IN these days of full employment, holidays on the Costa Brava, washing machines and cars on the "never-never", it is only the over 35s who remember the grey, twilight world of the hunger marches, "love on the dole", soup kitchens and workhouses. To the younger generations who have gone hungry only between meals. such a world is as remote as the Charleston, the first talkies or broadcasts from Savoy Hill.
The industrious tit-for-tattery that characterised the last days of this year's session of the Mother of Parliaments has done little to remind the nation that those days could easily come again. And for many of our voters such economic jargon as "balance of payment crisis-, "run on sterling" or the more picturesque "gnomes of Zurich" is as meaningful as Ancient Greek.
However much the Treasury, the politicians and financial journalists knit their brows, the public at large is convinced that there will always be an England and that the OECD's sombre picture of Britain's precarious economic position has as much relevance as the price of pemmican in the Arctic Circle.
Public awareness is not. of course, the immediate crux of the economic problem. In the long run, however, it is the decisive factor in the necessary economic modernisation of Britain. Failure to hammer home the "export or die" philosophy is not the fault of any one party alone.
• Although the Conservatives refuse to acknowledge their irresponsibility in leaving a huge trade deficit for the Wilson government to inherit, the present administration cannot escape censure for two reasons.
Firstly, the government harped overmuch on the serious situation from the beginning, just as the Opposition did last week, thus inducing further loss of foreign confidence in the stability of sterling. Secondly. Mr. Wilson failed to take the opportunity to devalue the pound and relied instead on deflationary measures.
His argument that devaluation would have been unfair to foreign investors and that it would have still further undermined con. ficlenee in sterling for the future certainly carries weight. But by relying on a series of de flationary measures instead of combining then) all into one tough budget he has unnecessarily protracted the crisis and has failed to crystallise the issue in the mind of the electorate.
Admittedly, the measures he has already taken may have sufficiently pepped up the economy by next year to enable him to get on with the social reforms which were dominant in his election programme. On the other hand he may eventually have to pay for these policies by the very devaluation he is now pooh-poohing.
Whatever the outcome, this Government, or its successor, must press ahead with the determined modernisation of production. One useful field for a convincing. practical "declaration of intent" was opened up last week by the publication of the Devlin Report on the docks.
Bearing in mind that time is not on our side, the Government should allow a reasonable period for negotiation by all interested parties in rationalising the industry. After that it should step in, if necessary, cut the cackle, and implement the report with determination. Such a gesture could hardly be lost on the rest of industry.
Both major parties are agreed on the necessity for more planning. Whatever policies are formulated they must be tough. They must be just. And they must be seen by each side of industry to be both.
Above all a sense of urgency must be communicated to the nation. During the Second World War vast government campaigns such as "Dig for Victory" and "Careless Talk Costs I ,ives" were not without &Tea if Britain is to be industrially modernised to fit her to compete in world markets intelligent propaganda is as necessary as sound fiscal policy.
Failing this. Britain, front being the "Sick Man of Europe" will become the "Cripple of Europe" and underline Hegel's dictum, "The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history:" Hegel's own country. 'Germany. has, since the wat, given the lie to this. "Economic miracles" are planned and worked for. They do not just happen.