The Observer, 19 April 1942. Published anonymously.1
There is not much grumbling about the Budget. Common ale at tenpence a pint and cigarettes at ten for a shilling, unimaginable a few years ago, now seem hardly worth bothering about. In so far as Sir Kingsley Wood2 is criticised, it is less for what he has done than for what he has not done. The fact is that this is not a Budget which “soaks the rich.” In the matter of direct taxation it benefits the lowest income groups, but it imposes no fresh burdens on the higher groups. It is not much use demonstrating to the common man that, on paper, large incomes don’t exist nowadays: they exist, in fact, as he knows by the evidence of his eyes.
It is still not true—and everyone below £500 a year knows it—that we are “all in it together,” as we felt ourselves to be for a little while during the big air-raids. That is why discussions of the Budget lead on irrelevantly to remarks about the basic petrol ration or speculations about the price limit in the forthcoming ban on luxury meals. The British people are not envious as peoples go, but they would like to feel, now, with the enemy at several of the gates, that we are all in it together, sharing the petty hardships as well as the great ones.
Since 1940 public opinion in this country has generally been a little ahead of the Government. It has demanded—sometimes within the limits of the possible and sometimes not—an invasion of Europe, more aid to Russia, and a tougher attitude towards hostile neutrals. This week the announcement of the Budget swings attention back to home affairs. “Cut us to the bone—but cut us all to the bone” would probably express what people are thinking. They want equality of sacrifice at home just as they want effective action abroad, and it is probably a sound instinct which tells them that the two things are interconnected.
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- This was identified by David Astor as Orwell’s work. It was the seventh and last of the series “Mood of the Moment”.
- Sir Kingsley Wood (1881-1943), Minister of Health, 1935-38, Secretary of State for Air, 1938-40, Lord Privy Seal, 1940, had been Chancellor of the Exchequer since 1940. The tax on beer was increased by two (old) pence; whisky was increased in price by 4s 8d a bottle to £1.2.6; cigarettes were increased from 6½d to 9d (about 3½p) for ten; and the purchase tax on luxuries was doubled.