• U.S.

GREAT BRITAIN: Progenitor of Mice

2 minute read

Both Laborites and Tories agreed that Britain must spend less money, but the Labor government had the painful task of showing how to do it.

In the conference room overlooking the back garden at No. 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Attlee conferred endlessly with his cabinet. Everyone thought the other fellow’s expenses could be cut, but did not see how his own department could struggle along on any less. Foreign Minister Bevin wanted to cut social services, Health Minister Aneurin Bevan insisted that his housing and health plans were “sacrosanct.” Attlee tried to mollify everybody. He was still keeping strict secrecy when he took the plan to Buckingham Palace for the King’s approval.

This week in the House of Commons the Prime Minister brought his retrenchment program out in the open. Where the members had expected a mountain, it was only a mouse. The overall pruning of government expense, Attlee said, would amount to £250 million ($700 million) of which £140 million would be accounted for by a cutback in capital investment—schools, hospitals, highways, fuel and power facilities, etc. In addition, residential housing and other building would be cut back by £70 million. The outlay for education would be trimmed by £5,000,000, resulting in costlier school lunches (up 1¢) and restricted bus service.

Nye Bevan’s precious health service was untouched, except that Britons will henceforth have to pay a shilling (14¢) every time they get a prescription filled. Subsidies on fish and animal feed stuffs would end early next year. Conscription was untouched, but Attlee promised that the defense budget would be cut somewhere, somehow, by £30 million.

It was a dull, dispiriting performance. Said one disheartened Laborite: “The Prime Minister is a prolific progenitor of mice.” Winston Churchill solemnly rose from the Opposition front bench and asked: “If these proposals are practical and adequate, why were they not put forward two or three years ago when we asked that a bridle be put on expenditure?”

Later this week the Attlee program would be debated for two days in the House of Commons. The Tories, who had made so much political hay lately, were sure to make a lot more.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com