a self-governing India which divides power equitably between them and protects the rights of minorities.
The solution of the problem lies largely with the Indians themselves, j The British Government has promised j that if they can agree among themj selves they will attain their complete I national freedom at the end of the war. No strings are attached to that proposal. India can gain her liberty either as a Dominion inside the British I Commonwealth or as an independent j nation outside it. The choice rests with her. It would be impossible for the , British, or any other people, to make a , more unqualified offer than that. They ; will be eager after the war to implement the policy in the letter and the spirit. We hope that India then will elect to join the noble company of the Dominions.
We in Britain regard our association with the Dominions as especially precious. It is a unique relationship in j the history of nations. The British j people have no responsibility in the I Dominions’ Government. The citizens ! of the Dominions claimed that fully for j themselves long ago. They are the ; masters of their own national destinies. Canada, Australia, New Zealand,South Africa and Eire are sovereign nations j equal in status with Great Britain herself. No one in Britain has any desire to derogate from that position.
! But these half-dozen nations are i joined in a family party under one ; Crown. It is the first really successful i experiment in peaceful co-operation between free nations wdiich men have conducted. It may be a model for wider co-operation. On grounds not Í only of sentiment and self interest, but also of the unique service which collectively as a Commonwealth our nations can perform to humanity, all of us in
all political parties in Britain hope that the partnership will be strengthened through the difficult times that are approaching.
We shall all have to live in a world where international problems will be more difficult and testing than ever before. The British people after the war will be ready to co-operate wholeheartedly in whatever international organizations may be established for promoting peace. There are no isolationists among them. They have no illusions about any nation being sufficient unto itself, and they recognize their international duties. They will be prepared to assume the maximum commitments which should belong to a fully co-operative member of the family of nations.
It is too early to see the exact shape which the international authority for maintaining peace will take. The British people believe that it should be, as the Declaration of the Moscow Conference foreshadowed, a world-wide association in which all nations, great and small, are partners. But they recognize that the greatest influence and responsibility will rest with the three principal Powers: the United States of America, Russia and Britain itself, in association with the Dominions.
Let me say something about the British people’s attitude to those other two nations in this important trinity. What will relations between Britain and Russia be after the war? If they are not excellent, it will not be through lack of good will on the British people’s part. The British today have a realistic, sensible and most friendly attitude to Russia. They are filled with admiration and gratitude for the Soviet’s stubborn, massive resistance against the German invaders, and for their stupendous victories over the once unconquerable German armies. They recognize that the military feats performed by the Russians must be due in large part to some virtue which they received from their Revolution. Sober British men and women feel that we can learn some lessons, get some good tips, from Russia’s experiment during the last 15 years. But they also believe that many methods and policies which are suited to the Russians are not suited to themselves. The Russians and the British are two very different peoples, with distinct national characters, traditions and environments. These naturally lead to differences in the internal economics and politics of the two states.
But the British people, for their part, are determined not to allow these differences to prejudice wholehearted co-operation with Russia in international affairs. They regard that co-operation as essential for world peace. The problem of Russia’s international relations in recent years has been a problem of mutual suspicions. We western peoples have suspected the Soviet leaders of designs to interfere in our internal government. We thought, not without justification at one period, that we were the aggrieved parties. But let us remember that the Russians also harbored a great suspicion of us. They feared that the capitalist countries intended an attack on the Soviet fortress of Communism. These mutual suspicions are what poisoned our relations. The prospect will improve as they disappear, and the British people are in a mood to give Russia their friendliest confidence.
Then what about their attitude to the other nation who will be a principal partner in world affairs? Untii recently they were almost completely ignorant about the United States of America.
They had ideas about Russia, because Russia was a lively actor in European politics. But America held aloof, and hardly came within their ken. There are no reservations about their anxiety for close friendship and co-operation with the United States. I do not think we should assume that the relationship will always be easy.
In the course of their separation, during almost two centuries, differences of temperament and character have developed between the two principal Anglo-Saxon nations which will occasionally produce misunderstandings between them. But those misunderstandings will grow fewer with the passage of time. They will tend to disappear as the British and Americans meet more often and get to know each other better. That is bound to happen in this shrinking world, where New York has become almost as close to London by airplane as Edinburgh is by train. There is an even greater guarantee of Anglo-American friendship than that. Although the interests of the two countries sometimes seem, superficially, to be in conflict, fundamentally they are, and always will be, the same.
Those, then, are a few thoughts about Britain in the postwar period. I will add only one other remark. With all due modesty about my country, I must state that I cannot agree with those who fear that it may degenerate into a second-class power. The nation has shown its quality during the war. For four and a half years its people have been a reliable and unyielding
centre of resistance against our enemies. They—with their fellow citizens in the Dominions, who fought unflinchingly at their side—have thereby acquired a moral authority in the world which will compensate for some possible falling off in material strength.
Nor did the British even in their most desperate hours lock themselves in a narrow defense of their own island. Their soldiers, sailors and airmen crossed the oceans to fight on battle fronts all round the world. Their workers have achieved the highest production of war weapons, per head of population, of any among the United Nations. Their inventors have a resource which has, for example, conjured up three of the finest airplanes of the war—the Spitfire, the Mosquito and the Lancaster. Their scientists are the fathers of the supreme instruments of defense and attack connected with radio. In Winston Churchill the British have produced one of the most potent war leaders of all time.
These are a few of the marks of a nation which has never been greater than it is today. Such characteristics will not fade suddenly when the war is over. They will persist. The nation will have changed as a result of its tribulations and sacrifices. It will be simpler, even more democratic, and materially poorer but spiritually richer than it was before. It will be less arrogant. We in Britain are conscious of our faults. We know that in some qualities other peoples are our superiors. But we still think that we have a few gifts, and it will be our pride to put them unreservedly at the service of mankind.