War Situation.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 25th February 1942.

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Photo of Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence , Edinburgh East

The Debate which is drawing to its close has emphasised the essential unity of the nation. There has been nothing in it to hearten the enemy. There have been highly critical speeches, but they have exhibited no divergence of opinion in the country or in this House about the need for prosecuting this war with the utmost vigour to a successful conclusion. No one has asked the Government to be more soft with the people of this country. On the contrary, the note that has run through all the speeches has been one of determination to face the grim facts and there has been a demand that the Government should exact from everyone of us the last ounce of our energy in the common cause. When the House rose at the end of last week, there was a state of tension, that amounted almost to a quarrel between the House and the Prime Minister as to the structure of the Cabinet and the functions that its Members ought to perform. That tension was relieved during the week-end by the decision of the Prime Minister to reconstitute his Government. Taking the changes as a whole, they have been well received by this House. While, of course, it is not to be expected that any section of opinion will be completely satisfied, either as to personnel or as to function, the House has accepted the changes as a genuine attempt to infuse greater energy and drive into the war effort.

But the proof of the Cabinet pudding will be in the eating, and the House will not lavish enconiums upon the chief cook until it has tasted and approved the qualities of the dish that he is setting before us. I do not mean to suggest that there ought to be a fresh crisis, unless events in the various theatres of war take an immediate turn for the better. It may not be within the power of anyone to command victories, least of all in the Far East, at the moment; but at least, the House must be satisfied that in the future everything possible shall be done to secure victory. The House has not been so satisfied in regard to the past.

Many of the speeches in this Debate have been devoted to a critical examination of the strategic decisions that have been taken. I do not propose to add anything to what has been said already on such matters. They speak for themselves, and I leave it to the Government spokesman to deal with them. I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend is going to deal with these matters; it is for him to decide the line he takes.

But there has been another class of criticism, of a purely constructive character, which has been heard in all parts of the House during this Debate. It formed a large part of the speech—the excellent speech, as I think the House will agree—of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), when he followed the Prime Minister yesterday. It was presented in vigorous speeches by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett), and it has been re-echoed by many of my hon. Friends behind me. It was a demand for a new approach to the problems of the hour and new action with regard to them. I propose to sum up this criticism, coming not, as I have said, from one section of the House alone, in a single word.

We are all familiar with the personality that the foremost cartoonist of our day has created, of "Colonel Blimp." I suggest that what these critics desire to impress on the Government—and I am in full sympathy with them—is that, if the Government are to carry the country with them in their war effort, they must set about abolishing "Blimpery" in all fields of life. What is the essence of "Blimpery?" It has, no doubt two main characteristics. In the first place, there is the refusal to entertain new ideas, and, in the second place, the determination to keep the bottom dog permanently in his place. I propose to illustrate those two essentials of "Blimpery."