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Leader's speech, London 1942

Sir Archibald Sinclair (Liberal)

Location: London


In this address, Sinclair focused primarily on the new world order that would emerge when the war was over. Global stability depended on the creation of an international organisation that will keep the peace, as well as an international court of justice. Moreover, growing economic interdependence meant that any large-scale planning about such issues as food surpluses and access to raw materials would involve more than one state. Thus, it was imperative that Britain should work with the UN in planning the economic and political recovery and reconstruction of Europe. In a domestic context, Britain needed to increase its wealth by promoting enterprise, and to reform its legislative and administrative structure.

It is the people whom the Liberal Party exists to serve - not a section or a class, nor an abstraction like a State or an Empire - but individual men and women and the families in which they live. To serve them - to create for them an environment of peace and justice, of beauty and happiness, and of health and freedom - freedom to express themselves in worship, in art, in literature, in craftsmanship, in commercial enterprise, or in farming the land from which they sprang, and freedom to enjoy the works of others - that is our aim and purpose.

To achieve that purpose, the first requirement is complete victory over Germany, Italy and Japan. Rightly do you recog­nise in your resolutions our allegiance to the moral law. Liberals can never say, ‘We know no King but Caesar,’ but unless you do say that, you have not a chance of survival under the gangster rule of a Hitler or a Mussolini. Their cruelties and villainies, and the sufferings which they have inflicted on all the peoples whose countries they have over-run, have made any suggestion of a compromise peace intolerable to the conscience of humanity. The power of the dictators must be smashed and pulverised. We must assert the supremacy of law over brute force in Rome, Tokyo and Berlin. Until that is done there is not the remotest chance of creating that environment in which men and women can live in peace, freedom and productive activity.

Let no one underestimate the concentration of thought and energy which will be necessary to attain it. Liberals loathe war - yet as soldiers, sailors and airmen, as civil defence workers, as sailors in our merchant ships, as workers in farms, and in factories and offices, they are in the forefront of this war. They are right - not because victory will solve our problems, but because victory alone will give us the opportunity to solve them humanely, wisely and well.

It is easy to see that the world is in the midst of a revolution. No Liberal wants to go back to the old order - but some Liberals fear that we might. That is impossible - it has passed away beyond recall.

A hundred and forty years ago we entered upon a similar struggle because we were convinced that Napoleon would be satisfied with nothing short of the domination of Europe. But after Waterloo, in the days when ‘kings crept out to feel the sun,’ we made the major error of trying to resurrect the Europe of 1789. We reinstated the Bourbons who, in the familiar phrase, had ‘learned nothing and forgotten nothing.’ We are not waging this struggle in order to restore the political and economic Bourbons of the twentieth century. It is easy to see that the old world has passed away.

It is more difficult to discern the shape of the new world through the smoke of war. Two things, however, seem to me manifest. First, that there will be no salvation for any of us except on the basis of a stable international order. Everyone here must have welcomed the noble speech - which I am glad to see printed in our Agenda - by the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Cordell Hull.

He states plainly the need for an international agency which will keep peace among the nations - and he emphasises this point on which we used to dwell before the war - by force if necessary. He demands an international court of Justice. We agree with him. The foundation of the new world order must be justice, buttressed by force, and administered in the first place by those nations who have fought and suffered for the cause of justice and freedom in the war. China, whose ordeal began so long before ours; the gallant Poles and Czechs, the first victims of aggression in Europe whose airmen have fought so brilliantly alongside our own - they must be there. The French, the Nor­wegians, the Dutch, the Belgians, the gallant Greeks who beat the Italian legions in every battle, the Yugoslavs, the Russians whose heroic resistance to the main armies of Germany has stirred the world to admiration and thankfulness; the Americans whose teeth are already in the tyrants’ flesh and who will never let go; Brazil and the South and Central American Republics which have rallied to our cause, and of course the Dominions and India - they must all be there.

Then Mr. Hull goes on to point out that we must also estab­lish a new and better system of international economic relations. It would be impossible to realise the economic objectives of the Atlantic Charter, he said, if America followed policies of narrow economic nationalism, such as their ‘extreme and disastrous tariff policy’ after the last war. ‘We must realise,’ he told his fellow Americans, ‘that our own prosperity depends fully as much on prosperous conditions in other countries as their prosperity depends on ours.’

A world of 70 or so sovereign States, each with absolute political and economic power, would be a world leading not to peace and plenty, but to autarchy, anarchy and war. The world today is fast becoming one economic unit. A crisis in Wall Street in 1930 meant poverty on the banks of the Danube; in 1950 it might mean catastrophe.

The events both of the war and the pre-war periods have shown, beyond any possibility of doubt, the folly of isolationism. When we hear the term ‘isolationist,’ we are accustomed to think of some of the critics of President Roosevelt in the United States. But we had our own isolationists in this country. Their doctrine of detachment expressed itself in many ways, and it was not an accident that many of the keenest supporters of the Ottawa agreements of 1932 were also those who argued that the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the German occupation of Austria, the fate of Czechoslovakia, and the Spanish Civil War were no concern of ours.

This is a very old issue in British politics. It dates from the days of Marlborough and Bolingbroke. But as a result of this struggle it ought finally to be determined. It is abundantly clear that we cannot, even if we would, disinterest ourselves in what happens on the Continent of Europe. No one would suggest that our interests can ever be exclusively European. Our ties with the Dominions will, I hope, be even stronger after than they were before the war. Our affairs are becoming, in the Prime Minister's phrase, ‘increasingly mixed up’ with those of the United States. But these affiliations with nations across the seas do not relieve us of our natural and inalienable share of responsibility for the future of Europe.

So any major planning that has to be done - whether in relation to access to raw materials, conservation of natural resource or food surpluses - is the business of more than the one State within whose frontiers the immediate problem arises.

Such major planning will be indispensable, both nationally and internationally. We must not allow things to develop in a haphazard, lop-sided, chaotic way under the uncontrolled impulse of profit-seeking and economic nationalism. Planning can indeed be used to cover a multitude of sins; it is possible for it to be a cloak under which vested interests can fortify themselves; but as Liberals we must plan to give our people at home and the nations abroad that equality of opportunity which should be available to all, large or small. We want to give the small man and the small nation the best chance of survival and of material, intellectual and spiritual development.

Our task, when the war ends, or when the German armies are driven out from any considerable area, will be as much economic as political. We are all glad to know that plans are already being made in London and in Washington for the rehabilitation of the European Continent. It will not merely be a question of sending relief supplies of food and clothing and medicines. We shall also have to provide the plant and equipment, the fuel, and the raw materials which will enable our Allies once more to stand upon their own legs. Make no mistake - this will be a colossal undertaking. The Supply and Purchasing Organisations which have been established in Washington, London and elsewhere for purely war purposes may well prove their worth again during the period of reconstruction.

It would be a cardinal error if we were to divorce the political from the economic settlement of Europe, and our first task, therefore, will be to plan recovery and reconstruction in concert with the United Nations.

The second thing is this. I have often paid tribute to our heroic and trusted Allies of many nations in this war; but I have added that we cannot expect them to win the war for us - that it is on ourselves and on our own will and effort that we must rely for victory. So in peace we shall need all the peoples and Governments of the world to work with us - but not for us. To restore the world, work, sacrifice and discipline will be as neces­sary in peace as in war. The contribution of Britain to the common effort must be as huge in peace as it will prove to have been in war.

While we are hoping to break down in this country all privi­lege that does not carry with it responsibility, we must remember that the same democratic ideas are afoot throughout the world.

Greater equality at home implies greater equality between peoples throughout the world. How does this affect Britain? In 1938 our foreign investments amounted to about £4,000 millions. That meant that food and raw materials to the value of about £200 millions a year were coming into this country by way of interest to feed our people and our industries - values created by the enterprise of our forbears in the nineteenth century. One ship out of every six coming into this country brought us goods to which past savings entitled us.

The needs of war have already made great inroads into our foreign investments, and they will shrink further as the war goes on. The loss is masked by princely gifts from our Allies - such as Lease-Lend and Canada’s £250 millions’ worth of food and munitions. But we cannot expect to be pensioners after the war.

Our foreign investments and our lead in industrialisation have enabled Britain to support a population of 517 to the square mile compared with 43 in the United States and 20 in the U.S.S.R. We will have to support them in the future paying as we go in goods which we can induce the rest of the world to accept - in competition with other countries which have made good our industrial lead, or are in progress of doing so.

The problem of producing after the war directly (or in­directly by foreign trade) the goods which will maintain and improve our pre-war standards is far from solved so far as post­-war Britain is concerned.

This, as the Fabian Society has recently reminded the Labour Party, is the central fact of our post-war economy: it is more important than any doctrinaire views of what economic system is theoretically best. Those who talk lightly about the problem of production being solved and look forward to a future of slothful prosperity are living in a fool’s paradise. We should be false to our trust if we lent ourselves to the deception that there will be nothing to do after the war but pass a few laws which will bring about a general increase in the standard of life.

It is just that all citizens should be assured of enough to maintain themselves like civilised human beings. There should be a national minimum of food, clothing, shelter, access to health services, recreation and the rest. But the prime need of post‑war Britain will be not merely to redistribute the existing pool of wealth but to increase the pool. This demands that men of initiative - skilled workers, inventors, businessmen ready to risk their savings in developing ideas which may give employment to thousands - shall have scope to try new processes, start new businesses and exploit the energy which is the lifeblood of any economic system.

Britain is the last country in the world who ought to develop the economic Maginot Mind. That way lies stagnation and a falling standard of life. While it ought to be made clear that no private concentration of economic power will be tolerated which is strong enough to hold the community to ransom, there ought to be room for different types of industrial organisation, ranging from the public utility to the ‘one-man concern,’ from the large farm heavily capitalised with every modem scientific and mechanical appurtenance to the small-holding and allotment. Where there is variety, there is scope for experiment without endangering the whole fabric of economic life if the experiment proves a failure. I observe in this connection that most of the resolutions and amendments on the order paper raise an old issue in a new form.

That in itself is nothing new. Each generation is under the necessity of reconsidering and restating the relationship between the individual and the State. Economic changes, political changes, mechanical developments, changes in habits and tastes, all make it inevitable that the problem should constantly recur, and the welfare and happiness of every community depends upon the degree of success with which it is solved.

In a modern State there must be power which can be swiftly and effectively wielded, but not arbitrary power. The distinc­tion between our form of government and that of the Nazis does not lie in the holding of elections, because they, too, hold elections of a kind. It does not lie in the consent of the governed because Hitler has been able to obtain the acquiescence of at least the majority of the German people. The real distinction lies between government by law and government by caprice. That is a distinction which we must preserve, as much in the economic as in the political field. Do not let us place ourselves at the mercy of every bureaucrat ‘dressed in a little brief authority.’

If, however, we are to avoid the alternative evils of economic anarchy and bureaucratic stagnation, we shall have to make very considerable changes in the machinery of government. Before the war, both the larger Parties showed a singular reluctance to consider organic reforms. There were many Statutes increasing the functions of public authorities. Yet comparatively few people stopped to ask whether our legislative and administrative structure was capable of bearing the increasing weight, or of standing against the shocks which were certain to come. In the realm of administration, for instance, we have had hurriedly to devise in time of war improvements which should have been carried out at leisure in the preceding years. For this reason I welcome in particular the Liberal report on the Reform of the Civil Service, recently presented. It is already widely recognised as a valuable contribution to the great task, which lies ahead, of devising an instrument of government which will meet the needs of twentieth century democracy. Now, as in earlier generations, the Liberal Party is the pioneer in the field of constitutional reform.

I cannot pay tribute within the compass of a single speech to all the activities of the Liberal Policy Committees, but there is one other committee whose work is in a field of such especial importance that I must commend its recommendations to your particular study, and that is the Liberal Education Advisory Committee. We are fighting to preserve our civilisation - this committee has been thinking how, when civilisation has been preserved, we can improve its quality. There is no more vital or natural field for Liberal endeavour.

What matters is that we should be firmly united when it comes to action. Nations will have to sink their differences, Parties within nations will have to sink their differences, schools of thought within Parties will have to sink their differences, if we are going to get a common action to save the world from ruin after the war.

Let me, in conclusion, thank you for coming together in such great numbers today. Four things in particular keep me braced for my work in the war. First, the glorious example of our fighting men - and naturally I think more especially of the brilliant daring of our fighter pilots and the cool, enduring, unflinching courage of our Bomber and Coastal crews. Secondly, to meet a gathering of my fellow Liberals, who never fail to send me away refreshed by their friendship, their support and their confidence, and stimulated by their high purpose. Thirdly, the knowledge of the terrible sufferings of the people in Europe, now reduced to literal slavery to the Nazis. Many a man and woman in this hall has drunk deep of the cup of sacrifice, but it is difficult for us to plumb the abyss of horror and degradation into which the Nazis have plunged millions of our fellow creatures in Europe. The families ruthlessly torn asunder - the young men sent one way, the young women another way, as slaves of their oppressors. The hostages waiting to be led to execution for deeds that no one even alleges that they have committed; and the dull brutish horror of Nazi rule. Did you read of the Russian soldier marching into a liberated village and giving half a loaf of bread to a pale, bent, white-haired woman? She pressed it to her chest, and just cried. So the soldier said, ‘Cheer up, old woman, the Nazis won’t be coming back.’ ‘Am I an old woman?’ she answered. ‘I am only 28!’ That starving, withered old woman of 28 had escaped from the horror which is blighting the beauty and corrupting the soul of Europe. I tell you that my whole thought and action are concentrated on destroying it. My Conservative and Labour colleagues are working in the same spirit. They are men of strong character and independent views. We don’t spend our time in Cabinet handing out bouquets to one another; our discussions are vigorous and sometimes lively, but always directed not to sectional or Party advantage, but to the one single aim of defeating Hitler. Don’t ask us to break off from our work together at defeating the Nazis to fight bye-elec­tions: I tell you frankly I am not prepared to do or say anything which will in the slightest degree loosen the concentration of the Government and the great Parties on the tasks of war. Burke might have been writing for us today when he said: ‘When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.’

And the fourth stimulus I mentioned, but not the least, is the glorious fighting leadership of Mr. Churchill. Directing and inspiring the war effort of this country, he links it with that of America and Russia. The friendship which has long existed between him and President Roosevelt, and which now embraces Premier Stalin, is one of the surest guarantees of the victory of the Allied Nations in this war. The burdens he carries are colossal, but I have never seen him falter. Stand by him; and when they criticise him, stand by him all the more - it is bad weather and not good weather that tests sincerity and firmness of purpose. 

We have passed through fiery trials with our purpose un­shaken and our faith strengthened. So long as we preserve our faith in the supreme value of the individual soul, and so long as we know in our hearts and consciences that we are pursuing no selfish, personal, Party or national aims, but seeking to vindicate the rights of men to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, none can make us afraid. In that sure faith we shall conquer, and when the storm subsides and when peace and justice reign, in that sure faith we shall build.

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