Nationalisation in Britain: The End of a Dogma

Nationalisation in Britain: The End of a Dogma

Nationalisation in Britain: The End of a Dogma

Nationalisation in Britain: The End of a Dogma

Excerpt

My interest in nationalisation is almost half a century old. In September 1911, I moved a motion in the Debating Society of the Manchester Grammar School that, 'This House approves the Nationalisation of the Railways'. In my fifteen minutes I failed to prove the case to the satisfaction of my Edwardian schoolfellows.

In 1919, an undergraduate at Oxford, I was fired by the Sankey Report, which conclusively proved the case for the nationalisation of the coal mines. Between the Wars I often lectured on the subject, as Extra Mural Lecturer in London University. Many of us in those years studied, wrote and lectured on the subject. Looking back and rereading some of our best efforts, I am astonished at the slight intellectual effort we put into the work. We were content to prove that everything was wrong with the existing set-up. Faults were many and easy to find. But when we turned to alternatives, we talked airily of compensating existing shareholders and setting up a Public Board to run the industry. That was about the sum total of our constructive thinking. We did not trouble to work out a detailed scheme of compensation, or future organisation, for one selected industry.

There was magic in the words 'Public Board' or 'Public Corporation'. They were to be staffed by selfless men of outstanding ability, devoted to the national interest. We assumed that such men were to be found in large numbers; naturally they had no chance to come forward in the degenerate Capitalist era in which we were living. We also assumed that the workers in the industries would be transformed by the Act of Nationalisation and devote themselves to the national interest. Thus the combination of selfless management and selfless workers would bring about the brave new world of Socialism -- so utterly different from Capitalism.

My outlook was typical. So when the 1945 Labour Govern-

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