THE only possible criticism of the drastic measures foreshadowed in the Prime Minister's wireless address last Sunday is that they are overdue. The British people will accept without a murmur any temporary invasion of their traditional rights and any inconvenience or enforcement of discipline which the authorities may consider desirable. Nay, they will welcome them and be glad that at last we are getting down to business.
All British wars seem to be characterised in their early stages by a process which has come to be known as " muddling through." It would be a profound mistake to assume from the sorry recurrence of this indictment that Englishmen are congenitally muddleheaded, that they lack all faculty for the reasoned disposal over means and all aptitude for intelligent anticipation. Nothing could be more false.
The real target of the phrase is quite a different one. It is that certain specific principles guide British policy in peace and that those principles do tend to survive in war up to the very verge of disaster.
The chief of these principles may very roughly be defined as the identification of national well being with the ability of invested funds to earn a high and speedy return. " Muddling through " means no more and no less than the desperate persistence to effect by some wizardry of statesmanship a compromise between profit and strength. These subordinations of more vital interests to those of money are held by those who govern us to redound genuinely to the common good, and because money or what we call " vested interests " would suffer in the process there is a reluctance to adopt radical measures in the economic field. The business structure, by which we mean the profitable exchange of secondary forms of wealth, would not fare too well under a heavy process of fiscal distraint.
A result of this peculiar solicitude is among other things the persistent practice of insane public cheeseparing. An excellent example of the latter is the provision whereby those who wish to volunteer for training as munition workers must first put themselves under the care of the Unemployment Assistance Board and accept the status, standards and stigma of the unemployed. In view of the probable imminence of a huge demand for skilled labour this was surely one of the most colossal blunders both in psychology and economics which any Government has ever made.
We could quote other instances, but forbear to do so, for it is, thank God, not too late to mend. If the pounding of the enemy at our gates does not make an end of such ineptitudes then we are not fitted to survive. But we are confident now that they will be ended, for our leaders have shown that they mean to have done with play.