11 June 1952, Press Association Luncheon, Savoy Hotel, London1
Last week I watched the Trooping the Colour and our young Queen riding at the head of her Guards. I thought of the history of the past and the hopes of the future. Not only of the distant past – it is barely ten years since we upheld on our strong, unyielding shoulders the symbols, the honour and even perhaps the life of the free world. Certainly no one of British race could contemplate such a spectacle without pride. But no thinking man or woman could escape the terrible question: on what does it all stand? It does indeed seem hard that the traditions and triumphs of a thousand years should be challenged by the ebb and flow of markets and commercial and financial transactions in the swaying world which has sprung up and is growing ever larger around us, and that we have to watch from month to month the narrow margins upon which our solvency and consequently our reputation and influence depend. But fifty million islanders growing food for only thirty millions, and dependent for the rest upon their exertions, their skill and their genius, present a problem which has not been seen or at least recorded before. In all history there has never been a community so large, so complex, so sure of its way of life, posed at such dizzy eminence and on so precarious a foundation. Lands and nations whom we have defeated in war or rescued from subjugation are today more solidly sure of earning their living than we, who have imparted our message of Parliamentary institutions to the civilised world, and kept the flag of freedom flying in some of its darkest days.
Around us we see the streets so full of traffic and the shops so splendidly presented, and the people, cheerful, well-dressed, content with their system of Government, proud, as they have a right to be of their race and name. One wonders if they realise the treacherous trap-door on which they stand. I would not say this to you if it was not your duty to expose any facts, however unpleasant, to them, Britain can take it.
To speak like this is not to cry despair. It is the Alert; but it is more than the Alert; it is the Alarm. We have never been beaten yet and now we fight not for vainglory or imperial pomp, but for survival as an independent, self-supporting nation. It has often been said we were approaching national bankruptcy in October last after our two-years orgy of electioneering, and certainly the figures to prove it can all be produced. But any British Government, worthy of the name, called upon to bear the burden would have taken severe, unpopular measures of one kind or another to ward off the obvious and imminent peril. In wartime we were confronted with extreme decisions. There was nothing we would not have done for our life and cause. In time of peace happily we work under more limited conditions both in risks and in remedies. The dangers do not present themselves to the mass of the people in the same acute and violent manner as in the days when London was being bombed. Now the crisis is different in form but, as it seems to me, scarcely less fateful. Moreover there is this outstanding difference between the perils of war and peace. In war we were united, now in peace we find ourselves torn apart by quarrels which bear no relation to our dangers, and, while we brawl along, our thought and action are distracted by a vast superficial process of reciprocal calumniation. We have to live our life from day to day and give back as good as we get, but I warn you that without an intense national realisation of our position in all parties and by all classes, we shall find it very hard to reach that security without which all that we have achieved, all that we possess and all our glories may be cast away.
If I were not sure that the vital forces in our race, not only in this island, but throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations, have only to be aroused to conquer, I would not use these hard words. I use them to you because they may be a guide in the discharge of your responsible duties and also because, through your Agency, they may command the attention of our countrymen here and across the oceans. Thanks to the unpopular measures that have already been taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we have reached in the last six months a position of equipoise. Our head is above water. It is not enough to float. We have to swim and we have to swim successfully against the stream. We are holding our own. That is a considerable return for the sacrifices which our people are having to make. But we cannot be satisfied with that. We must not only pay our way. We cannot be content to live from hand to mouth and from month to month in this world of change and turmoil. We must create, by long and steady systems of trade and exchange throughout our Empire and Commonwealth and throughout the wider world, reserves of strength and solvency which enable us to rise solid, steadfast and superior, above the waves of cosmopolitan speculation. Thus and thus alone can we stand firm and unbroken against all the winds that blow.
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