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Leader's speech, London 1945

Sir Archibald Sinclair (Liberal)

Location: London


In this speech, Sinclair outlined some of the measures the Coalition government was taking to address Britain’s social problems, which included the Education Act and the Wages Councils Bill. It was also preparing for the post-war world with its White Papers on Full Employment and Social Insurance. Following Churchill’s announcement of the break-up of the coalition government at the next general election, Sinclair spoke of his Party’s own solutions to Britain’s post-war problems, at the core of which were Beveridge’s plans for social security and full employment. He also gave his backing to the report of the Bretton Woods conference, which offered a plan for an International Investment Bank and a flexible currency sys¬tem, and to the Dumbarton Oaks proposals. These plans would set up an Assembly and a Security Council, which would pave the way for security and peace when the war was over.

It seems a long time since we have met together - not since July, 1943. I told you then that the road to Berlin was a long one and that the war was not nearly over.

Those, too, who remembered what I told you then about the German scientists - how they were bending their diabolical energies to the invention of new and the improvement of old weapons of war - will not have been surprised at the advent of the flying bombs and the rockets. But for the pre­ventive measures we took, the at­tack would have been on a scale many times as great as we have in fact experienced. So then - in July, 1943 - I pointed to a long vista of war stretching out in front of us.

Now I tell you that we shall not meet again in this Assembly until Germany is beaten and victory in Europe won. This conference, therefore, is a conference of the Liberal Party militant.

The Party still shoulders, in full loyalty to the Prime Minister, its share of the heavy and tragic bur­dens of war, but it is preparing - when the war in Europe is finished - to enter the ensuing General Election as an independent Party.

Wartime Unity

Ever since the summer of 1940 - at once our darkest and our finest hour - this nation has derived im­mense strength from the political unity of its people. For nearly five years the Liberal Party has been an essential part of the structure of this Government - the Gov­ernment which has led the country through the most terrible and searching ordeal in its history. Our men in the fighting Services have been fortified by knowing that a Government - not only of great power but of great singleness of purpose - has been behind them with all its might and main. The political unity which we have achieved in this country has been matched by the support and com­radeship freely and staunchly given by the Governments of the Com­monwealth and Empire.

Apart from one or two splinter groups, there is no organised politi­cal force in this country which does not applaud the major achieve­ments of the Government, and which does not wish to see it con­tinue until the end of the German war. That situation has no prece­dent in all the two and a half cen­turies which have elapsed since our Party system first began to take shape. The chief credit for it be­longs to Mr. Churchill.


The spirit and ardour of Winston Churchill will be writ large on the pages of 20th-century history. We - his immediate followers in the Government - know what his resourcefulness, his courage and his zeal have meant to the country. Yet we all realise that his strength and his capacity to lead is derived from the character and steadfastness of the British people. Like a prism which catches the light and throws it out in a diversity of brilliant colours, he has caught the spirit of Britain and illuminated it with his own dazzling gifts. We may apply to him some words which he applied to his illustrious forbear, the Duke of Marlborough - ‘Happy the State or Sovereign who finds such a servant in years of danger.’

Government Plans

This Government came together - Liberals, Conservatives and Soci­alists - inspired by a single purpose - to win the war; but we have not neglected social problems or those of post-war reconstruction. Last Session, for example, Parliament passed that great piece of con­structive and progressive legis­lation - the Education Act. The Wages Councils Bill, now go­ing through Parliament - with its forerunner, the Catering Act - will bear comparison with our great humanitarian factory legislation. The arrangements for releasing men from the Armed Forces after the defeat of Germany - a process which produced so much discontent and confusion after the last war - have been carefully thought out, have commended themselves to the troops as fair and wise, and are impervious to the assaults of influ­ence or wealth. In the White Paper on Full Employment and the White Paper on Social Insurance, the Government has planned to meet the changed conditions of the post-war world. Mr. Churchill’s Government is not slithering or blundering into the paths of peace. The Government is making plans. Things were not always so. This is a big departure in policy. My memory goes back to the bad old days of the twenties and thirties, when successive Tory and Socialist Governments sat, as helpless as Canute, in the seats of authority while tidal waves of depression swept over these islands. One Leader and one Party had a. plan. It was the Liberal Party, and its leader, Mr. Lloyd George, cried­ ‘We can conquer unemployment.’ We were derided by the Tory and Socialist Parties, by the Treasury pundits and by the City penguins, but I am glad that Mr. Lloyd George has lived to see the day when his ideas that unemployment was a terrible social disease which menaced the very life of our civili­sation and that it was possible for, and incumbent upon, governments to cure it - ideas which were twice rejected and denounced as dis­honest electioneering - are now ac­cepted as the inspiration of the Government’s policy. 

Lloyd George

We all rejoice that the King has delighted to honour that great Welshman and Liberal prophet and leader, Mr. Lloyd George, and that, without the strain upon his health and strength which an election must have imposed, he will have a place in Parliament from which to speak his mind. When Chatham was living in retirement, Burke ap­plied to him some words of Lucan which fitly express our own feel­ings for Mr. Lloyd George:

Clarum et venerabile nomen,
Gentibus, et multum nostrae
quod proderat urbi.

(An illustrious name, venerated of the people, and one which has much helped our country.)

For four and a half years, in fair weather and in foul, the Liberal Party has remained staunch and steadfast in its support of Mr. Churchill’s great Administration. It may be, said - indeed, it is being said – ‘This is a good Government. Why break it up? Why not go to the country as a Government and seek another lease of power?’ If we were a Government of office-seekers that is exactly what we should do, and there could be no doubt of the result.

Democracy Needs Exercise

Nevertheless, I am sure that the decision which the Prime Minister announced in the House of Com­mons on the 31st October to fight the next General Election on Party lines was wise and right. For a democracy in which the people were never consulted on concrete and specific issues of policy would be a sham. Already nearly ten years have passed since the people were last consulted at a General Election. When the German war is over, it will be healthy for our democracy to get some exercise.

What does consultation mean? It must mean something better than offering the electors in each con­stituency a choice between a Gov­ernment supporter and a freak candidate. It must mean some­thing better than asking Liberals in one constituency to vote for a Socialist, and Socialists in another constituency to vote for a Tory, merely because those candidates happen to be Government sup­porters. I will tell you what I think consultation means I think it means, first, the presentation to the electors of alternative pro­grammes by the organised political Parties, and then - the supreme act of sovereignty in a democracy - the elector’s vote.

Then we shall have a fresh House of Commons - not so repre­sentative of the opinion of the people as it would be if we had a fairer system of election - but de­riving its authority not from the Whips’ offices, as under a coupon arrangement, but direct from the electors in each constituency.

In passing, I may say that it was precisely on that issue that we failed to reach agreement with Mr. Ernest Brown and his followers. We met, we talked, and we parted because we found that they con­templated a standstill order in the constituencies under which no single one of the 351 seats now held by the Tories would have been con­tested by a Liberal candidate.

To that we said ‘No.’

We have made it quite clear that we shall fight the General Election as an independent Party, with a clear and distinctive policy.


Let me here and now - on your behalf as well as my own - thank Sir Percy Harris and those who, during the past year, have given so much time and labour to studying our urgent post-war problems and applying to them the Liberal solu­tions. In particular, I should like to acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by our latest re­cruit to the Liberal Parliamentary Party, Sir William Beveridge. No doubt we should have been willing in kill a fatted calf for him, but he brought with him two beautiful little beasts of his own. The first was called Social Security. This is very much more than a mere ex­tension of our existing Social Ser­vices. It is, in effect, a practical plan for the abolition of poverty, and that was why I welcomed it as an admirable Liberal document. The second is called Full Employ­ment in a Free Society - a plan for cutting the cancer of unemploy­ment out of the body politic with­out extinguishing the vital spark of personal liberty, initiative, enter­prise and responsibility.

We Believe in Freedom

Under a despotic or bureaucratic system the resources and man­power of a country can be swiftly, efficiently - and ruthlessly - organ­ised for a specific purpose such as war. Such systems cannot endure. Repression provokes revolt. It is only in the atmosphere of freedom that the human mind can produce its finest fruits of spiritual and in­tellectual achievement. Least of all people in the world will the British people tamely submit to bureaucratic encroachment on their liberty - or on their family life, which to them is precious, and to their country is its greatest source of strength.

So before the war, in the days of Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Chamberlain, we in the Liberal Opposition chal­lenged every provision in every Bill which threatened the liberty of the subject or infringed the Rule of Law. If ever we nodded, there was Mr. Dingle Foot at hand to rouse us. One of our first actions when the war came was to secure the withdrawal and amendment of the Defence Regulations. After we joined the Government, we obtained the pledge from Mr. Churchill that it was the Govern­ment’s intention to preserve in all essentials a free Parliament and a free Press, and that the extra­ordinary powers affecting the free­dom of the Press and the personal liberty of the private citizen which were entrusted to the Executive for the effective conduct of the war would vanish with the advent of victory and peace.

Defining Freedom

No honest controversialist can suggest that the Liberal Party’s faith in freedom is growing cold. The Liberal Party believes in free­dom much as a man might believe in blood or nerves or sinews Love of freedom is a principle of its be­ing. But it is nonsense to suggest that because we wish to maintain the level of public and private out­lay, because we wish to direct the location of industry, or because we intend to control the activities of great combines and monopolies, that we are depriving the British people of their freedom. It was Mr. Walter Lippmann who pointed out, some years ago, that there is no essential similarity between the rights of the individual and the rights of the Joint Stock Company. When the Barons met King John at Runnymede, or when the House of Commons compelled Charles to accept the Petition of Right, or when the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille, they were upholding the rights of individual men and women against arbitrary power. They would have been surprised if anyone had told them that they were establishing the divine right of a tinplate manufacturer in the 20th century to freeze out his competitors, or of a film magnate to decide what films we should or should not be allowed to see.

Freedom From Fear

Why, when we seek to make political rights effective over econo­mic power, is it always suggested that we are striking at personal freedom? You will all remember what happened when St. Paul arrived at Ephesus, with disastrous effects upon the trade of the silver­smiths. Demetrius and his col­leagues drew no attention to their shrinking turnover. Instead they cried, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians.’ So now those who propose any collective action to abolish the evils of mass poverty and unemployment are met with the cry, ‘Great is the liberty of the subject.’

The distinction which we must keep clear in our minds is that be­tween power and arbitrary power. The former must exist in any modern community. The latter need exist only under a dictatorship. We ought never to hand over authority to regulate other people’s lives to boards or officials or departments which are them­selves, either in theory or in prac­tice, irresponsible. In other words, we must make democratic control a far greater reality than it has ever been before.

We must also preserve and strengthen all those safeguards which protect the ordinary citizen against any misuse of authority. We have all heard of the four free­doms - freedom from want, free­dom from fear, freedom of speech and freedom of worship. Yes - freedom from fear; from fear of what? - Of war? No doubt - yes, but even more important, because it goes to the root of both inter­national and domestic peace and order, from fear of injustice. Those who give the orders should not themselves be above the law. There should always be a legiti­mate way of calling them to account for what they do.

An Out-of-Date Antithesis

The idea of an antithesis between private enterprise and the State is unreal and out of date. There is plenty of room for both. The State need not be the enemy, but can be the ally, of private enter­prise. We Liberals wish to see the hoary and unreal squabbles about nationalisation settled calmly and objectively on the merits of each individual case. If nationalisation or some form of public control is shown to be the best solution for the problems of any industry or service, then let it be our policy. We are slaves to no doctrine, we seek to apply no hard and fast abracadabra to these diverse prob­lems of industrial organisation.

Individual enterprise in a modern society might be likened to a great river. We allow it to flow in its natural channel and we use it for power and transport and irrigation. But we do not, if we can avoid it, allow the river to flood its banks and destroy the dwellings of those who live nearby, and if it seems in danger of being silted up, we send out dredgers to remove the obstruc­tions. We say, ‘Strengthen the banks and deepen the channels,’ and thus abolish mass unemployment, while leaving ample scope to the free and fruitful currents of personal initiative and enterprise - in short, full employment in a free society.

In the last few years your studies have left few corners of the politi­cal, economic and social fields un­explored. You have planned boldly, undeterred - and rightly undeterred - by the reflection that the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft .agley. Yet we know well that the Tory notion that our national economy can be insulated from the outside world is a dan­gerous chimera, and that the suc­cess of our plans must depend upon world security and upon the revival and abundance of world trade.

Economic Problems Ahead

We shall be up against some hard facts before we frame our pro­gramme as a responsible Party for submission to the electors. We shall be in some ways in a position like that of Russia since the Soviet Revolution. As in Russia, we shall have to build up the strength of our heavy industries, and especi­ally our export industries, at the expense of many amenities and nearly all luxuries. Materials will be in short supply, and labour will be scarce - for the war against Japan will be the first charge on all our resources. To divert any labour or man-power from the requirements of that war and so to prolong it for as much as a month or a week, would imperil precious lives and would cost us dear in the long run. We cannot allow the war in the Far East to be a war of limited liability. ‘Finish it off’ must be our slogan.

Foreign exchange will be scarce. Almost every country in the world will be a sterling creditor. Lend-Lease will be coming to an end, and nearly all our foreign invest­ments will have vanished, and with them vast supplies of food and raw materials which used to reach us before the war. Production from our own farms will have to be maintained at the highest possible level, exports will have to be in­creased by half, and controls will have to be kept on to ensure that our all too meagre supplies of foreign exchange are not squan­dered on the purchase of all the little luxuries and amenities which we have done without during the war, and which we would like to enjoy again, but that it is concen­trated on the purchase of essential foodstuffs for our people and plant and raw materials for our in­dustries.

The industrial and transport sys­tems of Europe will have been shattered by the war, but it is not impossible that order may be re­stored swiftly out of post-war chaos, given one condition - and that is close understanding and co­operation between all the Govern­ments of the United Nations, and especially between those of Britain, France, Russia and America.

Bretton Woods

Hence the importance of those great international conferences at Hot Springs and Bretton Woods. I think it is not too much to hope that the achievement at Bretton Woods may prove to be a turning-point in human history. The re­port of the Conference offers - in substitution for the old gold stan­dard, now dead and buried - an orderly but flexible currency sys­tem. It also offers a plan for an International Investment Bank, with the aid of which the capital of nations with capital to spare would be made available for developing the productive resources of nations which are short of capital. The re­port has not yet been officially approved either by the British or by the American Governments, but it is certainly calculated to appeal to thoughtful and progressive minds on both sides of the Atlantic.

You do not need me to remind you of the close association be­tween these questions of international trade and foreign policy.

Victory will give us our chance to build up a world order which should safeguard future generations against the catastrophe of war. Unless we can achieve this, there will be no security, no prosperity, no Beveridge Plan, but only the lowering, hideous shadow of pre­paration for the next onslaught.

Principles Backed By Force

Our Foreign Policy must be founded upon moral principles, buttressed by force. Force not directed by moral principle is no remedy for evil. Moral principle not buttressed by force is impotent, as the fate of Abyssinia, of Spanish democracy, of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Hol­land and Belgium clearly show. Nor will foreign countries after this war be disposed to listen to moral lectures from our representatives in international conferences unless our strength commands respect. Britain, therefore, and the British Commonwealth and Empire, must remain strong - strong in military power and strong in faith and pur­pose to uphold the cause of justice and the rights of nations, great and small, in the Councils of the World.

The Three Great Powers

The main burden of responsi­bility for laying the foundations of peace and security after this war must rest on the three Great Powers - Britain, Russia and America. They must undertake this imposing task as the trustees of mankind. Others will play important parts. All must be brought in. The cen­tral fact remains that if Britain, Russia and America learn to under stand one another, to trust one an­other and to work together, no large scale war will be possible. If they fall apart, another war is cer­tain. We must not allow emo­tional sympathy for ideal solutions of particular problems to blind us to this dominant fact. This is no imperialist alliance, for I pray and believe that these three Powers, much as they differ in their charac­teristics, their history and their constitution, are at one in desiring peace and the upward progress of mankind.

Their first tasks will be to apply the principles of the Atlantic Charter in the building of the new world order, and to foster the growth of a World Organisation on the lines discussed at Dumbarton Oaks.

Dumbarton Oaks

In the new International Organi­sation there would be, according to the Dumbarton Oaks proposals, an Assembly and a Security Council on which the Great Powers would have five seats out of eleven. I do not think that this would give them too much influence. In military matters it happens to be the case that the larger national units have a power that is more than in proportion to the number, wealth and high quality of their population. A large number of small nations, brave and efficient though these may be, do not in sum provide the same military strength as one big nation of equal numbers. We can­not, if we would, by a resolution of this Assembly, deprive it of its power. The evil against which we must use our influence is irresponsible power - so power must be brought to accept responsibility. If peace is to be maintained we have to utilise power where we find it and range it on the side of peace. If we are to use the power of the great nations we must give them proportionate responsibility, and this means seats upon the Council.

On the General Assembly and on the Economic and Social Council, all of the United Nations, great and small, would be equal with one vote each. Nothing could be more democratic. It is being said that these are secondary matters, that this is merely the chicken-feed which you are doling out to ap­pease the friends of democracy; what will it profit the small Powers to labour on these works of good­will when the real power is in the hands of the great? Such reason­ing is myopic and retrograde. What are the great questions of the future? The economic expansion of the world, raising standards of living, the growth of commerce, the application of science to production, conservation of the soil, reclamation of deserts, maintaining the populations of areas in equi­librium, diffusing education, know­ledge, culture, civilised standards, sweetness and light through all por­tions of the globe. These are the great tasks that lie ahead, and in them, under these Proposals, all nations may co-operate on an equal footing. These are the interesting and absorbing questions; nor are they divorced from the question of power, for whoever partakes in the decisions regarding them is fixing the shape of things to come.

Policing the Peace

If you took an Englishman of a thousand years ago, when crime had to be kept in check by the clumsy method of the hue and cry, and showed him all the achieve­ments of modern administration, with its complex law, its social security, its public education, its scientific research, he might fail to be impressed by anything save one single item in it all - our police force. And that is now our primi­tive condition in international affairs. But if by means of the Security Council we can achieve something better than the hue and cry in the international order, then the scene will be set in which all the other works of international co­operation, the works of peace and progress, can grow and blossom. And in the due passage of time, when international war is as obso­lete and as little to be feared as private wars between the great earls and barons of England are today, then, indeed, it will be safe and possible to bring the constitution of the Security Council into line with those of the other organs of the United Nations of the world.

Based on experience, the new United Nations organisation (let us hope) will gradually develop into a permanent system which will be accepted throughout the world as being as natural and healthy as is the British Commonwealth of Nations. We must be patient and realistic. We cannot expect to reach the mountain tops of com­plete success at the first assault. but let us get our feet firmly planted on the right road.

The Party’s Task in 1945

As we look to the prodigious rolling advances of the ever-glorious Red Army, as we watch the progressive enfeeblement of the German armed forces under the hammerstrokes of the British and American Bomber Commands, as we witness the sure and firm mastery of the sea routes of the world by the British and American navies and air forces, as we follow the British, French and American armies battling nearer to the Rhine and the Po, and as we applaud the American victories in the Philip­pines and the British advance towards Mandalay, we may reason­ably and thankfully exclaim, ‘These are the portents of Vic­tory.’ Certainly we should be right to claim that our share in the resounding defeats which the Allies are inflicting on the forces of dark­ness represents the greatest military achievement in our history.

An Individual Task

But to a Liberal, the mere fact that we have annihilated German and Japanese resistance will no mean that we have won the war. The military might of our foes has sprung from the poisonous doctrines which have stifled the promptings of humanity and generosity in their hearts. The final eradication of those wicked doctrines will depend less on what we do to the Germans and th­e Japanese than on what we are ourselves. This will be decided, not by the Big Three or the Big Four, but by our own individual exertions. The world has been torn asunder by doctrines of the Dark Ages imposed on it by men who would wish to see it switched back to the days of the barbarians. In, our own land war has led to a toughening of our race, but to a roughening of our minds. To restore the sundered friendship of nations, to break down the barriers between them, to alleviate the sorrows and sufferings of our own peoples, is the hard but stimulating task which confronts the Liberal Party in 1945.

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