Whither Britain?

By Crosskill, W. E. | Contemporary Review, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Whither Britain?


Crosskill, W. E., Contemporary Review


IN the not so good old days in Britain a little more than a century ago, almost everyone worked from dawn until dark on the land, in factories and offices, or in the houses of the rich. But when steam engines, telephones and the cinematograph came into their lives some visionaries foresaw the advent of a better life: the Industrial Revolution had begun. The aim of this was to relieve men and women from the routine drudgery in their daily work by finding ways in which this could be done mechanically. The transformation gradually took place and enabled many people to lead happier and less arduous lives.

Unfortunately, the plans for the creation of this wonderland did not succeed in practice. Our industries, after serving us well through two world wars, were in need of a complete overhaul and modernisation. We failed to provide this whereas Japan, about the size of Spain but with three times its population, managed to grow enough food for all and, by modernising its many industries through the use of computers and robots on a scale no other nation had visualised, revitalised the whole country and its people. By 1980 Japan had 47,000 robots in action, the USA had 3,200 and Europe had 7,000 of which Britain had 180.

Britain is now in the invidious position of not growing enough food for her own people, having almost three million unemployed and a monthly shortfall in overseas trading of around a billion pounds. There seem to be only two courses open to us in the future: to become a fairly comfortable self-sufficient island of a Robinson Crusoe type or, if we could, reorganise and revive our economy and raise it to a level of the flourishing countries in Europe.

Britain is not basically insolvent, but is at present in straitened circumstances because the best use is not being made of her natural assets. She has plenty of land, a good climate and could grow almost every form of food the country needs. So why are we importing thousands of tons of pig food a year from America? And why do we buy vast quantities of vegetables from France, Belgium and Holland? If, as many farmers here believe, growers on the continent are being paid huge subsidies which enable them to sell at prices so low that growing vegetables in England is not worthwhile, our government should have intervened and arranged a fair settlement through the EEC. The French farmers know how to deal with similar problems: they just block the roads with unwanted imported beef cattle. Perhaps we could do the same with cabbages!

This economic muddle is not new; it has been going on for about twenty years. Protectionism is not the answer: we should be able to compete without difficulty since the transportation is on our side. It must be that the French farmers are more enterprising than ours and our government is less efficient than theirs. As an example of this, the people of Brittany, where conditions are similar to those in Cornwall, were impoverished and demoralised in the 1960s through lack of employment. Today the people are prosperous, and Brittany is one of the richest regions in France due to the foresight and energy of a few men who formed a co-operative organisation for growing and selling vegetables. Every man, woman and child was mobilised. By loans and a levy of a centime on every cauliflower produced they were able to build a ship to take their produce to Plymouth. As they now auction some 420,000 tons of cauliflowers annually and there is a similar commission on carrots, shallots, tomatoes and artichokes and on the three million iceberg lettuces they sell each year, they were able to form 'Brittany Ferries' which keeps several ships busy crossing the Channel.

Perhaps the most illogical and unsound importation into Britain is that of timber. While we have millions of trees dying on their feet around us, we buy ninety per cent of our requirements from Finland, Sweden and Alaska. Our trees should be felled when mature, used and others planted in their place. …

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