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The Audit of War

Julian Amery reviews a work on the rise and fall of industrial Britain.

Julian Amery | Published in
  • The Audit of War
    Correlli Barnett – Macmillan, 1986 - xii + 359 pp. - £14.95
Under the rather misleading title of The Audit of War, Correlli Barnett has written what purports to be the story of the decline and fall of industrial Britain.

Like Gibbon, he attributes much of the responsibility to Christianity – rather than the religious revival in early nineteenth-century Britain. Christianity, he argues, induced a guilt complex. Guilt led to the debauching of the working classes through excessive welfare expenditure. Secondary objects of his wrath are the educational system with its emphasis on the arts and neglect of the sciences; also the harsh laissez-faire attitude of British management inherited from the earliest days of the industrial revolution.

There is something of a paradox here. It is arguable that the British business classes tended to be harsher in their treatment of their employees than either the Germans or the French. Bismarck had strong paternalist views. The French had experience of the French Revolution. The fact remains, however, that our traditions of Christianity and particularly Christian Socialism, one of the main roots of the Labour movement, had much to do with the fact that the class struggle in Britain developed on evolutionary lines to a far greater extent than on the Continent.

Correlli Barnett is scathing in his condemnation of British unpreparedness for war and in particular of the neglect of the machine tool industry. In this he is certainly right. But the fault lay not so much with British industry as with the reluctance of British political leadership to assess the extent of the danger and give industry the appropriate instructions. It was not until Lord Swinton went to the Air Ministry that shadow factories were built which produced the Hurricane and the Spitfire just in time to win the Battle of Britain.

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