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Speech Archive

Leader's speech, 1943

Sir Archibald Sinclair (Liberal)

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Commentary:

Sinclair opened his speech by celebrating the Allied victory in the Mediterranean, before paying tribute to the leadership of Winston Churchill. He again emphasised the need for international co-operation, under the leadership of Britain, Russia and the US, to end the war with Japan and begin the reconstruction of Europe. Sinclair identified the prerequisites for a lasting peace as a greater understanding of, and co-operation with, other nations, and an end to protective tariffs. This in turn would provide the basis of Britain’s economic recovery. In domestic politics, the Party’s main concerns were the provision of pensions for servicemen after the war, and the need for a minimum standard of housing, food and clothing for all.

There are no happier occasions in life than when friends meet and rejoice together. Such an occasion is this. As Liberals we have a particular reason for rejoicing, to which I shall presently refer, but we also have the supreme reason for rejoicing - which we share with all our fellow countrymen and with our friends and Allies of the United Nations - the forward surge of our victorious land, sea and air forces in the Mediterranean. Defeat is always bitter, but defeat in their Sicilian outwork will be more of a blessing than a calamity to the Italian people if it banishes from their minds the illusions which Mussolini and his Fascists have sedulously fostered, and if it reveals to them the path of wisdom. They should receive - and there are signs that they are receiving - the Allied armies not as conquerors but as liberators.

We can have no dealings whatever with Mussolini and his Fascist gangsters. But for the Italian people we have no enmity. Let them purge themselves of Fascism and revive those traditions of freedom and democracy which were once their pride. Then they will regain their rightful place in the comity of European nations. Honourable capitulation is the course which the British and American Governments have recommended to the Italian people. Till they accept it, the armed forces of the United Nations will wage ruthless war against them. Half measures are cruel in war: they increase the toll of casualties. It was Mussolini who wantonly appealed to the hard arbitrament of war, and nothing but the repudiation of Mussolini and unconditional surrender can now save the Italian people from its severities.

Nor must rejoicing over the substantial successes that our armed forces have achieved in recent months blind us to the formidable character of the task which they have yet to accomplish. Germany is immensely strong. All the industrial resources of Europe are at her command. The brains of her brilliant scientists and technicians are concentrated on the invention of new and the improvement of old weapons of war. Millions of foreign workers have been enslaved and forced to work in German war factories. When Hitler had inflicted a series of heavy reverses on our gallant Russian Allies in 1941, he declared that the road lay open to Moscow. He was wrong. We must not make the same mistake. We must not think that because we are winning victories in the Mediterranean theatre of war, and because Bomber Command is tearing at the very vitals of German war industry that the road lies open to Berlin. It is a long road with many turnings, and the Germans will fight back at us hard and furiously. So the war still demands the utmost concentration of our efforts on its vigorous prosecution.

Therefore I am grateful for the renewal of your pledge of support to the Government. We have been through hard times in the last three and a half years. I told you at the beginning of the war that it was bound to be full of reverses, setbacks and disappointments. When we stood alone, when our munition supplies were still scanty, while we were still paying the price of Parliament’s repeated rejection of the Liberal Party’s demand for a Ministry of Supply before the war, when, consequently, we were suffering successive defeats, there were in all Parties weak-kneed men whose faith was shaken; but Parliament as a whole and, I am proud to say, the Liberal Party as a whole stood by the Government as strongly in foul weather as in fair. The knowledge of the support of the Liberal rank and file through­out the country, and of this Assembly, has sustained me and my Liberal colleagues in the Government when things were at their worst for us and before our plans could come to fruition. I thank you for it with all my heart.

When we look back upon the war in future years we shall be proud of our steadfastness and of the unswerving support which we have given to our great Leader in this crusade - Mr. Churchill. Defeat never dismays him; victory never dazzles him. War requirements have compelled the Govern­ment to obtain and exercise exceptional powers; not only has the Prime Minister never abused them but he has been scrupulous in his respect for Parliament and in his determina­tion to base himself and his Government on the authority of Parliament. He has been rewarded by the wholehearted confidence and devotion of the British people; while the relations of mutual respect, trust and understanding which he has established with the Leaders of the other United Nations, and especially with President Roosevelt and Premier Stalin, form not only one of the surest guarantees of our eventual victory in this war but one of the brightest hopes for the establishment of a lasting and fruitful peace. Nothing is more certain than this - that neither Britain nor any other country after the war will be able to assure the peace and prosperity of its own people by its own unaided efforts. Immediately after hostilities have stopped in Europe swift concerted action will have to be taken in many fields of activity by the three great nations, in whose hands power will reside - Britain, Russia and the United States. Our biggest task, of course, will be to rescue China and to finish the war with Japan. At the same time, we shall have to disarm our enemies, restore order and justice in Europe, do our utmost to relieve the hardships and privations of the people of the countries now in German occupation, and begin the process of European reconstruction and the resumption of inter­national trade. As Mr. de Rothschild said in the House of Commons the other day, we shall have to transform our economic warfare into economic welfare. In tackling these problems all the United Nations will have to work together, but they will all look, and will be entitled to look, to Britain, the United States and Russia for leadership.

Before this war there were many people who thought that if a nation were only quiet and inoffensive it would never get into trouble. The fate of Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium and other small countries should have banished that illusion, which was one of the weaknesses from which the old League of Nations suffered. So, peering further into the future I hope that confederations will be formed of the smaller nations in different parts of the world, and that these con­federations will be represented, along with the great Powers, on the councils of international administration. Thus we should give effect to the principle of the equal, but not absolute, sovereignty of States, great or small. The common interest of all the peoples of the world in rising standards of living and in the improvement of working conditions in all countries and in all occupations must be safe-guarded by the International Labour Office, which should receive from the British and other Governments much closer and more under­standing co-operation in the future than it has had in the past. Technical organisations must be established to study the world problems of commerce and finance and to encourage the freest possible development of international trade. Above all, there must be a tribunal to which international differences can be referred, and armed forces must be available to enforce its decrees and to prevent any recrudescence of uncontrolled national armaments or any other form of international gangsterism.

Sonic people are very particular in the choice of their friends and very catholic in the choice of their enemies. There would be a great danger to the future world if that attitude of mind were carried into international politics. For my own part, I am very particular in the choice of my enemies. At the moment I have no enmity to spare for anyone except Hitler and Mussolini and their friends, and the German people have proved themselves to be such unscrupulous accomplices of Hitler and the Nazi gangsters that it will be a long time before they will be able to regain their position among the civilised nations of the world. If, however, we are to construct a just and lasting international order, we shall have to work with a great number of people who live in far-away countries and of whom we know little. We must strive to increase our knowledge of these people, whose co-operation with us will be indispensable and whose interests and ideals we must consult and respect. It is much easier - and often more popular - to inflame suspicion than to cultivate understanding, but we must under­stand and work with not only our own Dominions, India, and the people of our Colonial Empire - whose interests and welfare must be our constant preoccupation - but also with foreigners; not only with Americans and Frenchmen, but also with Russians, Chinese and the men of many other nations if we are to build a lasting peace and give useful work and a sense of purpose in life to our own people after the war.

Indeed, the best-contrived structure of international order and peace will inevitably collapse if its economic foundations are unsound and if masses of men and women in many countries are condemned to unemployment and falling standards of living. No longer are Liberals alone in asserting that protective tariffs and other manifestations of economic imperialism and nationalism impoverish man­kind and lead to war. The same truth is proclaimed by Mr. Sumner Welles and by other spokesmen of the American and other United Nations; it is proclaimed also by the spokesmen of other Parties here, and Liberals must welcome with especial warmth the success of the first great international conference on an important aspect of these problems - the recent Food Conference in Virginia, for which a generous share of credit is due to the leader of the British delegation, Mr. Richard Law. Before the war we were accustomed to receive every year as interest on our foreign investments some £200 millions of pounds, consisting in large part of food and raw materials. Nearly all those investments have gone - we have sacrificed them to win the war: so after the war we shall have to export goods or give services, in return for all the food which our people eat, over and above what we can grow at home, and for almost all our raw materials except coal. Clearly, therefore, we shall have to refrain from consuming a great many of the much-needed fruits of our own labours at home after the war in order to export them to foreign markets in exchange for food and raw materials. Hence the necessity for keeping on controls - even some of those we most dislike - for some time after the war. Hence, also, the impossibility of achieving our social and economic aspirations at home without laying the foundations of a just and free political and economic order abroad.

These are reasons for realising the primary and supreme importance of laying broadly and soundly the political and economic foundations of the world, in concert with the United States, Russia, China and the other United Nations.

They are not reasons for ignoring our own domestic problems. The Liberal Party has not ignored them: on the contrary it has given them the most intense and fruitful study - and that is our particular reason, as Liberals, for rejoicing today! Well do Sir Percy Harris and his hard­working colleagues deserve the thanks which you have so generously voted to them for their strenuous labours. You recognise in that resolution of thanks that the uncertainty of the post-war outlook - indeed the grave uncertainty as to when the war will come to an end, for the end is far from being in sight - renders it impossible for the Party to be committed to the details of these resolutions. There is, however, every reason why the Party should make its ideals clear in plain language which people will understand. We are all of us victims from time to time of misunderstanding and sometimes of misrepresentation. We should be the victims of the greatest misunderstanding of all if excessive caution prevented us from voicing our generous aspirations.

That great Liberal Leader who brought us through the last World War - Mr. Lloyd George - has often been criticised, and criticised most unfairly, for the phrase which he used about building homes for heroes. For my part, I think it was a splendid vision which would have been realised if we had had a Liberal Government in power in the last twenty years with Mr. Lloyd George as Prime Minister.

So I am glad that you are looking ahead and thus fulfilling your duty to the men who are fighting.

They are asking, ‘What is going to happen to us after the war?’ A high officer in the Royal Air Force was telling me the other day that some of the officers who had fought in the squadron which he commanded in the last war were in unemployment and destitution after it. It isn’t enough to say ‘We won’t allow that to happen after this war,’ for it will happen after this war unless we solve the hard, practical problems of economics, commerce and finance. It is not even enough to say ‘We will give them pensions after the war,’ for unless we solve those practical problems of economics and unless all the nations of the world will work together to find and practice the right solutions, pensions will be worth no more than the paper money which the Germans used to cart about in wheelbarrows when they slid into the morass of currency inflation. Nothing could shake the confidence of the people in Parliament and in the good faith of their political leaders more than to find after the war that the savings they had lent to the Government had shrunk in value through improvident finance, or that a pension of a pound a week brought no more - or even less - than a pension of ten shillings a week before the war. Therefore generous impulses are no substitute for hard study and wise policy.

Such study you have given to these problems, and I am delighted to find myself in broad and general agreement with your conclusions. You have addressed yourselves to the difficult problems of reconciling public welfare with private liberty; attacking poverty, whether produced by unemploy­ment or by the evil of low wages; bringing monopolies under some measure of public control and accountability; stopping monopolistic practices which lead to restriction of output; increasing the avenues of investment open to the State; while on the other hand preserving and fostering that private enterprise and initiative which is the mainspring of the economic life of the country and which gives to industry and commerce much of its adaptability and virility, and much of its incentive to fresh growth and swift development. To respect and preserve the dignity of man and his personal responsibility for the performance of his duty to the State to the limit of his capacity must at all times be the special task and paramount duty of Liberals. 

I should like in particular to express my agreement with you in your aspirations for social security - that is to say, for a minimum standard of food, shelter and clothing for all our people. To my mind it is utter nonsense to suggest that ragged clothes, draughty houses and under-nourishment are the best incentives to good work. It is true that some quite exceptional individuals of outstanding character and ability have risen to eminence from the humblest homes in our great cities and in the countryside; but for the most part our leaders have been drawn from homes which have enjoyed the blessings of economic security, and I do not believe there is anything in a sufficient provision of good food, good housing and good clothes which will dull anyone’s instinct to give expression to his natural gifts and to win the prizes which, in a well-ordered society, will reward the man of enterprise and exceptional character and talents. I think you will find - and I think you will be glad to find - that when our soldiers, sailors and airmen return from this war they will be more politically-minded than most of our generation were after the last war. They have thought a good deal about the future of our country and of them­selves and their families: they want to have some part in shaping it. They cannot all be Members of Parliament, though a good many of them want to be! But this is a free country, and there is no reason why they should not all play a great part in political organisations, on the platform and in the press, in advocacy of their political and social ideas. And, for my own part, I believe that the Party which is willing to give them the warmest welcome will obtain a robust, vigorous and invaluable inspiration and reinforcement. I hope that Party will be the Liberal Party, and I hope you will rope the young men into your Associations and Committees - and not only rope them in; for they will soon leave your Committees if all they are expected to do is to sit and clap their hands at your distinguished speakers. You must give them responsible work to do - send them as delegates to Party Conferences and elect them to responsible offices in their Party Associations and other organisations: then seek out the best of them and adopt them as candidates for Parliament.

It is much too early to prophesy when and under what conditions the next Election will take place. I have always recoiled from the prospect of a General Election fought immediately after we finish the war against Germany. As we remember from our experience of the 1918 Election, the atmosphere is charged with emotion. Such emotion is particularly likely to produce a Parliament which is a distortion of the true will of the people under the present electoral system, and I feel sure that the Party will make every effort to persuade public opinion of the necessity for reforming that electoral system - a necessity to which a resolution now on the Order Paper of the House of Commons, and signed by over a hundred Members of Parliament, bears striking testimony. 

Nevertheless, as the life of the present Parliament is extended from year to year, the feeling grows that consultation with the electors ought not to be unduly delayed and, in my judgment, the demand for a General Election as early as possible after the defeat of Germany will be irresistible. If that is so, it will throw upon Mr. Churchill an immense responsibility, for not only will he have the last word in deciding the time and conditions of the election and the issues on which it will be fought, but strong among the emotions of the people at the end of this war will be deep admiration and thankfulness for, and confidence in, the great Prime Minister who will have led the nation through so many and such great dangers.

Meanwhile, so long as the three great Parties are represented in the Government it is - in my opinion and in the opinion of every member of the Government, to whatever Party he belongs - a necessary corollary that the electoral truce should be maintained. Its abandonment would set up grave strains and stresses within the Government and weaken its concentration on the day-to-day task - but the supreme task - of winning the war. But the truce applies only to bye-elections during the life-time of the present Parliament, and we who signed the truce have entered into no commitments whatever beyond that and are absolutely free to take what ever decision seems right when the time comes. And in taking that decision we must be moved by no considerations of personal or Party advantage but consider only where our duty lies to our country and to the causes which the Liberal Party exists to defend.

In the meantime the Government is making large plans for the restoration of peace, order, justice and commerce throughout the world. If, but only if, agreement is found to exist on these plans, there would clearly be a strong case for preserving the unity of the Government for a period of reconstruction - a period during which the common interests of mankind will require swift and resolute action. However that may be, I can tell you this - that no member of the Liberal Party is more determined than I am that, come what may, the Party shall not barter its independence or lose its individuality in a permanent coalition with any other Party.

For we have important work to do. Here, in the resolutions which you have passed, are the broad outlines of a policy which would provide ample work for more than one Liberal Parliament. Here is a platform on which not only the Liberal Party as now constituted can stand firmly and aggressively, but on which all men and women of Liberal and progressive outlook can join us, and the stronger and closer our own cohesion, the more support we shall attract from men and women of good will now outside our ranks.

Four days ago my old friend and colleague, Mr. Ernest Brown, spoke to me. He opened the conversation from a public platform; so I will answer him here and now. In old days he and I worked strenuously together for the Liberal Party and I am grateful for his frank recognition of the fact that subsequent political differences have never caused any personal estrangement between us. I gather from what he said that, if there is agreement upon policy, he and his friends are willing in future to work closely and continuously together with you and me. If that is the true interpretation of what he said, I am glad of it. Experience has shown that the existence alongside the Liberal Party of another Party with a Liberal appellation confuses the electors. It gives Liberals an undeserved reputation for faction fighting and heresy hunting, and plays into the hands of our opponents. Therefore I want to see the Liberal Party strong, united and reinforced by all men and women who subscribe to its principles, will support its policy and will resolutely maintain its identity and its independence. On that basis I shall be very glad to talk things over with Mr. Brown. For I believe that the stronger and more united is the Liberal Party, the better it will be for our country and for the world after the war. 

We want to build after the war a great Temple of Peace and Justice raised to the memory of those who fell in the war. We want to root out the cancer of Nazidom and revive the Liberal ideal of the rights and dignity of man. We may differ among ourselves and with others about methods, but our only enemies must be those who would put private and sectional interest above the public welfare, and assert national interests against the general interests of mankind. We are not fighting the war as Liberals for power, or glory, or riches, or territory - but for freedom and justice and to bring scope, beauty, dignity and purpose into the life and heritage of the common man. 

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