THE PRESENT POLITICAL SITUATION
AN ADDRESS BY CAPTAIN IAN FRASER, O.B.E.,
HEAD OF ST. DUNSTAN'S INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND.
1st May, 1931
PRESIDENT STAPELLS Introduced the speaker.
CAPTAIN FRASER referred with great satisfaction to the Tag Day for the Blind, and said:-It is a great pleasure to come to a city where such fine work has been accomplished by the organization which I think I may fairly claim as being a child of St. Dunstan's. This splendid institution awes its origin chiefly to the efforts of Captain Baker and Mr. Veets, who came from St. Dunstan's inspired to look on the bright side of life, and obtained the cooperation of influential people in Toronto in founding that great institution, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. I only hope that in finances, and in its work throughout the year it will keep up the splendid record made in the last ten years.
I have been asked to say something about British politics, and that is not easy, because, owing to the swing of the pendulum, I was turned out of office two years ago. Politics is one of those curious occupations in which, no matter whether you do your job well or ill, you are turned out when the pendulum swings, without compensation and without notice (laughter). Moreover, I have been travelling in foreign parts for some time, and have not been able to observe these politics at close range. However, there are some particular questions on which you will permit me to speak, which may be of interest to you.
I believe that the majority of our people were vastly disappointed when the Imperial Conference last year came to an inconclusive end. We had built great hopes upon it, for we thought that out of discussions, partaken of in good-will, at a time of world-wide depression, it might have been possible to reach some conclusions beneficial to our two nations. But that was not to be, and I fear the reason was partly that Britain happened to have a Government which does not believe in tariffs of any kind. In that atmosphere it was impossible for proposals, made from Canada or other quarter, to bring about fruitful results. I feel, and I think the majority of my -countrymen now feel, that better trade within the Empire can only be promoted by some kind of reciprocal preference. It is first necessary that the Mother Country should be willing to place some control upon the importation of food-stuffs in order that she may have something to offer in exchange for preferences in your market. You are aware that there have been many voices in Britain. Some have cried for Empire Free Trade-which has been misinterpreted here and in England; some have cried for a quota method of control of imports which would give first preference to the British producer, and second, a substantial preference to the Dominion producer, taking from the rest of the world only necessary amounts of raw commodities. Others have cried for some kind of government monopoly of buying and distributing. There have been many voices, but I think we are gradually coming to a time when there will be only one voice amongst the people,-the cry for better trade between the Mother Country and the Dominions (applause). Believe me, no one in Great Britain is so foolish as to expect that any Dominion will open its gates so that British products may come in and compete with theirs and put their men out of work. Every sane person in Britain realizes the extent to which you in particular, and the other Dominions to a considerable degree, have built up plants capable of not merely serving your need, but of exporting their products. We realize that you must protect your own workers and industries. But we do ask that when you find it necessary to go abroad to buy,, you will give a definite preference to British products. When can Britain achieve that policy? Only, I believe, when we change our government. Many Labour men believe that it is right for a man to protect his own labour--that is the whole philosophy of the trade union--and many of them are protectionists, as the Labour Men of Australia are protectionists; yet other Labourites follow the Liberal tradition of free trade, and are supported in Parliament by a handful of Liberals on whose votes they depend. Under these circumstances it is exceedingly unlikely that any measure of reciprocal preference can come under the present government. I earnestly hope that there may be a change before any further Imperial Conference is held. (Applause.)
You may be interested in a comment or two upon the side-shows within the Conservative Party in Britain which have been entertaining us for some time. (Laughter.) There is a mistaken idea that individuals can in a few months create parties, and can build up hundreds of candidates to run in competition with orthodox politicians. Believe me, that is not possible. It is no more possible, because of the mechanics of running candidates, for Lord Beaverbrook to run 400 candidates against the Conservatives than it is possible for Sir Oswald Mosley to run 400 of his heterodox gentlemen against the orthodox Labour Party. (Laughter). You can put them in by-elections, as Oswald did yesterday, as Lord Beaverbrook did six months ago, and you can split the Left vote or the Right vote and let the Right or the Left enemy in; but you cannot multiply this attack upon a wide front. Only a limited number of persons can be elected to Parliament by the most foolish electorate (laughter); and there is only a limited number of persons sufficiently foolish to allow themselves to be so elected. (Laughter). Not all men are willing to undertake the drudgery of public life. Not all men have competent wives to help them in their constituencies. (Laughter). Many a seat has been lost by a man's wife. (Laughter). Not all men are qualified to be election agents, though election agents are generally incompetent. (Laughter.) It is not possible suddenly to create a new party-at any rate I claim it is not possible in the Old Country-and there was no fear that the unorthodox elements in Conservative thought could or would develop a new, party, or run any large number of candidates. Nevertheless, they ran some, and have created a stir in the dovecotes just as Oswald Mosley has caused many bitter words to be said in the Labour Party.
When I left England those disunited elements had come to the conclusion that there was little difference between their various policies, and that phrases and words had made those policies appear more different than they were. I regret that some of you here misunderstood the phrase "Empire Free Trade". You thought it meant that immediately the policy is put into force your tariffs would have to come down, and that is a thing you cannot agree to. Some of your statesmen have said that Empire Free Trade is humbug-or possibly it was one of our statesmen who said that. (Laughter.) Empire Free Trade is a phrase indicating a policy to which practically all Conservatives are agreed. This policy is no monopoly of Lord Beaverbrook's. May I explain the phrase by calling your attention to another phrase which is common in the minds of those who study Empire matters "A White Australia". Practically all Australians will admit that they agree with the policy of "A White Australia"; but it does not mean that they will not have one single colored person in Australia. Every one tacitly admits that parts of the north of that continent can only be worked by colored races; they are there, and must remain there, and the number of those persons is increasing to a certain extent. Nevertheless" the phrase "A White Australia" conveys a general idea with which most people find themselves in agreement. So with Empire Free Trade; no such freedom as will enable us to put your men out of work, but such freedom within our borders as will enable us to do the maximum amount of free trade with each other. Interpreted that way, it is something to which I believe the majority of our people in England are agreed, and to which they will lend their support when the opportunity is given them in a general election. (Applause.)
Many hard things are said about Great Britain. We are supposed to be down and out; our finance is supposed to be on the rocks; our unemployment is so great that we may never recover; we are on the decline, and the time has come to consider taking out, we will say, American papers. (Laughter). My own feeling is that these views are wrong. (Applause). We have heard so often that England is down and out that the phrase leaves us quite unmoved. Our budget did not balance this year; there was a deficit of $180,000,000. But this must be considered not merely in relation to other countries, but to the position in our own country. You must compare this $180,000,000 with our revenue, which is not less than $5,000,000,000. I hazard a guess that if other countries added up their year's account and saw where they stood they would not find themselves in a stronger position than Great Britain. (Applause).
Our unemployment is considerable. Some people think that we should not have published our figures. We can only guess what the unemployment figures are in the United States or Germany. The British want to know where they stand, and do not mind the rest of the world knowing their difficulties, because they have faith in their power to overcome them. We have 2,000,000 men out of work, but it is a mistake to suppose that they are always the same 2,000,000. Many of that immense number are men changing from one job to another, or who are subject to seasonal spells of unemployment, or in jobs which last only a few weeks. Each day the statistics are made up, and they include every man out of work; a considerable number are not unemployed in the sense in which one has come to regard unemployed, as a demoralized, hopeless being who has not had a job for months.
Our dole has been criticized. When I think of its origin I am glad that Great Britain instituted it-(Applause)-because these were the circumstances. On the Continent we had three or four million men in arms. They had been taken out of ordinary industry, and were applying their energies to an honourable, and, in the end, successful job. That work came to an end, they came back to their homes, and it was inconceivable that these men should be left to depend upon some fitful charity, or to go to the poor-house. Provision had to be made of an honourable kind, recognizing that it was not their fault that they were unemployed. Once you institute a system in a democratic country it is profoundly difficult, even if it were desirable to go back on it. There is a good deal to be said for the rational system by which men, when they are in work, may pay premiums to an insurance fund to draw upon if they should become unemployed. (Applause). May I remind you that between two-thirds and three-fourths of the payments made to unemployed persons in Great Britain are made from the fund accumulated by premiums that have been paid in. It is only to the remaining third that anything in the nature of a gratuitous payment is made. Within that limit there has been abuse and weakness, and it should be the aim of any government in Britain to bring that insurance fund back to an actuarial basis. (Applause). Let it not be said, however, that the system of unemployment insurance in Great Britain is wholly bad.
The Government at present is supported by a Liberal minority. I am hazarding the guess, based upon the information of a few weeks ago, that the Labour Government will remain in office longer than, many people imagine. It is not doing the dreadful things which Conservatives thought, or said, it would. Governments are never as bad as their opponents hope they will be. (Laughter). I do not understand why Labour is supported by the Liberal minority; perhaps many Liberals think it is their only hope of a seat in Parliament; if the situation is bad today they might as well stay where they are, hoping that it will become better tomorrow. At least forty Liberals are staunch followers of Lloyd George, and that following ought to keep the Labour Government in power for some time. I would be surprised if they fell immediately after the budget discussion, and I think they may go through next winter, though there are troubles on the horizon-great troubles in the coal field, because the Government has promised the seven-hour day, which cannot be granted without closing down many mines. Men are breaking away from the Left Wing of the Labour Party; they are more anxious to keep their seats in the next election than to save the Government. It is easy, and usually popular, to be "agin' the Government," and if you can contrive, as a Labour man, to be against the Government, you may retain your seat when the Conservative tide flows strongly. Oswald Mosley is not an unmitigated adventurer,, and I think he will go far in British politics, but he has threatened the Labour Government, and they may fall at any time, by accident or design. The common tendency in times of depression is to blame the Government. If you are doubly doubtful you will blame the Opposition as well(laughter); and if you want to be quite sure that you are right, you will blame Parliament.
A great many people blame Parliament in Great Britain; you may hear echoes over here, and wonder if we are going to take unto ourselves a Mussolini. Believe me, we are not. (Applause). The Mother of Parliaments is sufficiently strong in tradition, in the extent to which she has grown into the body politic, to stand any amount of scandal and abuse. She will hold her head up, and we will never be governed by anything but a Parliament elected by the people. (Applause). Nor is Parliament losing its hold upon the imagination of the British people. I wonder how many of you have realized that it was the sentiment for parliamentary government which defeated our great general strike in 1926? It was the feeling that no body of men-even those who had been our Labour leaders for years" and whom we had trusted as working men-must be allowed to give offense to Parliament. The rumours you hear of Parliament losing its control over the people are not correct. Our country will retain and continue to respect its Parliamentary Government.
I would like to say one word about the leadership of the Conservative party. There have been differences of opinion about Mr. Baldwin amongst those of Conservative thought. When I left England Mr. Baldwin's stock was rising. He has weathered many storms. I believe that the overwhelming majority of conservatively-minded people regard him as a great and good leader-(applause)-and that the minority who at one time wanted .a change have thrown their weight with him. I believe that the conservatives are determined to win the next election under his leadership, and I expect to see him the next Prime Minister of Great Britain. (Applause).
When you are hearing how black the situation in Great Britain is supposed to be, may I remind you of one or two things? I have already said that our finances are in remarkable shape, having regard to the difficulties under which we have been working, and to the fact that for some years we have suffered frown Socialistic propaganda. When the Conservatives were in power, the Socialist Opposition was sufficiently strong to force the Government to embark upon expenditures which were good in themselves but unwise at the time. For some years the parties have competed with each other in offering inducements to the electors. There is a complaint in Britain voiced by members of all parties, and only opposed by a small group, that expenditures on social services have been too great, and must cease. This is a healthy sign. It will have its effect in re-establishing our financial position. Democracy is rather new, and only recently all have had a vote. They are beginning to learn that work and wages are better than doles and state provisions, and this fact points to the beginning of our period of recovery.
We must not forget that Great Britain lost a million men in the war, which number included an undue proportion of men who had the character and ability to make leaders; our industries, politics, general commerce and other activities in which we are engaged lack men of experience. It is not surprising that Great Britain has gone through bad times. What is surprising is that she is doing so well in comparison with countries that have suffered less. (Applause). We have a great tradition. We have a faith in the destiny of our race, and we believe that although men have been killed, there will, in time, be new men to take their places.
My message-if I may use such a word for the paltry remarks I have made-is this: Let those of British blood and sympathy throughout the world have faith in the tradition to which they have been born and bred; let them have courage to come together politically and economically; let them believe that time is a great healer, and that Nature, if given a chance, will bring us back from the convalescence in which we now find ourselves to a time of perfect health and prosperity. (Loud applause).
Hon. William Price, K.C., Attorney-General of Ontario, expressed the thanks of the Club in an eulogistic speech, in which he praised the work of the speaker and his associates in connection with the Canadian Institute for the Blind.