Britain Today
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Jan 1968, p. 261-271
Macmillan, The Rt. Hon. Harold, Speaker
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Item Type
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
Some remarks about world events following World War I and World War II, including some personal reminiscences of the speaker. The speaker's experience of Canada. Britain and the British people. What is being said about Britain, and the speaker's response. Topics addressed include Britain's military power; the financial and economic situation; industrial disputes and strikes and the British workman. What is wrong in Britain today. A response to the accusation that Britain is morally decadent. The lack of basic alteration in the character of the British people: their courage, their kindliness, their serious view of life and of trying to face its modern complications. A message of hope from the old country that has "weathered so many storms in her long and glorious history."
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18 Jan 1968
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Full Text
JANUARY 18, 1968
Britain Today
CHAIRMAN, The President, Graham M. Gore


On March 11 in the year 1937 a Member of the British House of Commons rose to address The Empire Club of Canada on the subject of "Europe 1937--Prospect and Retrospect." He spoke of the psychological and economic mistakes made in the policy toward Germany after World War I, he warned of the threat of Nazi Germany to the world, and he criticized the dangerous isolationist policies of many western countries. His address -which can be read today in The Empire Club Year Book of 1936-37 -is remarkable for its clarity, its common sense, and its call for positive action at a time when hysteria and half-measures were the order of the day.

The speaker was then in his early forties and he was introduced by the Club President, the late Major G. B. Balfour, as "one of the most promising and brilliant of the younger Members in the British House." Today--31 years later--we see how that promise has been fulfilled, for today that man has returned to us as one of the leading political figures of our time -the Right Honourable Maurice Harold Macmillan, former Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Mr. Macmillan, it will be remembered, took over the reins of government from Sir Anthony Eden in 1957, following the Suez crisis, and played a major role in unifying and revitalizing the Conservative Party at home and stabilizing British influence abroad.

Actually, his ensuing term of nearly seven years as Prime Minister was the culmination of a long and eventful career in British politics as diplomat, Privy Councillor, and Cabinet member.

Of his qualities in public life, a journalist for the Spectator of London declared: "He has, as he has shown again and again in his life, an unusually wide-awake social conscience: or, if conscience is too presuming a word, it is perhaps better to say that he is acutely sensitive to the hopes, fears and wants of ordinary people."

Another London writer commented: "He may be the last of the suave, almost courtly British statesmen . . . who can turn up in Moscow wearing an astrakhan cap, or sit cross-legged talking oil with a Middle-Eastern sheikh without loss of dignity."

In the years before World War II, however, older Conservatives regard Mr. Macmillan as somewhat of a Party rebel. He is reported to have called front-benchers of Ramsay Macdonald's Coalition Government "a row of misused slag-heaps". His independent spirit also displeased Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, reportedly described by him as "extinct volcanoes".

Sir Winston Churchill, on the other hand, saw him as "a man of fearless intelligence" who, like himself, had violently criticized the rejoicings which followed Munich. When Sir Winston became Prime Minister in 1940, Mr. Macmillan was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply and in 1942 was transferred to the Colonial Office as Under-Secretary of State. At the end of 1942 he was appointed British Resident Minister at Allied Headquarters in Algiers. There he participated in negotiations towards a settlement in France, his knowledge of French language and culture being a valuable asset. He was one of the key men at the Casablanca Conference and later became Acting President of the Allied Commission in Italy.

Following the war, he was Air Minister in the "Caretaker Government" in 1945, an important Opposition front-bencher by the spring of 1946, and a prominent British representative in the economic councils of Europe. In 1951 he was appointed Britain's Minister of Housing and Local Government and helped local authorities hasten the building of private houses, while decreasing the cost of public housing subsidies. In 1954 he was appointed Minister of Defence and in 1955 became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, succeeding Sir Anthony Eden.

Mr. Macmillan was born in London, England, on February 10th, 1894- the son of a Scots father and an American mother. He is a grandson of the founder of the Macmillan Publishing House in London and has been a director, and, latterly, Chairman of that firm.

He was wounded in action during World War I while serving as an officer with the Special Reserve Grenadier Guards, and in 1919 he came to Canada as Aide-de-Camp to the Ninth Duke of Devonshire, then Governor General of Canada. In his book, Winds of Change, Mr. Macmillan recalls those ten months in Canada as "in many ways the happiest in my life!" And refers to the experience as "one of almost unalloyed enjoyment". Perhaps part of the reason was his interest in the Governor General's daughter, Lady Dorothy, a young lady whom he subsequently married and who bore him one son and three daughters.

Since his retirement, Mr. Macmillan has made very sure that no one can, with any truth, describe him as an "extinct volcano". At last report he was at work on the third volume of a projected four-volume set of his memoirs. The first two volumes, entitled Winds of Change and The Blast of War are already in print and have been described as the best memoirs to appear in the English language since those of Sir Winston Churchill. Earlier books by Mr. Macmillan include Reconstruction: A Plea for a National Policy (1934), The Middle Way (1938), and Aspects of Defence (1939).

Mr. Macmillan holds a B.A. in classics and mathematics from Balliol College, Oxford University and was appointed Chancellor of that University in 1960. He has always been a keen student of history and has sought to draw lessons from the past to apply in contemporary situations.

Before embarking on his present trip to Canada, he was interviewed in London by Alan Harvey of the Globe and Mail and expressed the need for a new western orientation, a new line of policy, and a new way of looking at the world.

When asked if he intended to guard against the Canadian winter by wearing the celebrated fur cap he wore for his meetings in Russia with Nikita Khrushchev, he reportedly laughed and replied: "Good heavens, no. I learned long ago that if you go to Canada in winter, you should take your thinnest summer clothes. All you do is move from over-heated hotel to over-heated apartment. Save your warm clothes for summer to guard against the air conditioning or you'll catch a chill." Having just experienced our biggest storm of this summer, perhaps, Sir, you have changed your mind about that fur cap.

Gentlemen: it is my privilege to extend a very warm welcome to our guest- a distinguished statesman, a valiant soldier, a man of letters, a world renowned pub lisher, and one who reads so many books that he is one of the best customers of the product of his own and his competitors' publishing houses--and ask him to address us--The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan, P.C.


I am indeed grateful to the Empire and Canadian Clubs for arranging this function.

In conveying the invitation, the organizer was clearly apprehensive. For I received an urgent-almost tearfulwarning that my remarks should not extend to more than twenty-five minutes or half an hour as the very maximum. No doubt he thought, like other people, that old men talk too long. Nevertheless, you must remember that they do not have long to talk.

It is nearly fifty years since I first came to Canada. It was in the spring of 1919, a few months after the end of the First World War--that terrible struggle which marked the beginning of a period of crisis and confusion in the world's history, from which we are not yet emerged. The story is no doubt known to you of Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary--a man of deep feeling and imagination--standing at a window of his room in the Foreign Office on the evening of August 3rd, 1914. It was getting dark; the lamps were being lit in the park below. "Now," he exclaimed, "the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." He was to be proved right. Yet happily men are by nature buoyant and hopeful. Both the first war and that which followed within a generation were acclaimed as "wars to end war". After the first, a bold and imaginative attempt to secure universal peace was made by the formation of the League of Nations. It failed, for two reasons. First, it was not comprehensive. The most powerful country in the world, the United States, was not a member. Secondly, the League was armed with no real power. It could talk; it could not act.

After the Second War, the founding Fathers of the United Nations Organization, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, believed they could avoid these mistakes by ensur ing that the new league should include every nation--Allied, neutral, and in due course enemy -and that it should be armed with real authority, including a military staff and effective forces. These dreams too have proved vain, at least for the time being. So the shadow of a third war hangs heavily over a disillusioned world.

The underlying cause of the uneasy truce--you can hardly call it peace--that exists between the great armed camps, and the reason for the disorder and confusion that breaks out sporadically in many places, is the same. It is the polarisation of power into two opposing groups--the Communist and the Free World.

The United Nations Organization was to take the place of the old imperial systems which, from the Treaty of Vienna, until the outbreak of the First War, at least kept general order and spread increasing prosperity to every part of the globe. By one means or another these have been brought to an end. The independence of their constituent bodies was inevitable and right. But the process has been inevitably hastened as the result of the two great wars. Both Britain and France have been wise to bend before the winds of change before they reached hurricane force. Nevertheless, this has led to the rise of many new nations, great and small, some of which have been themselves further fragmented.

I came to Canada after over two years in hospital; as a cripple, with wounds not yet healed; I left twelve months later restored to health. I came alone, and left with a wife. So naturally I have a very happy recollection of Canada. During all these years I have made and preserved many friendships in Canada--some with your leading statesmen. I can remember the dominant figure of Sir Robert Borden, whose work in crowning Canada with its truce insignia of nationhood must never be forgotten. After him, I well recall both those outstanding figures, Meighen and R. B. Bennett. Later, I became a friend of Mackenzie King, with his wonderful record of power, a man of extraordinary quality and resourcefulness. I knew and admired his successor, Mr. St. Laurent, whose exquisite courtesy did not always reveal the underlying strength of his character; John Diefenbaker, who was Prime Minister during the first years of my Premiership--a bonny fighter. I worked equally closely with his successor, Mike Pearson, whom we were happy to welcome in London a few weeks ago. In due course I may be able to become acquainted with his successor.

The only mistake I have made is in not coming last year--in time to join in one of the greatest events in Canadian history--Expo 67. But I know what it has meant and symbolized. You must indeed be proud of so signal a triumph.

But you all know about Canada. Perhaps you will want to hear a little about Britain.

Of course, I don't know as much about it as I used. I have an instinct, but it may be prejudice, that it is not so well governed as it was a few years ago. Never mind -

a little local difficulty like that soon passes away. It is curious how differently one sees things according to circumstances. In the first twenty years of my political career I fought six elections on Tees-side. I won three and lost three. When I lost, I remember thinking what an absurd system democracy was--"counting noses! What a way to run a great Empire!" But when I won, I said to myself, "Ah! I always knew the British people were sound at heart!" In fact they are. Nor do they change very much. They are no different from what they were in 1914 or in 1940--two critical points in my lifetime. Some superficial observers then believed them to have lost something of their old qualities. Kaiser William thought so; and later on Hitler thought so too. But they were both wrong. These were costly mistakes--costly to themselves as well as to all of us. Now I have no doubt some people are saying the same thing again--or hinting it. It is even repeated by individuals and nations whom we saved from disaster and restored to freedom. Let me be frank about it. It is said that we are militarily impotent, financially bankrupt, and morally decadent.

Britain is not so powerful militarily in relation to other nations, as she was at the beginning of the Second World War. That is due to two simple reasons. First, the enor mous rise in the population, wealth and armed strength of Russia and America. Secondly, owing to the transformation of the old Empire into the new Commonwealth, their resources and their strategic advantages have passed from our hands. No longer can we summon forth four or five Indian divisions from the sub-continent; no longer can we raise large bodies of troops from the dependent Colonies. Yet I do not think there is anyone in this room, who would recommend to successive British Governments the delaying of a natural development, so long foreseen and so carefully prepared, by which the benefits of selfgovernment and independence have flowed from British policy.

Nevertheless, even after the reductions just announced, our expenditure on defence will be by no means negligible. It will compare in terms of gross national product not unfavourably with that of the Great Powers. Whether the deployment of our forces is likely to be the best advantage of the Free World, I am not so sure. Our presence in the Persian Gulf, even on a modest scale, constitutes an insurance of benefit of many other nations than ourselves. As regards the Far East, where the constant threat of Communism in Malaysia was largely contained by our presence in Singapore, and where substantial British forces gave comfort to our dear Australian and New Zealand friends, I much regret what seems like an abandonment of responsibility. However, I take some comfort in the thought that these plans do not take effect until a lapse of some years, and there is always the possibility of second thoughts.

On the financial and economic situation of Britain, I could speak for hours, but I doubt whether any of you would be much the wiser. Of course, nowadays everybody studies economics. Indeed almost everyone is an expert. The interpretations are complicated, and often contradictory, yet the basic facts are clear enough. The First War dealt Britain a heavy blow. Up to then we had financed the growth of a large part of the world, especially the new world. Most of the public utilities-railways, harbours, docks-in the United States and Canada were built from British savings. All those investments were sold to defend the cause of freedom. Between the wars they were largely rebuilt in spite of many troubles. Once again, by the end of 1941, we pledged or sold them to face an arrogant Germany and to succour a stricken France. More than that, owing to the correctness of British financial methods, we found ourselves at the end of the war owing large sums of money to many countries. These were called the sterling balances. Often, as in India, they had been incurred, not for our own benefit, but to defend the peoples for whom we were responsible against aggression, whether German or Japanese. These sums amounted to hundreds, nay, thousands of millions. Gradually we have paid them off by export of our goods and services. But they have been unrequited exports - a burden rather than a benefit to our economy.

Since then, we have achieved a remarkable expansion in our productive capacity at home and in our exports overseas. Our exports have increased prodigiously. We have, of course, few raw materials or major sources of power; coal--the basis of our old industrial supremacy--is becoming gradually obsolete. Nevertheless, the old country somehow or another has succeeded in reaching a position where our exports per head are among the highest of any nation, large or small. Nor does this take any account of invisible exports--of ever increasing value and importance.

You hear some foolish stories about industrial disputes and strikes and the British workman being unwilling to work. Well take a simple test -the days lost per 1,000 persons employed, over, let us say, the last five years. In Italy these amounted to 1,170, in the United States 1,106, in Canada 408, in the United Kingdom 294. Finally, if we are obsolete, both as manufacturers and salesmen, as some critics declare, I will put to you one simple question. Why does the United States put up protective tariffs -notoriously aimed chiefly at British imports--of 30% to 40% on such products as nylon and terylene, 80% on polythene, 20% on machine tools, 50% on electric motors, and from 20% to 40% on glass? I have only taken a few at random; and now I understand the Protectionist Lobby in America is pressing for still higher rates.

What then is wrong? There are a lot of things wrong, as in many countries. One of our troubles is a curious jealousy of success in commerce and industry which seems to pervade many who ought to know better. But our chief difficulty is that, like many expanding enterprises, we have been trading beyond our means. We are short of cash, because our expansion has been so rapid. This results in an increase in home demand and of imports to supply it. So we have continual difficulties in the balance of payments. Unless a government is quick to put these right, even at the cost of unpopularity, trouble is bound to follow.

Moreover, we have the disadvantages as well as the benefits of sterling being the second largest currency for international trade, and a reserve currency into the bar gain. This makes it especially exposed to troubles in any part of the world. These problems are bound to remain with us for some years to come. They can be dealt with by skilful management. Just as a good driver of a car applies sometimes the accelerator, and sometimes a touch of the brake, so a government should be able to steer the economy of our country. Of course, it must be prudent, not arrogant; cold sober, not drunk with power. Nor should it apply the brake and the accelerator at the same time. Not only is that a somewhat bizarre method, but it is bound to lead to a smash--as it has.

Now I come to the last point, perhaps the most difficult for an old man to deal with. It is said that we are morally decadent. At the age of rising 74 it is difficult to

be very decadent oneself. One can only look around and see what is going on or read what is reported. I do not blame the Press; but remember that good news is no news. If one were to read the popular newspapers of any country one would suppose that the great mass of the people were occupied in adultery, drug-taking, robbery, or murder. But this is a superficial view. We do not hear about all the people that are not criminals or about the families living happily together. It is only the exceptional that is exciting.

Indeed, by the fundamental tests--their courage, their kindliness, their serious view of life and of trying to face its modern complications--there has been little basic alteration in the character of the British people.

At any rate, as one who has now no special cause to maintain, no axe to grind, no parliament or electorate to flatter, I dare to bring you a message of hope from the old country that has weathered so many storms in her long and glorious history.

Thanks of the meeting were expressed by H. I. Macdonald.

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Britain Today

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
Some remarks about world events following World War I and World War II, including some personal reminiscences of the speaker. The speaker's experience of Canada. Britain and the British people. What is being said about Britain, and the speaker's response. Topics addressed include Britain's military power; the financial and economic situation; industrial disputes and strikes and the British workman. What is wrong in Britain today. A response to the accusation that Britain is morally decadent. The lack of basic alteration in the character of the British people: their courage, their kindliness, their serious view of life and of trying to face its modern complications. A message of hope from the old country that has "weathered so many storms in her long and glorious history."