Chapter XII. — Mathematical
Could you,” she said eagerly, “edit a paper about Douglas Credit?” Being at the moment a free lance journalist—and few indeed are the free lance journalists in New Zealand who would not jump at the slightest opportunity to run a paper about anything from Angora rabbits upwards—I replied that anyhow I understood the A plus B theorem.
This was a lie. Nobody, not even God, understands the A plus B theorem, on which Douglas Credit principles are more or less based. I had however made speeches about it, which is as good if not better.
She was a woman journalist who made a fine art of impartiality. A contributor to Douglas Credit publications, she seems to have definite affinities with the New Zealand Legion, knows the inside workings of the New Zealand League of Youth. At first I wondered if she could possibly be in earnest, or if it were another of those multiple personality cases. But no, she was quite sincere. The facts were simply that she was prepared to listen to anyone, and hadn't the faintest idea what she herself was talking about. And our conversation in re editorship of a Douglas Credit journal took place in Wellington, where a little paper of this persuasion was perishing by the wayside. She returned disconsolate an hour or so later. “No use,” she replied, “I saw the wretched man who owns the wreck. He told me that the paper wanted £200 if it page 157 were to carry on. I told him that all it wanted was faith, but no, he insisted on £200.”
And thus slipped by my one chance of acting as a finger-post to the promised land.
Of course, theoretically speaking, journalists never take any part in politics. Those who do come to a sticky end, such as a seat in the House of Representatives. Correct and tactful journalistic procedure is to curse all schools of thought with a quite impartial earnestness, smoke a pipe, devote leisure hours to badminton and dogs, always preface the word Government with the adjective “bloody,” but become definitely unprintable when talking of Trade Unions. I know more than one young journalist who, despite inconspicuous talents, has won a reputation for “soundness” by no bolder tactics than these.
But politics and economics — Scylla and Charybdis—are to-day becoming New Zealand's national vice: personally I think it a better one than bridge, though it may work out just as expensive in the long run. It was, I think, Rex Fairburn who first interested Auckland newspaper offices in the Douglas Credit Association. The tall and be-sandalled figure of the Auckland poet is a familiar one at both committee and public meetings of the Auckland branch, which meets in the Farmers' Union rooms, a small-sized hall upstairs in an old Fort Street building.
“It's a bug,” said Mr. Fairburn, with his usual thoughtful yet guileless smile; “sometimes it bites you, sometimes not.”
Personally I think the Douglas Credit bug an interesting and effective one. Nor were the meetings in the little hall (which soon focussed enough of the genuinely interested and also the born-tired and born-talkative to need new seating accommodation), at all burdensome to the spirit. In fact, it was all rather good fun, if rather poor mathematics.
Fairburn was a principal speech-maker at Doug- page 158 las Credit rendezvous. His discourses were interesting, if a little learned for his audience (all politically-minded audiences in New Zealand contain the usual sprinkling of half-wits). We had some trouble with Communists. Not that they weren't perfect little ladies and gentlemen — “Red” is to my mind synonomous with “respectability”—but that they would talk, so long, so often, and so very much beside any conceivable point. There were some who merely wanted the British Empire to be laid low, regardless of costs and consequences. A funny little fat man, who came along every week, seemed obsessed by the fact that licensed immorality was no more in Russia since the Soviet Republics were set up. He knew all the figures, before and after, and made a point of leaping up at the most unexpected moments to inform the audience how much brighter things were nowadays for “all those lovely girls.”
I forgot to mention that at my first Douglas Credit meeting I was once again overpowered by the atavistic desire for speech-making and acted accordingly: I was instantly put on the committee.
Douglas Credit's New Zealand headquarters were technically in Christchurch, where most of the fun began. Its full blossoming forth as a nation-wide movement began under canvas at Okoroire, some four years back, when a constitution—later hacked to pieces by criticism from all quarters—was drawn up, and local executives began to take shape.
That the greater part of the Auckland Farmers' Union membership should plump for a gospel of plenty, and plenty to pay for it, is natural enough. The most interesting thing that the Association has really accomplished in New Zealand lies in this, that for the first time in New Zealand's history country interests are to some extent welded with city leadership.
There are, of course, farmers who differ. W. J. Polson, Member for Stratford, and President of the page 159 Farmers' Union, is one of them. He runs a little fortnightly yellow-backed paper, Point Blank yclept. It exists for the sole purpose of expressing Mr. Polson's differences with the Douglas Credit movement, and if it possesses anything of a country circulation must be a splendid advertisement for this scheme, as Mr. Polson prints Douglas Credit articles in full, that his own merry men may write further articles demolishing them. As the Member for Stratford himself told me, the articles pro are usually a good deal better written than the articles con. It's the quaintest way of conducting a hand-to-hand combat that I have ever seen in journalism, but much more amusing than the sagacious dailies' policy of the silent strafe.
Douglas Credit has had its papers, unofficial and otherwise. Plain Talk, run in Auckland for a time by an ex-advertising canvasser, Frank Robson, was not only unofficial, but distinctly venomous—even libellous — in its criticisms of existing banking organisations. However, Mr. Robson, having proved for some little time that it is possible for a weekly paper to get away with a good deal, went rather too far and was disclaimed by the President of the Auckland branch—Colonel Closey, a tactician and speech-maker of much agility.
Respectable little papers have done their mild best to command as big a circulation as did the more flamboyant Plain Talk, but it has been stiff going. The circuses popular with the public just now don't seem to be those boasting tricky white rabbits as their star turns.
The Association made valiant efforts to use the powers of existing but disrupted organisations. On one occasion, hundreds of letters were posted off to the clergy of every denomination in the Auckland district, leaving out only Spiritualists, Mormons and “Brother” Dallimore (who would perhaps have been the likeliest prospect of any). I think eleven clergymen turned up, including a Salvation Army officer page 160 and a Methodist, but nobody of the Anglican ilk or the Church of Rome, though we had amassed some very nice and tactful little bits from a Papal encyclical, showing that the Pope was unconsciously a Douglas Credit enthusiast. (I seem to remember that we found out the same thing about the Prince of Wales and Mr. Stanley Baldwin.)
The Association has, however, since that rather forlorn little meeting, attracted the friendship of such prominent clerics as the Rev. A. J. Greenwood and the Rev. Walter Averill (son of Archbishop Averill), who were both on the platform at a Douglas rally in Avondale, when thousands packed the little Town Hall. Nor has the Association done at all badly in New Zealand as regards Parliamentary limelight. Its Parliamentary appearances have been a good deal more satisfactory than its press notices, for in the House of Representatives it has a most eloquent champion in Captain Rushworth, representative of the little one-man “Country Party.”
Despite the fact that he hasn't so much as a bench-mate to back him up in debate, Captain Rushworth's is a commanding figure in the House, and when in form he is a fine speaker, of the simple and sympathetic persuasion. He reads American technology publications for the more impressive side of his discourses, then follows up with good hard batting on the human interest wicket. He can inspire unusual interest in other Parliamentarians. There is, for example, the case of the Hon. A. J. Stallworthy, Cabinet Minister until such time as the death-clutch of Reform and United interests made a reshuffle of portfolios necessary, and the ex-Minister for Health was among the discards. Stallworthy, even at that sad moment, took a benign course. He wired the papers announcing the change, and hoping that God would guide his successor. Possibly even at that stage of the depression he recognised the need for a little Divine leadership.page 161
Seconding a vote of thanks to Captain Rushworth, after the mass meeting of enthusiasts in the Avondale Town Hall, Mr. Stallworthy became first poetic, then went into superlatives. “The gallant Captain,” cried he, “all honour to him—the gallant Captain!” The gallant Captain looked distinctly taken aback.
The veteran Member for Nelson, Harry Atmore, one-time Minister for Education, is also an occasional sympathiser, and by no means a bad speaker. Altogether, though it has no definite party associations, the Douglas Credit Association does very well for publicity in the Talking Shop.
In 1934, Major Douglas, Scottish engineer and economist rather by thought and popular acclaim than by the stout-hearted support of some fatherly banking institution, came out to New Zealand. Though well received at public appearances, he failed to register a bull's-eye in the hearts of local economists or the yet more susceptible bosoms of our Parliamentarians. Asked for practical details of the application of his scheme here in New Zealand, he wobbled a little. Though he himself probably has a clear vision of Canaan, he is unable to elucidate his ideas in such a way that their practical application becomes plain to the simple-hearted… anyhow, not quite as plain as the “Will take £4000” cable said to have arrived from an optimistic management before the finalisation of the Major's visit here.
But although Major Douglas was instantly labelled “Flop” by New Zealand dailies and other strictly disinterested parties, the fact remains that in a few years the Scottish engineer has made thousands of people in this one small country alone think, talk and argue on economics. In Australia— where twenty Douglas Credit candidates appeared at a 1934 election, to the simple astonishment of the English nation—his progress has been even more phenomenal. He can claim to be the man who made page 162 the Antipodes paper-money conscious—and on the whole that is rather a good thing, though it may be an uncomfortable one. A sudden access of thought on the world's tangled problems must necessarily lead to mistakes, fallacies, petty Waterloos… but it should lead further.
Undoubtedly, too, the Major was more or less unfortunate in that his New Zealand visit clashed with those of Krishnamurti and Bernard Shaw. To outrival a Messiah and a literary Mephistopheles at one and the same time is an almost impossible task for a mere human being.
I met Dr. Campbell Begg, leader of that surprising growth on the body politic, the New Zealand Legion, in an Auckland newspaper office. He arrived more or less from the blue, heralded only by a telephone message, and explained that he wanted certain things kept absolutely secret. To my mind, the quaintest possible way of keeping a secret is to confide it in the perfectly strange reporter of a paper which sells on sensational stories. It looked almost like camouflaged publicity hunting.
Part of the secret was that the Legion had already five ultra-private branch bureaux in Auckland alone, complete with typistes. I thought at the time that “The Five Secretive Stenographers” would be a lovely title for an Edgar Wallace.
Dr. Campbell Begg made much of the absolute privacy of his own and the Legion's movements. Most of his travelling was done by 'plane. He spoke darkly of attempts to tap Legion correspondence if it should pass through “the ordinary channels” (our blameless P. and T. department). However, he had, so he stated, overcome that little difficulty.
I have heard Dr. Campbell Begg speak from the public platform. He seemed to be in mortal dread lest he should actually say something. He is a surgeon of repute in Wellington, where it was generally understood that he could carve you a page 163 kidney as prettily as any man in the city, and his appearance on the political horizon was a surprise to many. However, the Legion now has its place in the electric light, and runs its own paper. Its members go in for green shirts. The red shirt is, of course, the Communist's warpaint.
I am going, very humbly, to ask for membership in the first political league, society or kabbalah which gets away from this shirt-tail racket. Why not, if we must be distinctive, pants?
The League of Youth (popularising pacifism) was indirectly started by Dr. Campbell Begg too. He made a speech in Wellington. A young man in the audience turned to his partner, murmured with wrath “He is quite wrong, and I feel that I could lead the country better.” He was held down to his seat on that occasion, but did go ahead with the idea of a League.
And indeed, the restless, questioning spirit of to-day, asking the whys and wherefores of relief works, pauperism, Ministerial jaunts overseas, is infinitely preferable to the dull self-satisfaction of six years ago. “For your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”