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Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (1874 - 1965) The world crisis - The aftermath (1929)

CHAPTER II

DEMOS

There was very little in the productive sphere they could not at this time actually do. A requisition, for instance, for half a million houses would not have seemed more difficult to comply with than those we were already in process of executing for a hundred thousand aeroplanes, or twenty thousand guns, or the medium artillery of the American army, or two million tons of projectiles. But a new set of conditions began to rule from eleven o’clock onwards. The money-cost, which had never been considered by us to be a factor capable of limiting the supply of the armies, asserted a claim to priority from the moment the fighting stopped. Nearly every manifestation of discontent on the part of the munition workers had in the end been met by increases of wages—(‘ Let ’em have it and let’s get the stuff ’)—and the wage rates now stood at levels never witnessed in England before or since.

The first question was what to do with the five million munition workers whose work and wages had to be provided week by week. It was dear that the majority of these would very soon have to find new occupations, and many hundreds of thousands would have to change their place of abode.

The first was Lord Northcliffe who, armed with The Times in one hand and the ubiquitous Daily Mail in the other, judged himself at least the equal of any political leader and appeared prepared to assert his claims or resent their disregard with a directness scarcely open to a statesman. A general election was imminent, and the wise and helpful behaviour of these great newspapers, obedient as they were to the orders of their proprietor, seemed to the Prime Minister a serious factor. The appointment of Lord Northdiffe as a principal peace delegate over the heads of Mr. Balfour, the Foreign Secretary and all the Prime Ministers of the British Empire was not, however, to be conceded.

Hatred of the beaten foe, thirst for his just punishment, rushed up from the heart of deeply injured millions. Those that had done the least in the conflict were as might be expected the foremost in detailing the penalties of the vanquished. A police report thrust under my eye at this time said : — ‘The feelings of all classes are the same. Even those who a few weeks ago were agitating for peace, now say, " The Germans should pay every penny of the damage even if it takes them a thousand years.” ’ In my own constituency of Dundee, respectable, orthodox, life-long Liberals demanded the sternest punishment for the broken enemy.

Three demands rose immediate and clangorous from the masses of the people, viz. to hang the Kaiser ; to abolish conscription ; and to make the Germans pay the uttermost farthing.

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