FOUR CONSERVATIVES FORM A BRAINS TRUST
Questions of Topical Interest Answered
An M.P. and three prospective Parliamentary candidates formed a Conservative brains trust—the first to be held in the Dartford Division—at Crayford on Monday. They were Mr. J. Baker White, M.P. for Canterbury, Mrs. Dorothy Welfare, Miss Margaret Roberts, and Mr. Ted Leather (Conservative candidates for Bethnal Green, Dartford and North Somerset respectively.
Written questions were submitted by members of the large audience, and the first, selected at random by the question-master (Mr. J. L. M. Miller), was a topical one: “What does the brains trust think of Mr. Attlee 's statement to the House to-day?”
Mr. Baker White summed up his opinion as, “We expected an outsize axe to be produced, but got something like a pair of nail scissors.”
He said it was difficult to sort it all out at the moment, and any impression he gave now, from a first hearing and a first reading, he might have to revise later. But he thought there were other things that could have been cut, such as Government publicity. This cost £16,000,000 a year and there would have been no harm in cutting it to half.
It was also surprising that nothing had been done about open cost mining. The 1s. charge on prescriptions he thought wise, as it would go some way towards getting rid of the idea that these things were free.
Government Missed an Opportunity
But it seemed to him the Government had missed an enormous opportunity. After all, cutting did not produce incentive, and if they wanted output they had to give people something to work for.
Mrs. Welfare, who described herself as “an ordinary working man's wife—my husband is a house painter,” criticised the £5,000 a year salaries of officials on the Coal Board. She condemned the 1s. prescriptions because she thought the working people were paying quite enough, and considered an incentive should have been provided by a reduction of Income Tax on over time.
Mr. Leather felt quite certain the cuts bore out what they had all been saying for weeks: that there was not one cut or economy that would not have been far better made at least two or three years ago. If they had been made then, they would not be in the shocking position they were in now.
Miss Roberts thought what the Government had done was only a fleabite, and they had not been as ruthless as they should have been. They were not going to abandon their partisan tactics and set the people free with incentives, and as far as cuts on overheads went, they had now started to do what the Tory policy advocated over four years ago.
Mr. Baker White added that one opportunity the Government had missed was to cut the salaries of Ministers and Members of Parliament, as an example to the country.
Another topical question was: “What effect will devaluation have on the housewife, and will it result in unemployment?”
Mrs. Welfare replied that devaluation had already hit the housewife, as it was she who had to pay the little bit extra on the loaf, and it was also ‘hitting the old age pensioner. As regards unemployment, she recalled that after the 1914–18 war Germany and Japan had flooded the market with goods cheaper than we could produce them here, and it meant unemployment in Britain. She foresaw this happening again.
Mr. Leather said there was no doubt that the cost of living was bound to go up. The risk of unemployment was greater than before, because increased costs would kill the market for many goods, and unemployment might well be a subsidiary result.
Miss Roberts thought that in spite of devaluation, we should not succeed in closing the dollar gap. She could not see how this could be done by visible exports and imports. The only way was to get the Americans to invest their money through confidence in British business.
Mr. Baker White believed devaluation might result in a ten per cent. rise in the cost of living, and might cause temporary unemployment; but he saw no reason why there should be extensive unemployment if the transition was carried out in a proper fashion.,
“Will Conservatives discontinue payments of children's allowances when they are returned to power?” was another question.
“Certainly not,” replied Mr. Baker White. “Children's allowances were brought in by a Conservative Government.”
To the question, “If the Conservatives are returned to power, would they discontinue subsidies and remove food control?” Miss Roberts replied that they would not abolish rationing or price control on any necessity until there was enough of it to go round.
The next question was, “Is membership of a trade union compatible with support of the Conservative Party?” and, in reply, Mr. Leather produced his own trade union card. He said trade unions were full of Tories, but what they believed was that trade unionists should be trade unionists and not party politicians.
The Trust answered nearly a dozen other questions, and Mr. Miller said they would organise a similar event later on.