“Under the Socialist system, where everything is controlled by an all-powerful State, we cannot hope to uphold our standard of life; and secure employment for the 50 millions crowded in our small island.”
Thus, Winston Churchill kicks off his smashing Party Political Broadcast, during the run-up to the 1950 General Election. (See above.)
The scene was this. Labour had romped to a crushing, landslide victory in 1945, after the war. On the first day of the new Parliament, the massed ranks of new Labour MPs had hallooed out their anthem, the Red Flag. And by 1950 they had been yanking on the levers of Whitehall for almost half a decade. Britain was becoming – step by step – a socialist empire. Clement Attlee had looted, seized, or otherwise nationalised about 20 per cent of the economy: coal, railways, road transport, the Bank of England, civil aviation, cable and wireless, electricity and gas, steel – and more.
Labour’s manifesto seeking a second term of this behaviour was totally unapologetic. They were fearless; almost Corbynesque. Among other pledges, Labour MPs were now seeking state control of capital investment, industry, and foreign exchange.
Crucially, Labour also pledged to keep rationing – not just for a few years, but forever and ever. Rationing was a hated hangover of the Second World War – during which Government Ministers had been in control of how much food you were allowed to eat every day. It was desperately unpopular, as you can imagine. But, despite this, the Labour manifesto was explicit:
“Only by price control and rationing can fair shares of scarce goods be ensured…Yet many Tories still cry ‘Scrap controls’. Nothing could be more disastrous.”
Rationing! Labour went into a General Election promising to ration your food for the rest of eternity.
Looking at long lines of miserable British people awaiting one handout or another, Winston Churchill fired back: “The socialist dream is no longer Utopia, but Queue-topia!” He rose to sublime heights of satire when Labour’s social planners called dwelling places “accommodation units,” whereupon Sir Winston rephrased the sentimental song to read, “Sweet accommodation unit, there’s no place like sweet accommodation unit.” And on the campaign trail, he slammed the Attlee administration as “government of the duds, by the duds, and for the duds”.
Winston Churchill was a skilled rhetorician, and famously witty. But he also found himself leading our Party at a time when the basic Conservative argument was having to be remade again, to a whole new generation. The key point being, just as it was recently in May 2015, that only free enterprise and a swashbuckling, have-a-go, buccaneering economy can secure Britain’s future. We are an island nation, and therefore we have to trade, in order to pay our way in the world. This will never change.
Thus, in his 1950 television appeal, Churchill offered a stark choice:
“The vote you will give on 23 February is of profound importance to your future. Your homes, your families, and our country are all involved. The choice is plain. Are we now to take another plunge into Socialist regimentation? Or, shall we return to the high road of freedom, of enterprise, and – with proper safeguards – opportunity for all?”
He went on:
“If we are to be independent of foreign aid, we must rally all the genius, contrivance, initiative, and diligence of our people in a new surge of impulse and courage… The forefront of our policy is a basic standard below which even the weakest shall not be allowed to fall. On this broad foundation, all should be free to make the best of themselves and our country: to rise by their own exertions… It is an uphill road we have to tread. But, if we reject the cramping, narrowing path of Socialist restriction, we shall surely find the way to those broad uplands, where plenty, peace, and justice reign.”
Plenty! Peace! Justice! It was a profoundly important message – and in the end Churchill won 81 new seats on the back of it. This was short of an overall majority, but sufficient to set up the Conservatives for proper victory the year afterwards, in 1951, when Sir Winston became our Prime Minister for the second time – and on an anti-rationing ticket.
Ahead of the looming Labour leadership election this week, and the Corbynopolist policies that may be its consequence, it is worth remembering the splendid example of Churchill in 1950. The lesson for us is this: that it is not always necessary to triangulate cleverly in politics. Sometimes, all we need is to fight for simple, bread-and-butter conservatism: the right to work, the right to earn money, the right to own property, the right to eat what you wish, rather than having Government Ministers dictate it to you from Whitehall. Given that the Labour leadership seem transfixed by their old socialist errors, we may soon have to fight these battles all over again.