The retirement of Mr. Baldwin and the beginning of Mr. Chamberlain's reign as Prime Minister should stimulate all electors to take stock of the achievements and failures of the National Government under which they have been living for six years.
Many of our readers have been surprised at our refusal to share the wholehearted enthusiasm of a great part of the electorate for the rule of Mr. Baldwin. But we are not a party paper and as such we have no business to do party work. A moment's reflection, indeed, should make our more dissatisfied readers understand that a paper which tries to make Catholic principles in all their uncompromising rigidity the basis of its policy is not likely to find a great deal to praise in the Modern State, no matter by whom it is ruled. There is little likelihood of our providing any more pleasing comment should Mr. Attlee's party attain to power, and indeed the ineptitude of Labour even in opposition has forced us to write of it with greater severity. It has been that ineptitude and the quite extraordinary lack of leadership on the opposition benches which have given the National Government half its power and threequarters of its popularity.
Relatively speaking it has had virtues, . the chief one being that it has kept • Britain at peace both with the outside world and with itself and set no serious impediments to the return of prosperity in accordance with the cycle of trade.
In contrast with Europe this may -seem to be a great achievement, but its greatness consists solely in that contrast. The National Government, which is today to all intents and purposes the Conservative Government, has risked nothing, changed nothing, and been content to rely on English capital in every sense of the word. The truth is that it was not faced with particular difficulties so long as it was content with the negative virtue of maintaining the English status quo.
Other countries during the same period have been faced with appalling diffieul ties.
Germany and Italy have had to choose between virtual extinction as great powers or the immense risks of bluff and aggression abroad and a new and untried economic policy at home. They have made their choice and done pretty well.
France has been faced with the legacy of years of political corruption at home and necessary weakness abroad, and her present Prime Minister, however much we may disagree with him, has at least had convictions and the will to experiment rather than succumb.
America has found in President Roosevelt a leader who has changed the face of the country.
Smaller powers like Austria, Portugal and Belgium have all been making history during these years, while Spain has entered the lists and suffered in her body the tortures which sooner or later will assail the whole of Europe unless it can find the right answer to the clash of ideas stirring in its soul.
We do not deny that it is much more comfortable to live under Mr. Baldwin or Mr. Chamberlain, but the ultimate success or failure of their rule depends upon whether the refusal to give any answer at all to the vital questions of the day is as good a policy as the giving the right answer. We doubt it. 'There is tomorrow to come, and the policy of drifting, piecemeal patching, making mistakes and candidly acknowledging them, threatening mildly and rapidly retreating cannot succeed in the long run, so long as man has a faith and a principle of life—and, whether the faith and the principles be good or bad, he has rarely been more conscious of them than he is today.
We need take but one example of the sort of policy which passes for success among those who cannot read the signs of the times, glaring as they are today everywhere outside England. For years pressure has been put upon the National Government to initiate a hold policy of social reconstruction and to do something towards providing work for a million unemployed and decent living for twenty million workers. Nothing was done. Why? Because Mr. Chamberlain held it to be bad finance. That may or may not have been a sound reason. But today it is the same Mr. Chamberlain who not only raises immense loans for rearmament but glories in the loans as stimuli for better trade and the maintenance of economic prosperity as it reaches the summit of the prosperity curve.
Such a glaring contradiction would surely strike a child, yet he gets away with it. It is typical of the " virtues " of drift and opportunism, but it means in plain fact that millions of our countrymen suffer when they need not do so.
Is it likely that mistakes of this order will be for ever hidden, especially when the sense that the increasing wealth of the world is made for every man to enjoy in his due share is growing so rapidly? Had we the space we could analyse the policies of the National Government in every matter along the same lines and come to the same conclusions.
They may do for today; we dread their effects tomorrow.