9 February 1950, Forum Cinema, Devonport1
In this election we have had to face several grotesque untruths, the kind of thing that could not be maintained in Parliament or before any fair-minded audience, but which can be mouthed from door to door by the Socialist canvassers.
The first colossal misrepresentation of facts – ‘terminological inexactitude’, if you like the expression (there are shorter variants, but we have to be very careful now at this election, which we are told must be kept thoroughly genteel) – well, the first of these misrepresentations of fact was a statement that the Conservative Party meant to create unemployment in order that the need for finding a job should add a greater spur to labour. There is no truth in this. It is a monstrous suggestion. There was reference to this last night on the wireless by a Government spokesman [Mr James Griffiths].
The Socialist boast that they cured unemployment has been exploded out of their own mouths by the statements of Mr Morrison and Sir Stafford Cripps. All of them have said there would be anything up to 2,000,000 unemployed if it had not been for the American Loan. Fancy the Socialist Government in England keeping itself alive, economically and politically, by these large annual dollops of dollars from capitalist America! They seek the dollars; they beg the dollars; they bluster for the dollars; they gobble the dollars. But in the whole of their 8,000-word manifesto they cannot say ‘Thank you’ for the dollars.
It has also been proved that we had a joint plan in the days of the wartime Government for dealing with unemployment should it occur after the war. To this plan all the leading Socialist Ministers were party. That plan still holds good. So it is no longer a matter of dispute. We are all agreed upon it. They admit unemployment has been avoided by American dollars; and we are broadly agreed what we should do to prevent it or mitigate it should it recur. Everyone knows that any Government that comes into power as a result of this election will do its utmost to prevent unemployment. How far they will be successful will depend upon the methods they employ and the plight we are found to be in. I assure you there can be no greater safeguard against unemployment in the coming years than the return of a Government which will revive confidence in our country all over the world.
And now there is the tale of food subsidies. Sir Stafford Cripps told us on the broadcast that the Conservative Party had decided to abolish food subsidies. £406,000,000 is being spent in food subsidies, which is represented as a kindly gift by the kindly Government to the whole nation. It is not a gift. A great deal more is taken in tax by the kindly Government. Mr Morrison, evidently in collusion, repeated this whatever-you-care-to-call-it on a separate night. It is utterly untrue. We have no intention of abolishing food subsidies until and unless we are absolutely sure that the basic necessaries of life are available at prices all the people can pay down to the poorest in the land.
More than a fortnight ago Dr Edith Summerskill said at Kettering: ‘The British Government could abolish rationing tomorrow if it were prepared to let the lowest income groups do without while the wealthiest bought up all available supplies. But it was not prepared to do so.’ This is a very good example for the cumbrous and costly working of Socialist methods and machinery. The question immediately arises whether there is not some better way of helping the lower income groups to obtain their food at cheap prices than to keep in being for their sake the whole vast, complex, costly apparatus of rationing.
In our view the strong should help the weak. In the Socialist view the strong should be kept down to the level of the weak in order to have equal shares for all. How small the share is does not matter so much, in their opinion, so long as it is equal. They would much rather that everyone should have half rations than that anybody should get a second helping. What are called ‘the lowest income groups’ before the war when there were no rations in fact consumed under the ‘wicked Tories’ one and half times as much meat and more than twice as much sugar as Dr Summerskill doles out to all of us today.
In the years before the war the diet of London workhouses was in every way superior in meat, fats, sugar and also in variety to that which can be bought by a fully-employed wage-earner today. Yet to hear the Socialists talk on the broadcast, especially Mr Herbert Morrison and Sir Stafford Cripps, you would believe that we were living in a perfect paradise of plenty and good management. To apply the Socialist principle of equality at all costs is, in fact, to lay down the law that the pace of our advancing social army must be the pace of the slowest and the weakest man. Such a principle is, of course, destructive of all hopes of victory in social and philanthropic advance. It would undoubtedly condemn our island, with its enormous population, to a lower and more restricted standard of living than prevails anywhere else in the civilised world.
We are told: ‘See what happened when sweets were derationed.’ I am not at all sure that that was not a put-up job done with the hope of failure, so as to be an example. Certainly it was done in the most clumsy manner by those who had every interest to prevent its being a success. We certainly look forward to the day when we shall cease to be the only country in the civilised and free world where wartime rationing prevails. But I pledge any Conservative Government with which I am concerned not to take off rationing on any basic commodity until we are certain it will not only confer benefits upon the great mass of the people, but will protect the lower income groups from hardship.
You know, ladies and gentlemen, our Socialist masters think they know everything. They even try to teach the housewife how to buy her food. Mr Douglas Jay has said: ‘Housewives as a whole cannot be trusted to buy all the right things, where nutrition and health are concerned. This is really no more than an extension of the principle according to which the housewife herself would not trust a child of four to select the week’s purchases. For in the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves.’
That is what Mr Jay has said. Was there ever a period in the history of this island when such a piece of impertinence could have been spread about by a Minister? Let us call upon this Government to account for more of their own failures. Let us take them first on all the promises they made about housing. Before the war, under the ‘wicked’ Tory Government, with Mr Neville Chamberlain in charge, we were running to a thousand homes a day. There was no fuss about it. A certain amount of aid was given to local authorities, but no subsidising of private industry. They just let things work naturally. A thousand houses a day!
Now what has happened? They cannot build half what the Tories under Mr Neville Chamberlain were building without mentioning it; without it being a political question at all. The ‘wicked Tories’ – a thousand; the ‘noble Socialists’ – five hundred, each of them costing three times as much as they did before the war. Here in Plymouth I am told you have a waiting list of 11,000 houses. Randolph tells me that there are in Devonport houses which were built by private enterprise before the war in 1938 for which people paid £685. These houses sell for £2,000 today. What a sign of Socialist efficiency. What a sign of getting value for money. What a sign in the fall of the purchasing power of money, on which depends for everyone the innumerable transactions we have to carry out between man and man in any community.
If the Government had been trying to give you houses instead of playing politics; if they had been thinking in terms of bricks and mortar instead of in spite and venom, many a family in this city and many a score of thousand families in this island would today have a roof and front door and a hearth of their own. I think the Socialists should be called to account by the electors after their sorry and discreditable performance. Boasts, promises, pledges on the one hand, and the shameful underproduction on the other. No Government but this Socialist Government could have fallen so far short of public duty and of solemn obligation. . . .
Sir Stafford Cripps is reported to have said: ‘You must have controls so that people cannot do just as they like.’ There speaks the true voice of the Socialist. People must not do what they like. They must do what their Socialist masters (to use the word of the Attorney-General) think is good for them and tell them what to do. Thus the Socialist Party and Dr Summerskill have other reasons for wishing to keep the whole business of food rationing in full operation, besides their sympathy for the lower income groups and ignorance of the best way to help them. Mr Bottomley, the Under-Secretary for Overseas Trade, said eighteen months ago in Copenhagen: ‘As long as a Socialist Government remains in office in Britain it can be expected that a rationing system will be maintained.’ Thus we have not only rationing for rationing’s sake, but the Food Ministry for the Food Ministry’s sake. And under Socialist administration these sorts of organisations grow in cost with every month that passes.
In wartime, rationing is the alternative to famine. In peace it may well become the alternative to abundance. There is now one Food Ministry official for every 250 families in the country. There are more than 42,000 officials in all. But Dr Summerskill and her chief (I will not say her superior), Mr Strachey, exult in the feeling that they have so large an army to command. Their difficult and anxious problem is to make sure that it has enough to do to justify its existence, and give them this great mass of patronage and innumerable opportunities of interfering with other people’s lives.
In the crisis of the war in 1940, when Lord Woolton was Food Minister, when the U-boats were sinking our ships and the air raids destroying our ports, the salaries paid to the Ministry of Food officials were less than £4,500,000 and the total administrative costs of the whole department were less than £8,000,000. However, the costs of all these departments tend to grow. The Socialists try to make them grow because it is part of their policy to have this vast machinery in existence. Also, they like to have as many ordinary people as possible in their power and dependent upon them as often as possible every day. In 1949 the salaries paid by the Socialists to the Ministery of Food officials had gone up from £4,500,000 in 1940 to nearly £14,000,000. The total administrative cost of running the department and working the rationing scheme had gone up from £8,000,000 to £21,000,000. It has well been said, ‘The costs go up, but not the rations.’
Who do you suppose pays for all these 42,000 officials and lavish administrative expense? Every family in the country pays for it on the food they get. The food they get comes to their table weighted with this heavy charge, for which you pay as well as for the food subsidies which are given regardless of expense, to millions of well-to-do people who do not need them at all. In order to pay for this and similar Socialist institutions, oppressive taxes are exacted from all, and beer and tobacco are taxed as they have never been taxed before. The purchase tax inflicts real hardships on the housewife, and particularly on those who have households and families to keep.
Income tax levied upon overtime and the highest forms of skilled craftsmanship discourages the extra effort and superior skill without which our industries cannot hold their own and compete in the modern world. Socialists pretend they give the lower income groups, and all others in the country, cheaper food through their system of rationing and food subsidies. To do it they have to take the money from their pockets first and circulate it back to them after heavy charges for great numbers of officials administering the system of rationing – which Mr Strachey and Dr Edith Summerskill are determined to keep in being whether it is needed or not – have been deducted. Little gifts have been given and came in handy for the election. We are all expected to change our political convictions and give our votes to the Government because a little extra tea and sugar has been saved up and given out. It is an insult to the intelligence of the British nation.
Sir Stafford Cripps now boasts, having first denied it, that the Socialist Government had given away to countries abroad £1,500,000,000 since they came into power to help the reconstruction of the world. They had to borrow it first from the United States or be given it by them. It was only lent or given to help Britain get on her legs again. Now it is gone. One-hundredth part of this £1,500,000,000 would have been enough to give every private motorist a reasonable ration of petrol. Conservatives are as keen as the Socialists to help revive the other countries of the world; but we believe we should be just before we are generous. It will take very strong arguments to convince me that our people should be deprived of the use of their motor vehicles, while other countries enjoy abundant supplies of petrol, largely bought with the money which we have presented to them, and for a large part of which we still remain debtors to America.
Socialism is contrary to human nature. Commerce and trade have always been a great power in this country. If difficulties have come upon them these last four and a half years it is because they have been hampered. The black patch confronting us now is due to the men at the head of the Government who have led and managed us. We must plunge into this pit of torment to rise again and overcome all perils to our life and independence as we have always done before.
The reason I ask for a strong majority is not that one party might ride roughshod, or that special favours might be granted to one class, or to vested interests. I ask for a strong majority towards that broad national unity in which our salvation will be found. Do not fail in your effort. Do not despair of your native land. No one can tell what the future will bring forth, but I believe that if we act wisely and deal faithfully with one another, and set our country, its history, glorious and inspiring, and its future – unlimited except by our own shortcomings – before our eyes, we should come through. Not only can the dangers of the present be overcome and its problems solved, but, having saved the world in war, we should save ourselves in peace.
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- At 75 years of age, Churchill led the Conservative Party into the General Election, in which the Socialists’ 1945 landslide majority was reduced to a threadbare margin of just seven seats. He came to Plymouth in Devon to support his son, Randolph, who was standing against Michael Foot, a future leader of the Labour Party, whom he narrowly failed to dislodge.