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1923 Liberal Party General Election Manifesto

A call to the nation

The Government, elected twelve months agon on a programme of five years of tranquility, has suddenly decided to plunge the country into the turmoil of a General Election, on the allegation - unproved and unproveable - that Tariffs are a cure for unemployment. The Prime Minister has deliberately chosen the earliest possible date for the Polls in order to avoid informing the House of Commons, and through the House of Commons the country, as to the reasons and the scope of his proposals. Tory Ministers profess that they are driven to this precipitate action by a sudden inspiration concening unemployment, and hope to stampede the country by reviving the musty war-cry that Tariff Reform means work for all.

Failure of the Conservative Government

There is one explanation and one only, for the course which the Government have pursued. It is that in a single year their conduct of foreign policy in great matters essential to our livelihood has signally and disastrously failed. By their own declarations, repeatedly made, the first condition of our recovery is the restoration, not merely of the home market, but of world trade. By their own declarations in Despatches, addressed to our Allies, the growing collapse produced by French policy in Germany, and the reaction of that policy upon trade and credit, throughout Europe, are the main cause of the distress in which our trade is plunged. For at least a century past, no greater economic, political or moral question has confronted Europe than the French and Belgian occupation of the heart of Germany industry in the Ruhr. In no great European question, for at least a century past, has it ever been doubtful where Britain stood. Yet for a whole year neither our Allies, nor Neutral Powers, nor our late enemies, have known whether in this crucial issue Britain had a voice or mind or conscience of her own.

In January the Government refused to associate the country with the occupation of the Ruhr; but for months they half condoned it and waited on results. Only when its falure was becoming manifesto did they declare their view, held apparently since January, that the invasion was a breach of the Treaty of Versailles. In December of last year the American Secretary of State, Mr Hughes, offered American co-operation in an impartial investigation of Germany's capacity to make reparation for damage done in the war. The British Government took no steps for nine whole months to urge acceptance of this offer upon our Allies. In June Germany put forward proposals, largely on Lord Curzon's prompting, for meeting the Allies' demands. The British Government declared, quity properly, that these proposals called for reply. Five months have passed, and no reply has ever been made. British policy was one of the chief rallying powers in Europe after the Napoleonic wars. For the past year its blindness, indecision and impotence have been such that it has ceased to exercise any guiding influence upon European affairs.

In Eastern policy the tale has been the same. It was not enough that we should abandon all for which we fought against Turkey in the war. By the shameless Treaty of Lausanne we have also surrendered all the securities for British commerce in Turkey which we enjoyed before the war. By the policy which we have followed British trade in Turkey is practically at an end. Our weakness has been noted elsewhere, and a similar fate now threatens our hold on valuable markets in the Far East.

By moral indecision, by divided counsels, and by diplomatic incompetence, the Government have failed in Europe and Asia alike, to make one single effective effort to assert our rights, to restore our trade, or to bring back peace and order to a distracted world.

Every serious observer of contemporary affairs knows that Liberal criticism of this policy during the Parliament now dissolved was abundantly justified. Our warnings were left unheeded, and the inaction of the Government has been a potent contributory cause of unemployment at home.

Liberal Foreign Policy

Liberal policy stands for the prompt settlement of Reparations, with due consideration for the position of inter-allied debts, and for an earnest endeavour to co-operate with the great American Commonwealth in bringing peace to the world. Liberals hold that the economic restoration of Europe is the necessary condition of the revival of our industries and the establishment of peace. They would welcome the reopening of full relations with Russia.

The whole force of the Liberal Party will be thrown into the support of the League of Nations. Our foreign policy should aim at making full use of the League, and enlarging its scope and power, until all nationsl are included within it, and at substituting international co-operation for the perpetuation of national enmities and the piling up of the means of destruction.

Protection no cure for unemployment

But the return to noraml economic conditions must take time, and in the interval unemployed men and women cannot be left to await better times with no prospect but unemployment benefit and Poor Law relief. The schemes of the Government are totally inadequate.

Trade restrictions cannot cure unemployment, Post-war conditions do not justify such restrictions; they merely render it more disastrous. High prices and scarcity can only lower the standard of living, reduce the purchasing power of the country, and thereby curtail production. An examination of the figures shows that the suggested tariff cannot possibly assist those trades in which unemployment is most rife. The last thing which taxation on imports can achieve is to provide more work for those engaged in manufacture for export.

Mr Baldwin asks for a blank cheque, and if he is wrong the country must take the risk. He offers no evidence. He formulates no scheme. In the face of declarations made last year by prominent Tariff Reformers like Mr Bonar Law and Mr Austen Chamberlain, that after-war conditions make proposals for Tariff Reform inopportune and injurious, he asks for power to tax an undefined number of commodities, without any disclosure of the scale or range of the duties, or the industries to be disturbed.

Liberal policy on unemployment

The Liberal Party is equally convinced that the remedies recommended for unemployment by the Labour Party - Socialism and the Capital Levy - would prove disastrous. What is needed is not the destruction of enterprise but its encouragement; not the frightening away of Capital but its fruitful use.

The Liberal Party is not content with criticising the proposals of others. The country has made enormous sacrifices to restore the national credit. A bold and courageous use should be made of that credit on enterprises that would permanently improve and develop the home country and the Empire; such as internal transport by road the water, afforestation, the supply of cheap power secured by the co-ordinated used of our resources of coal and water, reclamation and drainage of land, the development of Imperial resources especially in our Crown Colonies, railway building in the Dominions and India, the facilitation of overseas settlement under the British flag, cheapening the means of transport in order to develop inter-imperial trade, and a freer use of the provisions of the Trade Facilities Act.

Insurance, security, partnership

The Liberal Party proposes thoroughly to remodel the Insurance Acts with a view to providing benefits sufficient to allow a reasonable subsistence to a man and his family without aid from Poor Law Relief. The Poor Law Authorities should not have to bear a burden which ought to be regarded, not as a local, but as a national charge.

The Liberal Party will take all possible steps to promote the co-operation of employers and employed. The worker should be secured a proper status and a fair share in the produce of the industry in which he is engaged. Liberal industrial policy is based upon the principles of partnership between Labour and Capital, security of livelihood for the worker, and public advantage before private profit.

Equal rights for men and women

Women electors should be among the first to recognise and resist the Protectionist attack on the standard of life of the porrest homes in the country. Of all sections of the community they are in the closest and most intimate contact with prices, and no one will suffer more from Tariffs than the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the home. Liberals aim at securing political, legal, and economic equality between men and women. Mothers and Father should have equal rights and responsibilities in the guardianship of their children.

Pensions

The thrift disqualification attached to Old Age Pensions should be immediately removed. Liberal policy concentrates upon lifting from the homes of the poor those burdens and anxieties of the old, the sick, and the widow with young children, which the community has the power and duty to relieve.

The farmer and the farmworker

The needs of British Agriculture require special consideration. Import duties on what the farmer buys can only further injure his position. British Agriculture requires a free hand, stability of prices, greater capital resources, security of tenure, adequate means for preventing the exaction of unfair and uneconomic rents, and improved transport. Credit facilities for the farmer, and co-operative marketing on a large scale with Government assistance, which has so successfully helped American agriculture over a great crisis, can also be applied in our own country. Opportunity should be given for the cultivator to become the owner of his own land on reasonable terms by a system of land purchase. A free man on his own land, whether as farmer or smallholder, has always proved the most successful and energetic of producers. Small holdings and allotments should be developed and encouraged.

The agricultural Labourer is engaged in a skilled industry of cardinal importance to the nation, and ought to be adequately remunerated. The State must recognise that the conditions of his work make it vital to secure that his standard of life should be raised, his housing vastly improved, and the amenities of rural life enlarged. Every opportunity should be given to him and his children to improve their position on the land which he has cultivated for so long.

Social reform

Unemployment is also caused by over-taxation and wasteful administration. There is urgent need and abundant scope for retrenchment in the expenditure of the taxpayer's money in some departments of public service. The Liberal Party draws a sharp distinction between the use of the National revenue for purposes which add to the wealth and comfort of the people as a whole and the waste of public money in directions which are unproductive or destructive. Liberals will be no parties to the starvation of, or to false economies in, Education. They believe that no better investment of National Wealth can anywhere be found than in developing the faculties and intelligence of the youth of the country.

For the same reason, Liberal Policy centres upon the promotion of all those things which build up the home - housing, temperance, child-welfare and other social services.

Housing

The rapid and adequate provision of Housing Accommodation is an urgent public duty. It should be treated, not as a local, but as a national problem; and until the present shortage has been overtaken, there should be no decontrol of rents.

Temperance

The excessive consumption of alcoholic drink is one of the main causes of unemployment, disease, and poverty; and the right of the citizens of a locality to decide for themselves the drink facilities in their own area should no longer be withheld.

Land and rating reform

Reforms in local government and rating are long overdue. For some years the Poor Law system has been ripe for legislative revision. The overlapping of Insurance, Old Age Pensions, and Poor Law Relief requires immediate action. The present rating system discourages improvement and penalises those who create industries or provide houses; it must be so altered that as great a part of the burden of rates as is practicable is transferred to those who benefit most by the efforts of the community, namely, the owners of the site value.

The dweller in the town, like the dweller on the land, should be entitled, if he so demands and his terms are fair, to become the owner of his factory, shop or home. Lease-hold enfranchisement has long been an object of Liberal policy. It is time that it became the law of the land.

Mr Baldwin's sudden plunge has thrown his own supporters into confusion and has firmly united the Liberal Forces. The country has now the opportunity of overthrowing a Government whose record is one of unrelieved futility, and of calling for an alternative administration, which will pursue Peace and Reconciliation abroad, Social and Industrial improvement at home, and which is definitely committed to the defence of Free Trade as the best basis upon which to rebuild the life of the Nation.

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