The Control of Engagement Order: Attlee’s Road to Serfdom?

  • Andrew Farrant
  • Nicola Tynan
Part of the Jepson Studies in Leadership book series (JSL)


F. A. Hayek’s ideas have repeatedly reared their head in political debate and commentary over the past 70 years. For example, Hayek’s arguments in The Road to Serfdom are widely thought to have influenced the caustic tenor of Winston Churchill’s infamous “Gestapo” election broadcast of June 4, 1945.1 According to Churchill, any “Socialist Government” that sought to conduct “the entire life and industry of the country … would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo … [and] would gather all the power to the supreme party and the party leaders, rising like stately pinnacles above their vast bureaucracies of Civil servants—no longer servants and no longer civil.”2 Unsurprisingly, the average voter viewed Churchill’s charges with much dismay. As Ford Moran (Churchill’s personal physician) noted in his diary, the Gestapo jibe had “not gone down with anybody … No one agreed with the line that Winston had taken.”3 Similarly, The Recorder (a rabidly pro-Churchill popular newspaper) reported that many voters who heard “Mr. Churchill’s broadcast … [were much] surprised by his statement that Socialism must inevitably lead to totalitarianism.” As The Recorder went on to note, however, “the fact has already been well proved. Fast year appeared a book ‘The Road to Serfdom.’ It was recognized as one of the most important books of our generation.”4


Essential Work Conservative Party Employment Exchange Average Voter Official Approval 
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  1. 1.
    Friedrich A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, [1944] 1994).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Lord Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), 271.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The Recorder, June 9, 1945. Hayek was himself reputedly very pleased that Churchill had taken up his ideas. Richard Cockett, Thinking the Unthinkable (London: Fontana Press, 1995), 95.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Clement Attlee, Purpose and Policy: Selected Speeches (London: Hutchinson, 1947), 7.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    As one contemporary put it, Smithers—“an extreme Tory out of a vanished age”—had an apparently healthy appetite for the “consoling effect of alcohol” (John Boyd-Carpenter, Way of Life: The Memoirs of John Boyd-Carpenter [London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1980], 79f). Also see Andrew Farrant and Nicola Tynan, “Sir Waldron Smithers and the Muddle of the Tory Middle,” Economic Affairs 32, no. 2, (2012).Google Scholar
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    The statement berated Churchill’s Coalition Government for introducing “Bill after Bill… which involves compulsion and loss of personal freedom” (Andrew Farrant and Nicola Tynan, “Sir Waldron Smithers and the Long Walk to Finchley,” Economic Affairs 32, no. 1 [2012]: 44).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. As Smithers noted in a December 1944 letter to the British Medical Journal, “the ‘Fighting Fund for Freedom’ … [is] doing all… [it] can to educate the voters of this country against the mortal danger of State control, of which an outstanding example is the medical White Paper recently issued by the Government” (Sir Waldron Smithers, “Tuberculosis in Kent,” The British Medical Journal 2, no. 4381 [December 23, 1944]: 835). Although Smithers wrote to Churchill on behalf of the Fund on several occasions it is rather unclear whether Churchill himself paid much attention to Smithers’s missives. Indeed, Churchill’s Private Secretary (John Peck) told Churchill that Smithers and company opposed many policies that were in the public interest (Farrant and Tynan, “Long Walk to Finchley,” 44).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Friedrich A. Hayek, “Preface [to the 1956 paperback edition]” in The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, [1944] 1994), xxvii–xlvi. (Hereafter cited as “1956 Preface.”) When the Labour Government came to power in 1945 it was “committed to honouring the objectives of both the 1944 White Paper on Employment Policy and the Beveridge Report on the Social Services. All this was to be realized by a rather nebulous economic policy which they referred to as ‘democratic planning’.Google Scholar
  10. It can best be described as a mixture of physical controls, nationalization and exhortation, laced with a dash of Keynesianism and a liberal dose of wishful thinking” (Sir Edwin Plowden, An Industrialist in The Treasury [London: Andre Deutsch, 1989], 4). Plowden became the Government’s Chief Planning Officer in spring 1947.Google Scholar
  11. Although R. W. (“Otto”) Clarke (the inventor of what became the Financial Times Ordinary Share Index and an important Treasury Civil Servant) was an advocate of planning, he described the Attlee Government’s attempt to “plan”‘ as “bricks without straw … there was no known plan and no known means of implementing a plan even if there had been a plan” (Clarke’s diary quoted by David Hubback, “Sir Richard Clarke—1910–1975,” Public Policy and Administration 3, no. 1 [1988]: 27).Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Margaret Thatcher, The Path to Power (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 50–51.Google Scholar
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    According to Saint (Tony Saint, “How a TV dramatist made even the BBC—and other Lefties—cheer for Margaret Thatcher,” Daily Mail, June 7, 2008, -BBC —assorted-Lefties —cheer-Margaret-Thatcher.html (accessed April 24, 2013), Smithers did his utmost to stymie Margaret Roberts’s initial attempt to become a Member of Parliament. As Saint explains, Smithers was outraged by the Dartford Conservative Association’s adoption of Miss Roberts to contest the seat in the 1950 General Election and wondered why Dartford had been unable to get “a local businessman to stand?” (Ibid.) According to the evidence, however, Smithers had written to Conservative Central Office in early 1949 to report that other Tories—taking much umbrage at Dartford’s adoption of a “young girl of 23, Miss Margaret Robertson [sic]”—had asked Smithers why Dartford “Could … not have got some prominent businessman?” (Smithers quoted in John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher—Volume One: The Grocer’s Daughter [London: Random House, 2000], 72–73). Indeed, Smithers had never met Miss Roberts and had no knowledge of her views. Accordingly, he asked Central Office for guidance and was subsequently assured that “Dartford had made an excellent choice” (ibid., 73).Google Scholar
  14. We imagine that Smithers would have viewed Miss Roberts’s subsequent campaign speeches with enthusiastic approval: As Smithers’s son would later note, “my father… would have been a great Thatcher supporter” (D. W. Smithers, Not a Moment to Lose [Cambridge: The Memoir Club, 1989], 4).Google Scholar
  15. 31.
    Ministry of Labour and National Service, Control of Engagement Order QUIZ: How Does the Order Affect me? 1947: 2. The Order also made it illegal for an employer to engage workers covered by the Order unless they engaged them through a Ministry of Labour Employment Exchange. Any employer who was convicted of breaching the Order was similarly liable to the penalties noted above. QUIZ (1947): 3.Google Scholar
  16. 36.
    Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1962), 11.Google Scholar
  17. 37.
    E. F. M. Durbin, “The Economic Problems Facing the Labour Government,” in Socialism: The British Way, ed. D. Munro (London: Essential Books, 1948), 9.Google Scholar
  18. 42.
    As Miss Roberts noted, the Order was extended “to January 1, 1950, by Statutory Instrument No. 2608, 1948” (Margaret Roberts, Dartford Chronicle, September 2, 1949).Google Scholar
  19. 45.
    443 Parl. Deb., H. C. (5th ser.) [1947] 1343. H. H. Wilson notes that Davies “permitted his name to be placed on a pamphlet written by the Aims of Industry attacking the Control of Engagement order” (H. H. Wilson, “Techniques of Pressure: Anti-Nationalization Propaganda in Britain,” The Public Opinion Quarterly 15, no. 2 [1951]: 230). We have been unable to obtain a copy of Davies’s seven-page Bond or Free. Mr. J. Rhys Davies, M.P., Here Re-states the Supreme Issue of Personal Liberty Menaced by the Control of Engagement Order, 1947, etc. (London: Nigel Cragoe, 1948).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 47.
    Fighting Fund for Freedom, Report No. 15, September 1947: 1. Mark Pitchford, The Conservative Party and the Extreme Right: 1945–75 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011), 27, 221–22 notes that Smithers’s involvement in the FFF ended in late 1945. The Fund had become involved in a manifestly unsavory October 1945 campaign against Jewish refugees that had been organized by Charles Challen, Conservative MP for Hampstead (ibid., 15).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Also see G. Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Resurrection of British Fascism after 1945 (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007), 40. It is noteworthy that the Fund’s Report No. 3 (Fighting Fund for Freedom, Report No. 3, September 1946) describes Sir Ernest Graham-Little as a Member of its Executive Committee (1) whereas Smithers himself is merely invoked as an MP who opposes Ministry of Food regulations governing the production of flour and is not mentioned in connection with the Fund per se (2). Similarly, the Fund’s Report No. 53 (Fighting Fund for Freedom, Report No. 53, January 1951) notes that Earl Stanhope—one of the original signatories to the statement that Smithers sent to Churchill in 1944—had stood down as Chairman of the Fund. Stanhope had initially agreed to become Chairman “for a few weeks” (presumably after Smithers left the Fund) in January 1946 (1).Google Scholar
  22. 54.
    443 Parl. Deb., H. C. (5th ser.) [1947] 1446. Under Defence Regulation 58A, the “Minister of Labour and National Service or any National ServiceOfficer … [can] direct any person in Great Britain to perform such services in the United Kingdom or in any British ship … as may be specified by or described in the direction, being services which that person is … capable of performing” (Defence Regulation 58A quoted by John Boyd-Carpenter, “The Political Abuse of the Defence Regulations,” The New English Review 13, no. 1 [July 1946]: 11).Google Scholar
  23. 55.
    H. M. D. Parker, Manpower: A Study of War-time Policy and Administration (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1957): 222. Agricultural workers could freely take a job in coalmining without obtaining official approval prior to the reintroduction of the Control of Engagement Order on October 6, 1947, while coalm-iners could only leave their industry with official approval. After October 6, 1947, any worker engaged in a ring-fenced industry—whether coalmining or agriculture—could only change jobs without official approval if he stayed within his particular industry (e.g., any miner could take employment at a different mine).Google Scholar
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    Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, “Contested Exchange: New Microfoundations for the Political Economy of Capitalism,” Politics and Society 18, no. 2 (1990): 165–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. and C. Shapiro and J. E. Stiglitz, “Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device,” American Economic Review 74, no. 3 (1984): 433–44, provide the microeconomic logic implicitly underlying Dodds’s allusion to the way in which involuntary unemployment disciplines labor.Google Scholar
  26. 70.
    G. McCrone, Regional Policy in Britain (London: Allen & Unwin, 1969), 91.Google Scholar
  27. Also see, A. Glynn and A. Booth, Modern Britain: An Economic and Social History (London: Routledge, 1996), 91. We thank Graham Brownlow for directing us (no pun intended) to the sources we note.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 78.
    Ivor Thomas, The Socialist Tragedy (London: Latimer House Limited, 1949).Google Scholar
  29. 81.
    Waldron Smithers, Principles and Politics (Bromley: Kentish Times Limited, 1951), 2.Google Scholar
  30. 83.
    Labour Research Department, EWO: Questions and Answers (London: Labour Research Department, 1944), 19–20.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Sandra J. Peart and David M. Levy 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Farrant
  • Nicola Tynan

There are no affiliations available

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