on the World Today
LONDON is a city still armed with a fine civil assurance. Even today you may sometimes see a bank messenger, conspicuously uniformed, probably wearing a topper, striding alone along the sidewalk carrying in one hand a small Gladstone bag full of money. One recent Thursday morning at 11:15 A.M. a messenger and a clerk went out of the Midland Bank, Commercial Street, Stepney, with $45,000 in two such bags strapped to their wrists. Outside they hailed the first cab to come along, got in, and quietly told the driver where they wanted to go.
They were driven instead around the block into the yard of an unused market that was once Stepney’s Jewish Free School. There four masked bandits attacked them, cut the straps, took the bags, and locked the messengers in a closet in a derelict office. It was later said that the taxi, which had been stolen four days previously, had been waiting twenty yards from the bank’s doors for ten minutes before the messengers appeared.
The event caused an uproar. By an ironic coincidence in their timing, the bandits had chosen for their crime the very morning that the annual criminal statistics were published. The impact of the figures stunned the British. Crimes of violence are four times more prevalent now in Britain than in the poorer but more peaceful years between the two world wars. R. A. Butler, home secretary, told the House of Commons, “ This is no sudden crisis, but a deep disorder in society.” It is not the amount of crime that most alarms the British. What hurts is that the growth of crime has disturbed the roots of understanding.
Crime in prosperity
The British have always considered the two main causes of crime to be poverty and slums. But crime has increased almost in proportion to the rate at which those two evils have been successfully combated. During a decade of full employment boys and girls straight out of school have been able to command immediate jobs at high wages. Yet in 1956 juvenile crime reached a new high. And in 1957 the number of boys under seventeen convicted of indictable offenses topped the 1956 record by 20 per cent; the number aged seventeen to twenty-one who were convicted of indictable offenses increased by 26 per cent.
Are there too few police? Britain has never had more policemen than it has today. Spectacular developments have been made in radio communications and mobility. Yet in 1957 robbery was up 28 per cent, burglary 25 per cent. There were more than ten thousand cases of “violence against the person.” Provisional figures for 1958 show a further increase of 15 per cent.
Why? The question harasses the experts. Is this just the criminal aspect of a pattern of violence spreading throughout society: angry young men, sadism in the theater, gunplay on television, horror at the movies, new brutalism in architecture, Cyprus? Is it perhaps a reaction by British society in particular to the loss, internationally, of power and possessions? Or is the flaw in the British home?
Nobody knows. The most urgent aim of the government is to find some of the answers. Butler himself has organized a new research unit for the Home Office. Cambridge University is about to open a new institute of criminology. At Scotland Yard the new chief commissioner, Joseph Simpson, a career policeman, has taken over the formation of an expert committee representing all sections of the metropolitan police constantly to study and analyze the capital’s crime sheet. More material for study is being asked from the United States.
An inquiry is also being conducted for Butler by Justice Streatfeild to investigate the best methods of providing the courts with information so that in future the punishment may suit the prisoner and not only the crime. The accent where possible is to be placed on the individual, particularly in the case of correction. Application of this good intent is hampered by lack of buildings — even convicts must await accommodations - and a big new building program is now being planned. But no direct measures to deal with the crisis itself were immediately announced. “I refuse to operate on insufficient information,” Butler said. “We must enlist the cooperation of the Mouse [of Commons], the country, the family, the churches, and the schools.”
Another aspect of violence has simultaneously shaken some of Britain’s other beliefs about itself. This has been the racial trouble, such as flared briefly in Nottingham and Notting Hill (places, incidentally, a hundred miles apart). Victims of these riots have mainly been colored West Indians, nearly two hundred thousand of whom have come to Britain looking for work. With many thousands of them unable to find jobs, and with work denied to half a million native Britons, pressure has been mounting to restrict immigration.
The only immediate measures to be taken have been, first, on the part of the judiciary, heavy prison sentences for youths stirring up race trouble, and secondly, on the part of the executive, steps to acquire the power to exclude immigrants with criminal records.
For centuries the British government has had almost no power to keep out any citizen of the Empire (now the Commonwealth) if he or she held a valid passport. Absolute freedom of entry into the mother country, without discrimination, was established under the law by the Calvin case in 1609, when Lord Chief Justice Ellesmere ruled: “He that is born an entire and perfect subject ought, by reason and law, to have all the privileges and benefits pertaining to his birthright in all the King’s dominions.”
These days the dominions are independent. Nevertheless their citizens still have all the freedoms, privileges, and benefits pertaining to their birthright, at least in the Queen’s own United Kingdom. To deal with the West Indian immigration problem through discriminatory legislation would be to flout the law. tradition, and liberal opinion. To control immigration from every Commonwealth country would seriously weaken the concept of the Commonwealth.
Competition from the Commonwealth
The infrequent bursts of racial violence are evidence that a considerable crisis already threatens the Commonwealth. The crisis is fundamental. Great Britain and the Commonwealth are for the present going different ways. Not all the aid and investment yet imagined has been sufficient to bridge the widening gap between them.
The extent of this aid should not be underestimated. Britain has done well by its former empire. In the past five years British aid to Commonwealth countries has exceeded $3 billion. Of the new capital invested since 1947, some 15 per cent has come from the United States, 10 per cent from the International Bank, and 70 percent from Britain,
But outside of Canada and Australasia, this great area — which produces more than half the world’s precious metals, one third of its precious stones, half its wool, and more than a quarter of its rice, wheat, and sugar — is poor. It must have industries. It needs 650 million jobs; they are the precious metals of today. And industries mean competition. The full weight of this low-wage competition is likely to fall on Britain because, under the system of Commonwealth preferences, the entry of goods is restricted almost as little as the entry of people.
What this means can be seen most clearly, and poignantly, in Lancashire. In face of unrestricted imports of cheap cloth from India, Pakistan, and Hong Kong, cotton mills have been closing every week in Lancashire — ninety during 1955, ninetysix in 1956, sixty in 1957, and five or six every month during 1958. Whole towns are now temporarily on the dole.
India and Pakistan are voluntarily restricting their exports of cloth to Britain for the present. Nothing can be done about Hong Kong; it is a crown colony, and as such it is a part of Britain. “How are the people of Mong Kong to increase their standard of living except by exporting more?” Reginald Maudling, Macmillan’s brightest young man, asked in a statesmanlike rebuttal of strong parliamentary demands for protection for cotton. The question has not been answered. And the silence hangs over Lancashire like a life sentence which may or may not be commuted through new jobs in engineering for the young.
That is only part of the story. Another aspect can he seen in the Middle East, the center of Britain’s oil wealth, where in Kuwait, Aden, and the coastal sheikdoms the tide of nationalism floods in to cover all Arabia and threatens the last direct links with Whitehall and the bank in Threadneedle Street.
The paradox of prosperity
Britain’s recent months of price stability and, in part, its present prosperity have depended on “the favorable terms of trade.” This today could seem almost a euphemism for the impoverishment of the Commonwealth.
The key factor in stability has been the reduction of 10 per cent in tfur prices of Britain’s imports of food and raw materials - which happen still to be the Commonwealth’s chief wealth. At home, Britain’s own costs of production have risen 5 per cent. The incomes of Britons have risen 5 per cent also. Meanwhile British output has fallen 2 per cent. Without the Commonwealth’s contribution in lower prices, a sharp continued inflation in Britain would obviously have been inevitable.
As things are, Britain has a tremendous surplus of trade, the greatest it has had in a century. The pound is strong. Gold and dollar reserves have grown continuously for fourteen months. Has this been made possible simply by a totally new type of exploitation?
One cannot deny some credit, of course, to strong financial discipline imposed here a year ago. But however the credit, or blame, is apportioned, the fact is that a unique situation has arisen. A chance has come to grapple with the recurring paradox of prosperity: when the nation is rich, the people feel poor.
Total output in Britain has been static or falling for three years. Unemployment has doubled in a year. Production must be increased. To force production to rise, a great increase in demand is necessary.
In view of the tremendous surplus of trade — a billion dollars — and the overall price of stability, made possible by cheap imports, Chancellor of the Exchequer Heathcoat Amory believes he can with fair safety now stimulate demand by the cheaper money, easier credit, and lower taxes that in the past have always immediately caused a crisis in the balance of payments.
It is hard to imagine a more popular program for a chancellor of the exchequer. But the situation that makes it possible may not last for many months. The increased demand Amory is generating, the increased international aid promised underdeveloped countries, and still higher British wages — all are likely sooner or later to push the price level up once more. On the judgment of Tory experts as to how long the unique current circumstances will continue depends the date of the next general election.
Bait for the voters
The fact that the Queen’s speech at the opening of the new session of Parliament contained a relatively small program of bills leads many observers to expect that date to be early. But it may be that the Tories will wait until unemployment falls. Then their cup of success would appear to be running over.
The Tory political line seems already succulently baited. More money for farmers; higher state pensions; grants to make possible nodeposit house purchase; heavier investment in schools, roads, railroads, and power. These promises seem today as much necessities as virtues.
Amory already has been able to cut interest rates almost in half. He has completely removed the onerous curbs on installment buying. It had to happen. In fact even before the chancellor took action the big banks had done so on their own initiative. One bank started it; now they all offer no-security overdrafts and loans up to £500 at low interest for the purchase of such durables as cars and modern kitchens. The bank that started it, the first to offer this kind of easy money, was, curiously enough, the Midland Bank.