Weekend: Books: The Decline and F A L Lof British Industry; the Verdict of Peace. by Correlli Barnett (Macmillan, Pounds 20). by Dan Franck Translated by Cynthia Hope Liebow (Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Pounds 20)
Byline: Reviewed by John Cranage
Correlli Barnett is a latter day Edward Gibbon, an assiduous chronicler of the decline and fall of a great empire. For nearly 30 years, he has taken as his theme the eclipse of the British Empire in its political, military and industrial manifestations.
Barnett's latest book is the fourth and final volume of a series that hasbecome known as The Pride and Fall Sequence; a title with distinct echoes of Gibbons' enlightenment master-piece, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The Verdict of Peace follows The Collapse of British Power (1972), The Audit of War (1986) and The Lost Victory (1995). It is an examination of how, between the Korean War of 1950 and the Suez Crisis of 1956, Britain squandered her last opportunity to regain her former industrial supremacy before Germany and Japan fully recovered from defeat.
Barnett's thesis is simple: a legacy of clapped out industrial plant, hidebound management, bloody-minded trade unions and an education system designed to produce a never-ending supply of classical scholars, clergymen and colonial administrators came together in the early 1950s to produce a cocktail of industrial, commercial and financial failure.
Britain's inability to shake off its Victorian hangover of arrogance and complacency ensured that any chance the country had of profiting from its expertise in new industries, such as aerospace and computers, was squandered. The initiative was handed to the United States as well as the re-emergent Germany and Japan and Britain consigned itself to the industrial scrapheap.
According to Barnett, every sector of British public life stands accused, from educational institutions riddled with snobbery and an aversion to engineering to the sclerotic corridors of power of Whitehall.
He aims his biggest guns at the political pygmies who presumed to stand in the shoes of Winston Churchill. They, he declares, betrayed the promise of victory by pursuing ruinous economic policies of full employment and a strong pound,allowing inflation to plant its deadly seeds and buying industrial peace by appeasing the unions in a series of 'industrial Munichs'.
Most stupid of all, was the determination of the political elite to maintain the illusion that Britain, despite emerging bankrupt from the Second World War, was still a firstclass military power - a delusion that resulted in wholesale squandering of precious capital that would have been far better employed in rebuilding the nation's manufacturing base.
Labour and Conservative, Barnett detests them all. Here he is on Hugh Gaitskell, ' . .that priggish, rectitudinous Oxford intellectual and sprig of the imperial governing elite', who 'acted within Cabinet as the influential voice of subservience to America, as a British quisling'. …