THESE are days in which we occasionally read, either in friendly or in critical language, of a concern whether the British people can continue to play their part in the development of the modern world. Grave as any thoughtful person must admit the situation to be, we in Britain, to whatever political faith we may subscribe, do not share these doubts. We feel that we have heard them before. We heard them when Philip of Spain's Armada was threatening our southern coast, when Napoleon was massing his forces across the Channel at Boulogne, and when Hitler carried almost all before him in 1940. We are therefore by nature and training skeptical of these forebodings. This, however, does not mean that we are complacent, or that we ignore the dangerous instability of present international relations and the stern reality of our domestic problems.

If we are to understand the contribution that the British Isles can make to contemporary political thought, we must first analyze the sources of its authority. Britain is at one and the same time a part of the European Continent and severed from it. The Channel may be little more than 20 miles wide, but its existence has in the past saved Britain physically and detached her emotionally from the Continent. There is here a certain parallel with Russia which should not be overlooked. The Soviet Union is at once an Asiatic and a European Power. Although a great land mass, her home country lies on the flank of Europe, as Britain does, and so through the centuries it has hitherto been to the interest of both of us to see that no one Power should dominate Europe. This motive has brought us together in three major conflicts, in the Napoleonic struggle, in the First World War against Germany, and in the Second World War also. If both countries were still actuated by that motive, surely a wise one, to ensure that no one Power dominates Europe, then our policies could continue to have a common thread. Today, however, conflicting ideologies, and more especially the ruthless menace of international Communism, perplex and poison even the most sincere purposes. The Soviet Government seems determined to withhold coöperation on any terms or in any spirit that could contribute to international confidence and goodwill.

But it is of the British position in the world rather than of the general international scene that I now intend to write. The average Britisher is probably more conscious today that London is the heart and center of the British Commonwealth and Empire than he is even of his European neighbors. There is surely no fault to find with this, for it is as part of the British Commonwealth and Empire that our greatest contribution can be made. When Mr. John D. Kearny, the first Canadian High Commissioner to India, arrived at Delhi last month, he said that Canada had found the Commonwealth "a good club to belong to. It has stood more than one global emergency, it has been of benefit to those who are members of it, and I think it will again contribute in no small measure to world stabilization." We in Britain agree with Mr. Kearny, and in a world which finds such difficulty in taking political account of the contraction of space which science enforces upon us, this contribution may well be decisive. But the story does not end there. We have a unique opportunity in that we are a member of a family spread across the world, and a part of the world's most restless continent -- Europe. All now understand, quite clearly, that we cannot pursue a policy that takes account of either of these factors but ignores the other; both must be accepted. These are the truths which, together, are the foundations of our special contribution. If their significance is to be understood, it is necessary to make clear the motives for our adherence to them. Our concern is for the freedom and tranquillity of Europe, for its unity and harmony. There should therefore be no misinterpretation of our vigilance to ensure so far as we can that dictatorship, in whatever form, shall not again make a mockery of the world's desire for freedom from fear.

II

There has probably been wider misconception and therefore deeper distrust over the connection between Great Britain and the British Commonwealth and Empire than over any other aspect of Anglo-American relations. This is in part due to our omission adequately to explain the facts, and has been aggravated by our traditional tendency to understate our case. Let us seek to remedy these shortcomings. There is first of all the position of the great self-governing Dominions, which is now almost universally understood. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are equal partners with us in one family. One or other may be senior in age, but all are completely free and equal in their mutual relationship. There has never been any comparable association of free nations in the world's history before. Other territories, like Southern Rhodesia, are nearing Dominion status, while in India and Burma changes are taking place as I write, the final shape and consequences of which it is too soon to determine.

There remain to be examined the various forms of colonial government. They are in different stages of development, and there can therefore be no hard-and-fast rule for their rate of progress towards the objective of self-government. Some, like Barbados and Bermuda, have had their own Parliaments for centuries. Others, like Ceylon and Jamaica, have a wide measure of self-government. Yet others, like some of the African colonies, have much further to travel towards political responsibility. We are often told that Great Britain is too slow in giving the colonial peoples their autonomy. In some colonies the majority of the people is inarticulate and education is only in its early stages. Life is still subject to primitive customs and economy. If autonomy were granted to such colonies now, power would devolve upon the small minority which is educated. This is not true democracy. Our policy has been to prepare the whole of the colonial peoples for self-government by education, social progress, and training in local administration, until autonomy can mean government of the people by the people, for whose welfare we, meanwhile, are trustees. No record of administration is wholly blameless, but it cannot be denied that in her colonies Britain has established law and order, security of life and property, and that she has helped their peoples towards political, social and economic progress.

In recent years the development of colonies on a regional basis has been remarkable. The Caribbean Commission is an important example of the value of Anglo-American coöperation in colonial administration, now to be repeated in the southern Pacific. I believe that mutual discussion and assistance on common problems of this character can bring advantage not only to the colonies themselves but also to the Powers who have a special responsibility for their welfare.

Another charge that has been made against us is that Britain exploits her colonies and drains them of their wealth. If by this it is meant that the colonies make regular contributions to the British exchequer, it is not true. On the contrary, the poorer colonies rely on the financial help of Great Britain to maintain and improve the standard of living of their peoples. If, on the other hand, this charge is intended to imply that British commercial enterprise has won great advantage to itself without giving comparable benefit to the territory concerned, this also is untrue. British enterprise in the colonies has had its good years and has paid high dividends, but it has also had bad years when the losses were heavy. All these enterprises carried hazards, and the fact that the risks were run in lands far afield from Britain herself does not weaken the common business principle involved. Colonial governments receive shares of all profit made by local industry, and the products and raw materials of their territories are available to all countries. In the past, our colonies have been handicapped by an insufficiency of capital to develop their resources and their social services, but under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts, first brought into law by the British Parliament in our darkest hour of 1940, we are providing £120,000,000 for economic and social development. We in Britain are first to admit that much remains to be done.

III

If there is much to be done abroad, this is also true of our domestic affairs. Here, of course, there are political differences, and I make no strictures upon our own Government in a review published in another land. I can, however, write of the purpose and policies of the Party to which I belong, the Conservative and Unionist Party.

We are endeavoring to establish a just balance between freedom of the individual and the ordered society which alone permits him to enjoy freedom. Our view has always been that these two fundamental truths must march together, and it is apparent from our history that Britishers do not long accept to live under an order which diminishes their freedom. But they cannot preserve that freedom without the rule of law. During the seventeenth century the principle gradually emerged in this country that the law is above the executive, and never has this conception been more important in all lands than it is today.

Recently, the almost universal tendency has been to try to take account of our smaller world by centralizing power in the hands of the state itself. To some extent, the absorption of the small unit by the large is a natural economic process, but the usefulness of this merging is limited. Complete concentration of control, by whatever agency, involves a restriction upon the freedom of the individual, and a consequent obstruction to the full growth of personality. But it is surely indisputable that human progress is only made possible by such individual development and the heights of achievement to which men and women, by their own talents, attain. No nation's history is long enough, nor its record proud enough, to allow it to dispense with the breeding of greatness.

The function of government is to maintain the conditions in which individual enterprise can supply the initiative and the action. If, by constant intervention in every aspect of a nation's life, a government uses too high a proportion of the nation's manpower to enforce control and to restrict, the system becomes unproductive. An unproductive system is an abuse of power, and an abuse of power ultimately destroys the system. A proper understanding of this principle of the abuse of power is at once a restraint and an incentive; a restraint from excess and tyranny, and an incentive to find the mean between anarchy and regimentation, which is the true civilization. Therefore we in Britain are striving to find a way to reconcile the modern state's requirement for central planning with the urgent necessity to raise our standard of living through free and energetic enterprise. We who are members of the Conservative Party believe in planning, but in planning for freedom. If the planning involves the detailed control of our economic life, and the imposition of a central bureaucratic machine upon all our trade and industry, then that planning can lead only to disaster. We believe that planning should mean wise national housekeeping, the balancing of resources and requirements, and the settling of the broad strategy of our economic effort by consultation at all levels. There should be coöperation in making the plans, and competitive enterprise in carrying them out. This is the true need of Britain today.

The problem cannot be reduced entirely to a question of logistics, nor would I insist that there is but one solution, but I think there are certain major issues that require to be defined. The relationships between government and industry, and between employer and employed, must be adapted to suit modern conditions. The functions, rights and duties of each must be clearly understood. It is the duty of government to plan and to seek to maintain a high and stable level of employment, which is necessary to the economic welfare of the country. While scarcity exists, a government may be compelled to control those materials and services which are in short supply, and to formulate a broad system of priorities, the detailed allocation of which can best be arranged by industry itself. It would, however, be calamitous for a government in a free community to take upon itself the day-today administration of all the ramifications of its policy. A function of government is to promote confidence. Industry must take risks in order to prosper, and there must therefore be a clear definition of the respective fields of action of government and of itself. Commercial hazards are increased beyond reasonable bounds if progress is liable to be impeded by a multitude of minor controls and the necessity for licenses, permits and the like. Events move too fast for wholly centralized direction to be practical, and the specialized technical knowledge which the modern world demands is not synonymous with even the most well-meaning or well-staffed of bureaucracies.

It is important that undesirable restrictive practices, whether on the part of employer or employed, should cease. We believe that if the worker were free from fear of unemployment, he would have no reason to try to "spin out" his job or deliberately to restrict his output. It is therefore of immediate importance that he should feel sure that the government intends to carry out its full employment policy, and that it will be successful. Such a policy must involve continual government concert with industry to achieve an even flow of investment and wise spending in order to counteract fluctuations and mitigate the effect of trade depressions, especially in those industries producing for capital investment or export. It is also the government's duty to prevent any squandering of national resources or prejudice to national needs for the sake of maintaining high prices or short supplies. Research to eliminate wasteful methods of production and distribution is constantly going forward. Dissemination of its results, and of information on the economic situation of the country and special industries, is not only a legitimate but also an essential function of government in the modern world.

In all these plans, we believe that workers can and should play an important part in guiding the national economy. Many trade union officials have obtained high status in the advisory committees attached to some of our government departments. The degree to which their contribution can be effective, whether in this sphere or in the more usual one of collective bargaining, is conditioned by the extent to which they are in fact in touch with and representative of the opinions of their men. The frequency of unofficial strikes in many countries has underlined the need for trade union leaders and members to work more closely together. No one doubts that their aims are the same, but consultations are valueless and negotiations abortive unless there is reasonable hope of their conclusions being carried out. It is perhaps relevant to say here that we consider that the "closed shop" principle is incompatible with the freedom and rights of the individual worker, which trade unions were first formed to defend. Each worker should be free to belong to whichever union he thinks will best serve his interests, and equally free not to belong to any union at all if he so chooses. We believe that monopolies, whether in the hands of the state, capital or the industrial unions, are generally undesirable.

In all countries, these problems must at some time or another be solved, but here in Britain time is not on our side. It is necessary for us to make a fourfold increase in the value of our exports, and this dictates austerity at home. We have an adverse visible balance in our overseas trade figures, and there is a limit to the extent to which this can be rectified by reducing our imports. If we cut our imports in proportion to the deficit, this would involve either starving or ceasing to manufacture; in other words, this would mean both. It is obvious that we can surmount our immediate difficulties only by greatly increased production at home, and we believe that the Conservative industrial program offers the best means of achieving this.

It is our aim to provide as varied opportunities to get on in the world as there are various ambitions and talents among our people. The individual trader is a valuable asset to society, and owes his continuing existence to the fact that he not only serves but also satisfies his customers. His position should be strengthened and protected from the unfair competition of subsidized or state trading.

Industry in general should provide for those engaged in it security of employment, incentive to do the job well and to get a better one, and status for the individual, however big the firm or mechanized the work. In our view, a worker is entitled to a statement setting out the terms and conditions of the job, and the grounds upon which and the way in which he may be dismissed. A man who has been with a firm for many years should not be dismissed on the same length of notice as one who has only just joined it. This arrangement, by giving the employed a measure of industrial security, would tend also to encourage endeavor, and this is important to the nation as well as to the individual worker.

Extra reward should always be linked with extra effort and initiative. Circumstances in different industries vary greatly, and there are many ways of giving piece rates and bonuses, but whatever the methods, the adoption of the principle is essential. The greatest monetary incentive at present would be to reduce the burden of income tax, and especially to raise the level of earned income relief.

A different aspect of incentive is that of promotion. The supreme test should be that of ability. Those who show the ability to pass from the floor of the shop to the office, including the chairman's office, should have every chance to do so. This system requires a scheme to discover ability and then to educate and train it. Here, the large firm has some advantage over the small one, but by arrangements made to cover a whole industry, or through the help of local education authorities, this handicap can be overcome. Industrial training should continue without interruption from vocational guidance in the schools to the professional and technical organizations. There should be wider schemes of apprenticeship for new entrants, and more specialized training for management. The educational process within industry can also play a valuable part by keeping workers informed of the progress of the undertaking, the volume of its orders, the rate of production, and the effects of taxes and the many other influences which affect their work. One result of such a system is that it enhances the personal contact between employer and employed, which otherwise tends to become submerged in large firms, and encourages the relation of each job to the national economy and need.

All our efforts should be directed towards the freeing of enterprise so that by the collective effort of all concerned our prosperity may be regained. Our policy takes account of modern industrial trends, for it is better that new conceptions of thought should evolve constitutionally within the law than to inspire their revolutionary development by refusal to adapt our political thought to include them. This was certainly the national experience when trade unions were forming a hundred years ago. It was the Conservative Party which, in 1876, gave trade unions the right to strike and thus made collective bargaining a reality.

IV

Professor Trevelyan writes in his "Social History of England" that "politics are the outcome rather than the cause of social change." Our political thought must therefore be constantly reexamined and its authority analyzed. It is necessary to recognize that in every phase the old overlaps the new, and that there is never any single moment when it can truly be said that all Englishmen adopt new ways of life or thought. The steady growth of our national conscience through the centuries has kept pace with the differing spirit of the ages and their just demands for social security. The responsibility for administering to this need has at times been that of the feudal barons, the Church, the Privy Council and the local authorities, until finally it is vested in the State itself. The complex arrangements now operated are indeed abreast of contemporary thought, and far wider in scope than anything we have previously attempted. Britain is not slow to recognize that in the field of human progress there is yet vast territory to be covered, and in the education of her people she tries to fit them to take an honorable place as citizens of the world. The influence of our long history of liberty, of justice and equality before the law is not lost upon our younger generation. Their responsibility is heavy, and it is to them that we must look for the fulfillment of our destiny. The consciousness of our tradition is strong. As long ago as the sixteenth century, Francis Bacon wrote that "Men's thoughts are much according to their inclination; their discourse and speeches according to their learning and infused opinions; but their deeds are after as they have been accustomed." In this knowledge, I am confident that Britain will continue to play her full and effective part in the development of the modern world.

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  • ANTHONY EDEN, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1935-38, and 1940-45; also, on occasion, Lord Privy Seal, Minister for League of Nations Affairs and Secretary of State for War; Conservative M.P. since 1923
  • More By Anthony Eden