The politics of 1946…
Marmaduke, the third Earl Lundy tapped his wine glass lightly with his spoon and the room dutifully hushed.
“It now gives me great pleasure to introduce His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition Spokesman for Foreign Affairs, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bath, Mr Alan Buxton, MP.”
The third Earl Lundy was very different from his late father. Although pleasant enough, he was a timid and shy man who, it was said was ruled with an iron fist by a harsh wife ‘from a family in trade’. He had trained as an architect specialising in church restoration and as a result was reliant on the income from his late father’s estate for a living. Isaac surmised that the family fortune was destined to last only for the proverbial ‘clog to clog in three generations’.
It was the first William Pitt Club dinner for two years and a poor shadow of previous ones; lounge suits instead of dinner jackets, poor food and indifferent wine. But everyone was there; Austwick, Groves, Sir Peter, Kohut, Bradshaw along with David Lloyd and Christopher Johnson, between whom Isaac was seated.
The Annual General Meeting of Bath Estates Limited had preceded the dinner, and was a dismal affair. The company had gone backwards over the last twelve months, mired in the bickering of local politicians amidst an acute shortage of building materials, and a lack of cash reserves. The dividend on the preference shares was passed – so yet again, nothing for Naomi’s £10,000. Worse, the company was even struggling to meet the half yearly dividend due on the outside investors debentures, because of rising interest rates and increased mortgage payments to the bank.
Marmaduke Lundy had taken the chair, but was clearly out of his depth. The mood had been sombre with the fear of loss starting to surface in some hostile questions. The atmosphere was clouded by dissatisfaction and Isaac wondered where the whole affair would end. Their guest, Alan Buxton, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bath and Shadow Foreign Secretary, had started to talk.
“And so, as 1946 draws to a close, the first eighteen months of a Labour Government have produced precious little but grief.”
He went on to summarise the austerity measures taken that his listeners were more than aware of. It was worse than it had been during the war, with the introduction of bread rationing a few months earlier, and other rations further reduced. The country was broke and waiting for Attlee to get his begging bowl out and crawl back to the Americans for more expensive loans. He also wondered at what price – more US military bases in the colonies? As for repayment, it would take generations before Britain could be free of the Yankee debt and become Great Britain once again.
Turning to the international scene, which was Buxton’s portfolio in the House, things were an absolute mess.
“Just to mention a few,” he paused before continuing in single staccato sentences, counting them out on his fingers and pausing between each:
“One, bread riots in Paris;
Two, civil war in China;
Three, famine in India;
Four, forced resignation of King Umberto II in Italy;
Five, King of Thailand assassinated;
Six, martial law in Vietnam, Ho Chi Min guerrilla campaign against the French;
Seven, riots in Bombay for independence;
Eight, violent demonstration in Cairo, demanding unification with Sudan; and last but not least,
Nine, Zionist bombings in Jerusalem.”
An extract from Chapter Seventeen of ‘Go Swift and Far’ – the first novel in The Chronicles of Bath