The Chargé in Great Britain ( Laughlin ) to the Acting Secretary of State
[Received December 11—11:12 a.m.]
4272. Your 6913, March 16, 6 p.m.4 See military attachés 748, December 4th to Military Staff.
Lack of confidence in Lloyd George and Coalition Government which has been noticeably increasing has recently assumed serious proportions. For some days influential section of the press has brought all the power of its leading articles to bear in an endeavor to bring out a statement of the Government’s policy with regard to the expulsion of enemy aliens, the payment of an indemnity by Germany and the treatment of the Kaiser and others who are generally considered responsible for bringing about the war and Germany’s illegal methods of warfare. The Prime Minister has as yet carefully refrained from tying himself to any definite policy or making any firm statement on these matters. In recent editorial the Daily Mail, always a strenuous supporter of Lloyd George, practically threatened to forsake him unless he gave satisfactory undertakings with regard to these particular problems, which the North cliffe press considers of supreme importance. Should this group of newspapers desert the coalition it would only be supported by the London Chronicle, a newspaper recently bought for a large [Page 410] sum by a few personal friends of the Prime Minister, and which has as yet no great influence, and by the Daily Telegraph, which has always been a pronounced unionist organ. The other opposition sections continue to play the old tune on the strings of the inadvisability of a general election at this time. The practical disenfranchisement of the army and control of nomination by a Coalition committee which exacts pledges from Coalition or Liberal Coalition candidates under the threat of vigorous opposition. These various forms of dissatisfaction have crystallized into a pronounced opposition which makes the result of the election more and more precarious. There is little doubt, however, that the coalition will succeed in winning the seats necessary for a majority, although they may fall somewhat short of their ambitions. It is not likely that those sections which have hitherto supported Mr. Lloyd George will go back on him completely at the last moment, chiefly because there is no other party leader to whom they would be willing to turn their support. Their present attitude is more in the nature of a threat and an attempt to draw from the Prime Minister some definite statement of policy, and a promise to carry through certain reforms which they hold much at heart to the majority of thinking men. The questions which the popular press is placing in the foreground should take a more or less secondary place, but their appeal for the mass of voters, especially in view of the increased panel, is very great. The difficulties in the way of settling, at the present time, a hard and fast program for dealing with these problems is not fully appreciated. While these are all obviously matters which must be settled at the Peace Conference and in conjunction with the other Allied nations, there is great impatience on the part of people in the country who fear that the enemy are to be let off too easily. Lloyd George has already hinted at the difficulties in the way by stating that Germany will not be allowed to pay her indemnity by the defaulters cheap goods or dumping manufactured articles in this country to the prejudice of British trade. Great enthusiasm has been shown over the visit of Foch and Clemenceau to this country and obviously every effort is being made to strengthen the Entente between France and Great Britain in order that any possible friction before or during the coming Conference may be prevented. The President’s visit to Europe continues to excite the greatest interest, there have been lengthy accounts of the opposition in the American Senate and of the bitterness and distrust with which the Republicans are said to view the entire procedure. No pronouncement of opinions have been given in this country and the desire for the President’s visit to England is undoubtedly sincere and strong.[Page 411]
On November 28th the Labor Party issued election manifesto demanding a peace of international cooperation free from economic war, and international labor charter incorporated in the league of free peoples, democratic freedom for Ireland and India and self-determination for all subject peoples within the British Commonwealth, no conscription and free speech, land nationalization, building at state expense, one million new houses, public education free to all, payment of the war debt by special levy on capital together with heavily graduated direct taxation of incomes, nationalization and democratic control of public services, such as mines, railways, shipping, electricity, usual extension of trade unionism and a higher status for labor, better pay and pensions for the soldier. John Hodge, Minister of Pensions, has been called on by his trade union to retire from the Government, and though probably unopposed at the coming election, he will be unable to resume his place in the Ministry. The breaking away of Labor from the Government is almost complete, in some constituencies the Liberals will support a Labor candidate. Henderson having referred a dispute between two Labor nominees to a ballot of Labor Party members, mostly miners in the constituency, the extremist nominee was officially indorsed by plurality of 4,000. The Labor meeting at the Albert Hall was finally held on November 30th, and a second meeting was held on December 1st. The first object of both meetings was support to League of Nations, and the speakers urged the Labor Party to watch the proceedings of the Peace Conference in order to make sure that the result should be a true league of free peoples. The second object was to raise funds for the conversion of the Weekly Herald into a daily paper which would be the chief Labor daily. The Bolshevist element made but little demonstration, though in accordance with the official Labor program both meetings demanded immediate restoration workers’ International Agreement as strongest safeguard to future peace. As the Labor Party during this election will have no daily newspaper, the Daily Mail has offered for its use one column daily. The publication of an announcement by Reuter’s correspondent in Washington that Mr. Gompers and five other members of the American Federation of Labor would attend the Labor conference to be held in Paris concurrently with the Peace Conference has been received in Labor circles with immense interest as the first indication of official recognition of the proposed concurrent conference to which Webb and Henderson attach great importance.
Although Secretary Redfield’s7 request to American exporters to pursue a policy of forbearance at this time has received a certain [Page 412] amount of favorable comment because of its altruistic character, the question has been raised as to whether it is practicable. Many prominent British trade officials consider that Government’s statement will not represent the real attitude of American trade, which they expect will be as eager for business as is the case in this country.
Certain large groups of American trade consider it likely that there will be an attempt here to buy commodities such as timber, metals, and other articles, through a central organization.
Nests of British trades in different lines are intriguing for control of the situation, although it cannot be said as to whether they will succeed there is already a tendency to break away from the idea of central economic control, providing there are definite obstacles to successful operation of unified control, British interests will be quick to alter their course. The whole situation is being watched very intently by different branches of British trade.
There is undoubtedly a certain feeling that we may be over ambitious about the future of our merchant marine, the fact that the American Government has not permitted the transfer of International Merchant [Mercantile] Marine vessels to British ownership has not received any extended comments in the press except that it is a matter of significance; this is looked upon, however, as crucial point. There seems to be a difference of opinion on the part of various well informed American investigators as to what is the real British trade attitude toward America. It is the opinion of the commercial attaché to this Embassy that British public opinion is strongly in favor of friendly cooperation with the United States in trade matters as well as in other matters, and he feels that the most prominent officials in the Government share this view. At the same time it must be considered that various trade interests are anxious to take full advantage of the situation in order to gain as strong a position as possible, but evidences even of a large number of cases of this kind should not lead to the feeling that Great Britain is not preparing for a liberal adjustment of trade matters at the Peace Conference. It is necessary to give careful attention to all the various trade ambitions which are arising so rapidly in this country, but it should be realized at the same time that with careful handling there is no major reason why harmony cannot be found. There is a very great desire to have trade return to normal channels as soon as possible. Moreover Labor is strongly in favor of a liberal settlement. Questions of trade policy have apparently not been uppermost in the public mind in the election campaign, though they are undoubtedly foremost in the minds [of] special interests.