Wednesday, July 19, 2017

News In Review: Buchanan Report (1964)

The News in Review column from the January 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

AT HOME
Buchanan Report
Almost by stealth, the motor car has crept up behind us and hit us over the back of the head. At one time, the roads in this country were adequate to take the derisory, by present day standards, number of vehicles which wanted to use them. But, as anyone who has spent a couple of hours of his precious life in a traffic jam will know, it is now a very different story.

The Buchanan Report says that this could have been avoided, at least in part. And so it could—if somebody had been able to predict the car boom which followed the war and if the government had been willing to ignore the other priorities which were screaming for attention and if it had been prepared to invest colossal sums of money in town planning schemes of doubtful accountability.

In the event it was cheaper and more convenient, as it so often is, to try short term expedients, to patch up and hope for the best. Rather than rebuild the dyke properly, capitalism preferred to stick a finger in the hole, but the hole has got bigger and bigger and now the flood seems to be winning. Civilised town life, says Buchanan, is at stake.

But the solution offered by Buchanan, sound though it may be in terms of engineering and desirable though it may be in terms of personal comfort, has one big drawback. It would be very expensive; one informal estimate has put the cost at over £9,000 million.

Can anyone imagine British capitalism spending that amount on something which, no matter what value it may have in protecting pleasant towns and the people in them, is of unproven economic value? The Economist of November 30th pondered on what it called the “economic criteria” which it hopes will be applied to the Buchanan proposals:
  It (the investment required) is too large a part of the country's investment and too important to the population for decisions to come simply from sociological and architectural planners. 
And at the moment, it seems, the decisions will not come from these quarters alone. Some sort of balance sheet will be required when consideration is given to reorganising the British road system. This will probably mean that the compromises of the post war years will continue, with each flyover, every widened road, each new confusion of traffic signs hailed as a solution. Meanwhile the motor car will carry on strangling us.


What’s your name
Now listen, there's this guy, his name is Duckworth, which is not such a bad name anyway, not as bad as Osgood or Clarke or any of the others in the buildings. But this Duckworth, when he makes twenty-one he wants to change his name anyway, he wants to add a bit to it. He wants to add Chad, which was his aunt's name, so he becomes Duckworth hyphen Chad.

Now we’re all laughing because Chad reminds us of that awful face looking over the wall and saying, “wot no something or other." But Duckworth-Chad, he’s not amused.

But his old aunt, she said in her will that if he took her name when he was twenty-one he could inherit a lot of money and a lot of land. To be precise, £79,000 in cash, a 2,000 acre estate with seven farms and a couple of villages and a mansion with forty rooms.

Not bad. Now I've worked it out and I reckon that if me and all the other guys in the Buildings worked until we were ninety-five and we didn’t eat or smoke or take girls out we might just about save that £79,000. But I cant figure how we’re going to make all that land and the rest and all.

Yes sir, Duckworth-Chad has done well for himself. If I had an aunt like this I'd be willing to change my name to Adolf Hitler, only if I did nobody'd give me any money, they'd most likely put me away. So I'll stick with Osgood.  And the Buildings.

But I'd like to meet the guy who wrote that old bit about what's in a name.


POLITICS
Closer and closer
Anyone who believes that there is some basic difference between the Labour and Conservative Parties should ponder upon two recent examples of the ways in which they are daily growing more and more alike.

At their last Annual Conference the Labour Party announced a scheme to set up a state Land Commission which would be empowered to buy the freehold of land being sold for large scale development. This scheme was presented as yet another of the steps on the road to what the Labour Party calls Socialism. Perhaps some people believed that it was.

It would have been interesting to have seen their reaction to the announcement which Minister of Housing Sir Keith Joseph made in the House of Commons last November. He then said that ". . .  land planned for major development should be bought well in advance by a public authority for disposal to private enterprise or to public enterprise. . . .” If this is not exactly the same sort of idea as Labour's Land Commission, it is as near to it as makes no odds.

The second example is in the matter of immigrant control. The Labour Party have always offered a formal resistance to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act; Gaitskell, in fact, attacked it strongly when it was a Bill before Parliament and when it came up for renewal last November Labour M.P.s voted against it.

When it suits them, the Labour Party offer this as evidence that they are opposed to the government in principle over this matter. But although they put up a show of fighting the Act which legally limits immigrants, the Labour Party is still in favour of some sort of control. They say that each Commonwealth country should exercise its own control voluntarily at the ports of exit, although they probably know that this is likely to be an unworkable method. 
 
These examples are not coincidental. They are symptoms of the fact that basically the Labour Party is no different from its Conservative counterpart. Both stand for capitalism and so both must have policies which are relevant to capitalism's needs. Is it any wonder that as time goes by it becomes more and more difficult to tell them apart?


BUSINESS
Rootes take a gamble
The Imp was the contribution which the Rootes Group made to the vehicles contesting for the market in small cars. This car came onto the scene some months back, heralded by all the usual admen’s gulf about its alleged superior qualities and style.

Rootes are now taking an anxious look at the Imp’s balance sheet. They spent over £2 million in developing the car and it has contributed to their massive debts — £3.76 million bank overdraft, a £5.57 loan from the Board of Trade and a £4 million mortgage.

This expensive baby is now expected —or rather hoped—by Rootes, to shortly be adding its own little bit to the family coffers.

But the mini-car market is no easy one. BMC are already well dug in with their clever Mini-minor and its variations. Vauxhall have recently come in with the Viva. There are also the several competing models imported from the Continent. And Ford, with their slightly larger, but keenly priced, small cars, are selling on the fringe of the market.

It would not be a surprise if one or more of the mini-cars turned out a commercial flop. (Ford have recently had just this experience with one of their bigger models—the Classic, now replaced by the Corsair.) If this happens to the Imp, the situation will be aggravated for Rootes by the financial risks they have had to take to produce their mini-car.

This is not to say that from the capitalists’ angle the risks were unjustifiable, or unnecessary. Nobody can accurately forecast a market's ups and downs, and investment in a new car, which is often decided upon in an “up" period, can look pretty sick if, when the cars start rolling off the line a couple of years later, the market has turned down.

All investment is a gamble, but it is one which any company wishing to survive must take. The irony is that, just as the capitalist system itself forces the gambles, so its own vagaries provide the element of risk which so often upsets the gamblers’ hopes.

Rootes are treading a very slim, very taut tightrope.

And it is a long way down.


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