Lotus and Seed Corn
- Downing Street Diary: The Macmillan Years 1957-1963 by Harold Evans
Hodder, 318 pp, £9.95, February 1981, ISBN 0 340 25897 7
The Macmillan years were the phoney years. In our pawky way we’d never had it so good – or been reminded so often. Beneath, it was all going wrong. We opted for consumption, not investment. Others moved ahead. We began that stagger from go to stop and back which has now become reverse gear – permanently. Perhaps we were tired after our historic effort to make the world safe for Austin-Morris cars to break down in, but living on our diet of lotus and seed corn we complacently ignored the warning chorus of Schonfields, Shankses and Croslands. BSA profits supported Lady Docker. ‘British Achievements Speak for Britain,’ said the hoardings, with pictures of Shipbuilding, Steel, Nuclear Power, Cars, Aircraft and everything else that was soon to go so wrong, so disastrously. Together we walked backwards into decline.
Vol. 3 No. 6 · 2 April 1981
SIR: No doubt Austin Mitchell’s notice of Harold Evans’s Downing Street Diary (LRB, 5 March) was meant rather lightheartedly, but it does call to a mild comment.
The thesis is that the British economy has been going steadily downhill since about 1960 and that this is entirely due to Harold Macmillan. I thought that this was a right-wing Tory view dating back to the ‘little local difficulty’ of 1958. Is Mitchell really among this now diminishing group?
Macmillan was (and is) a remarkable man but I doubt if even he was as dominant as this implies. Mitchell ought to tell us why the Labour Party, which after all was in power from 1964-70 and 1974-79, was quite unable to shake off this baleful influence. Does he ever expect a new ball game, or will Macmillan be the perpetual losing pitcher?
Mitchell says that Macmillan ‘stood for nothing’. This is nonsense. Anyone who knew him at that time knows that in economics he stood for full employment, passionately: for an incomes policy to cope with cost inflation and for international co-operation against world recession. One could stand for a lot of worse things.