Notebook

from newspaper reports over the country during the General Election campaign, a reader gained the very distinct impression that London and the Midlands were islands of prosperity in a sea of underdeveloped areas. Lancashire was depressed about cotton. Gloucestershire was dubious about aircraft. Tyneside, South Wales and Scotland were made to sound like Calabria. Most of our basic industries seemed either to be in a bad way, or if they were undeniably prosperous, They Were in the Wrong Area.

Now that (in practice at any rate) the Government appears to take the view that Tory Freedom by itself does not work (it is Labour that is still talking about “prosperity”!), it has been forced to intervene—and frequently to subsidise—most of the important sectors in the ‘private’ sector of the economy: even those so far untouched do not seem likely to have to wait long: from preliminary noises, it appears that shipbuilding and machine tools (both undeniably important and manifestly incompetently run) are next in the queue.

Without engaging in agonising reappraisals of principle, or involving their Party in the niceties of revisionist re-formulations, the Government has admitted, de facto, that the ‘dash for freedom’ does not ensure a steady increase in the gross national product, or distribute employment evenly over the whole British Isles. Indeed, they have taken up policies which would not only have been condemned as rank socialism in the thirties, but could scarcely have been conceived during the retreat from planning and controls in the halcyon years of the Mr. Butler’s dash for freedom.

Each intervention has been piecemeal, reflecting different industrial situations. The old traditional pattern is still to be seen in the farming industry. This conservative enclave has been subsidised to grow certain crops, not because this makes economic sense, but because of strategic or Defence considerations: or to try and revive regions of depopulation like the Welsh hills or the Scottish Highlands. There can be no other reason, in the age of the Polaris missile-submarine, for growing sugar-beet or wheat in this country. In return, the Government adjusts its payments to follow market trends—since its anticipation of consumer demand seems pretty poor. Many industrialists have farms; they have seen a form of state-aid without interference, without profits, at work. The cinema industry, by contrast, can go to the wall, since it is neither an effective lobby nor connected (except by way of such masterpieces as Sink the Bismarck) with Defence.