Ministerial Changes.

Part of War Situation. – in the House of Commons on 24th February 1942.

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Photo of Brigadier Ralph Rayner Brigadier Ralph Rayner , Totnes

I am not in any way attacking the B.B.C. I am attacking the whole issue of news being covered up in comparatively unimportant items and feature stories. Hiding the truth undoubtedly slows down the war effort. The whole course of the war has been littered with soothing observations, starting off in 1940 with "The Germans cannot go far without raw materials, anyway" and "You may finish the war with bread cards, but you cannot win a war that is started with bread cards." In 1941 and 1942 we get the remark, "The Russians will soon be in Berlin," and, of course, the "Muddle through" expression is still going strong as though it were one of our ultimate virtues. There is a lot to be said for self-confidence; there is nothing to be said for self-confidence entirely divorced from reality.

Again, I think the country is to a large extent confused as to what we are fighting for. We say we are fighting in a war of ideologies, for democracy against dictatorship or, just plainly, for liberty. Liberty sounds simple enough, but it does not mean much in this country, because, as the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me just now has remarked, we have never known the lack of it. We have never had to keep the wireless set in the coal cellar or shuddered at the step of the policeman. The country should be told we are fighting for the right to argue out our own future and perhaps mainly to save our spines, and the spines of our wives and children, from being broken in by the butt of a rifle.

Secondly, the giving of orders. The hon. Member for Walsall said there should be some discipline. The Government very often give the impression to ordinary chaps like myself that they are afraid of rubbing up the people the wrong way. I am told that the new Minister of State, on that distant Sunday morning when he announced the clothes rationing scheme, told a friend of his that he would be the most unpopular man in the country. Actually he was the most popular. The average man and woman got up, had a rueful look through their wardrobes, and were delighted that a Government Department should issue its orders in terse terms and obviously know its own mind. The country will still take anything from the present Prime Minister or his direct representatives. It does not want to be soothed, humoured, or persuaded; it wants its marching orders.

It is another old British custom to be inclined to praise ourselves, and broadcasting has emphasised that. It is so much more popular to give praise than to give blame. "These men are marvels," or "These women are wonderful"—there is no end to the bouquets which fly through the ether. One cannot praise too much those chaps who brought our B.E.F. back from Dunkirk, or those who carry our merchandise on the seas, but often it is not earned at all. Has one ever heard a Government spokesman at the microphone denouncing a poor show by some section of the community in unmistakable terms. Have the owners of large houses been criticised for refusing to take refugees? Have some of our manufacturers been reprimanded for slacking off since E.P.T. and Income Tax removed their profits? Have some of the dockers been told in calculated terms what people think of them for their calculated slowness in turning round our precious ships. Have the absentee-ers, the go-slowers and the have-a-good-timers been left in any doubt as to what kind of people they really are? In June, 1940, I was detailed to broadcast on certain aspects of the Battle of Dunkirk. In the ordinary way, I produced my script, in which I quite mildly remarked that if the home front had worked a bit harder, we might have been able to put up a better show on the other side. I was told to take that out. I refused, and I did not broadcast. I do not know the facts of the case, but I am told that this week-end thousands of tons of vegetables have been lying in a London goods yard because the chaps whose duty it was to look after them had struck, the reason, I am told, being that a certain overseer, who had reached the age of 65, but was still a live man, capable of playing his part in the national effort, had been kept on. If that is true, I consider that a representative of the Prime Minister should have gone straight to the microphone and told these people a thing or two, in the hearing of the whole country. We are lighting for our lives, and it is no time for kid glove niceties of speech.

Lastly, encouragement is needed. We are ill-equipped in some ways on the moral front, because, after four years in which heroism held the headlines in the last war, it became the fashion to debunk it. Various writers, who had taken a certain amount of trouble to leave the fighting to their less clever brethren, got busy, and vied with each other in decrying those virtues which not only win wars, but are needed to make a success of peace. Indeed, their contribution to the war now on our hands was to discredit the virtues that we need to win it. I feel, although some hon. Members may not agree with me, that we want from the Government a bit more full-blooded patriotism, to restore our balance. We miss that penetrating poster of the last war, "Your King and country need you." We want to be quite clear that we are fighting for Britain, and only for Britain, as M. Molotov has made it clear on many occasions that the Russians are fighting for Russia.

To sum up, the B.B.C. is a first-class organisation. Its entertainment programme it puts over with 100 per cent. efficiency. But these are grim times, and vigilance does not thrive in an atmosphere of music-hall and swing. We all want cheering up sometimes, but the thing can be overdone. I suggest that two-thirds of B.B.C. time should aim at reinforcing and interpreting the national effort. We can all make suggestions as to how it can be done without giving anything away to the King's enemies. The cutting down of light, stuff would bring home the fact to many people that we are engaged in a desperate struggle. I suggest also that there should be a Government spokesman, a sort of super-Alvar Liddell, who would become a national voice, whom people would learn to know, to wait for, and to respect. We regard those announcers, Frank Phillips, Bruce Belfrage, and even Wilfrid, almost as personal friends; but we know that what they put over has run the gauntlet of the blue pencils. We want someone at regular intervals straight from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister cannot often speak to us himself, and we want someone from him to give straight, clear direction to the home front. It is high time the Government applied to the home front some of that ruthlessness which they have promised to our enemies. The country wants its marching orders.