In recent months the coalition leaders, alarmed at the spreading fears among the masses of the results of the war, have been painting a glowing picture of post-war developments.
"Work, food, homes" is the new version of Lloyd George's "Land for heroes to live in". But with the approach of ‘victory' the capitalist masters of Britain are revealing more openly the shape of things to come.
The Town and Country Planning Bill is one instance of the way the ruling class intends to face up to the problem of reconstruction. The fundamental principle on which this bill is based is the sacred right of private property and of capitalism to exploit the masses of the people. Even the mild and unsatisfactory measures of the Uthwatt Report are swept aside as impracticable. No wonder it received the enthusiastic support of the National Federation of Property owners, whose representative said that the suggestions were a "tremendous relief" to them. Obviously it is, since this bill is essentially designed to protect their and capitalism's interests as a whole. For example: the Marquis of Bute owns 117,000 acres of land. Merely for having possession of this land he receives £109,000 in coal royalties. The Town and Country Planning Bill serves the interests of these landowners of private property – and with the support of Labour Ministers! The Bill expressly states:
"It is not proposed that a single master plan should be devised by the Government and imposed on the country, nor that the existing pattern of land ownership or land use should be swept away."
The fact that the Bill puts planning in this framework makes a mockery of the ostensible reasons for which it is brought forward. The contradictions between the different capitalist interests make a national plan impossible. Thus the unsatisfactory development of building will continue more or less as it was. The people who will benefit most from the provisions of the Bill will be the big landowners.
In this, of course, the Government is acting as capitalist governments have acted in the past. It should never be forgotten that the land now owned by the landowners was stolen from the mass of the people through the enclosures in the sixteenth and eighteenth century with the assistance of the governments at the time. The interests of the peasants were ruthlessly disregarded and they were forcibly ejected from the land, to starve or work under slave conditions in the factories just being built in the towns.
That is how the Duchess of Sutherland obtained her land as late as the last century. Now the Duke of Buccleugh owns 459,108 acres, the Duke of Devonshire 186,000 acres, the Duke of Hamilton 157,387, the Marquis of Bute 117,000. It has been calculated that a little more than a few thousand people own the overwhelming part of the land in this country.
The provisions for ‘compensating' the big capitalists makes any attempt at building houses, roads and parks, in the real interests of the workers virtually prohibitive because of the expense.
Lord Latham, Labour leader of the LCC (a man not prone to any exaggeration), was compelled to say: "Comprehensive planning and reconstruction has been sold down the river …its (the Bill's) main purpose seemed to be interfere as little as possible with the rights of property."
In the Uthwatt Report the recommendation was made to base suggested compensation for compulsory acquisition of land at March 1939 values as a maximum. This in itself was already unsatisfactory. But in the new Bill the March 1939 prices become the guaranteed minimum.
Thus the Bill benefits the speculators, landlords, and other parasites. The White Paper ingenuously states:
"…in by far the greater area of the country, owners will be able to go on using their land just as they do now, without interference of any sort, whether they be farmers, shopkeepers, industrialists, or the ordinary owners of a house and garden."
The reference to ‘shopkeepers' and ‘ordinary owners' of houses and gardens is, of course, merely thrown in as a cover to conceal the protection of the real big property owners. The Bill provides that no building shall be done without consent of the local planning authority – and then attempts carefully to prepare a balance of losses and gains between the different property owners of land if taken over by councils, the Government, etc., or if compulsory restrictions on building rights are maintained. These are to be compensated or taxed accordingly, leaving, of course, a nice plum of 20% to the landowner who himself builds on the land as an ‘incentive' to increase the value of his land, or suitable compensation if permission to build is refused. One can be sure that, as between one rapacious landowner and another, the government will be completely impartial, or, between a capitalist and a landowner, there will be strict justice. But against the workers there is no such impartiality however – only in blitzed areas, or areas which have become blighted, is the right given to local or other authorities to compulsorily purchase land. In a leader, the Manchester Guardian states:
"It (the Bill) would leave the initiative in deciding how land should be used with the private owners and (to a lesser degree) with the local authorities acting in furtherance of private and local interests."
Even the Tory boroughs and county councils were taken aback by the cynical way in which new burdens are being thrust on the workers, and the local rates, for the benefit of the landowners. There was protest on the part of every council in England at this barefaced robbery. Naturally, the plan for which the Labour ministers accept responsibility, has called forth a storm of protest within the labour movement. Labour MPs, trade union branches, the London Labour Party, the executives of the London Trades Council, have protested against it.
This question of the land is a decisive one in viewing the post-war world the capitalists are planning. They are not prepared to attack the privileges of even the most reactionary and outworn section of the ruling-class, the landowners. This scheme, because of the storm of protest, may be altered in some of its details. But fundamentally it will remain as it is – an attack upon the workers, an insurmountable obstacle in the way of building a better Britain, and a bolstering up of privilege.
This Bill is a continuation of the process of fleecing the masses for the benefit of the landowners, while pretending to introduce measures to ensure their betterment. It will not have any better result than its predecessors. In the above quoted leader of the Manchester Guardian the admission is openly made:
"Outright nationalisation of the land, as the Uthwatt Report points out, would solve the problem at a stroke by simply removing the needs for paying compensation or securing betterment; but nationalisation would also serve other purposes which do not command such general approval."
The coalition has run true to form. The Labour leaders are being used to put shameful legislation across the workers in the guise of ‘progress'. The solution to the problem is simple enough, but the capitalists would do anything to avoid it. What do they care if the generations who have suffered in the war suffer in the ‘reconstruction' after the war for good measure? So long as their profits are maintained they do not worry if millions live in unsanitary, disease-ridden, filthy, airless houses. The land, the labour, and the techniques are there to make Britain healthy, well-fed, happy and comfortable. All it needs is a well thought out and planned organisation of industry and the towns on a national scale. But it is impossible to do it while private ownership of the land stands in the way. It is private ownership of land which is the stumbling block – therefore the private ownership of the land must be ended!
It is time to get back what the landowners stole from the people – the land must be nationalised without compensation to the landlords! The labour MPs are aghast at this outrageous Bill, so let them break the coalition and fight for a policy in the interests of the workers. The coalition is responsible for this scheme – so end the coalition now and nationalise the land without compensation to the big landowners!
(Originally published in Socialist Appeal, Vol. 6, No. 3, Mid-July, 1944)