Uncommon sense – a pamphlet for now

Federal Union recruitment leaflet, 1940 

(Read it in the original format here uncommonsense)

This pamphlet tells you:

– What a federation is.

– Why we need federation and nothing less, if we want Britain to go on being British, and other nations to be able to live their own lives without threat from some future Hitler.

– Why without federation it will be impossible to see that everybody has, at the very least, a job and proper food, clothes and housing.

– What it would mean to you, personally, to be a citizen of a federation as well as being a British citizen.

– Why you need to start thinking this thing out, not after the war, but NOW.

(or: The Common Sense of Federation)

A pamphlet for now

Somewhere, some day, a peace settlement will be made. No, don’t stop reading. This is not a pamphlet for after the war. It’s a pamphlet for now.

To day is the time when we must think out what we want at the end of the war. Why? Because unless we are clear about the direction in which we want to go, we shall not notice whether we are going in any direction at all. Because unless we plan in advance, we shall not get what we want. Instead someone else will get what he wants. This time, we must not allow any tinkering up of the old order to be put across us. And that’s just what may happen, if we, the people with the votes, don’t know our own minds in advance.

When the Peace Conference sits down to its job it will plan the fate of mankind. And it will depend upon what we think whether they tinker, or construct. They’ll say they cannot go ahead of public opinion.

FEDERAL UNION suggests that politics have failed to keep pace with real life: with the changes brought about by science, with people’s day-to day problems, and with their desire to see a better world for everybody. The world is organised in the wrong way – in an out-of-date way. The result is that international difficulties have led to one of two things: appeasement, or war.

FEDERAL UNION has a practical plan to offer. The plan extends democratic methods to international affairs, so that there will be a way round war that is not appeasement.

That’s what this pamphlet is about: a practical proposition, a system which already works in several parts of the world. The proposal is supported by a great many well-known people (see page 7), but the important thing is that YOU should consider it for yourself.


Take anything really modern a bicycle or even a pocket torch. What is it made of? Rubber, copper, celluloid, chemicals … How many of these materials came from your own parish, or county, or country? More probably, they were gathered from the four corners of the earth. And your food. The eggs and bacon you won’t be having for your breakfast tomorrow would have come from Denmark, as likely as not; and the meat you may be having for your dinner may well be from the Antipodes. Without the food that is brought to us from abroad, only one in four of us could go on living. It’s the same all along the line, from tin-tacks to scientific research. Whether we like it or not, the whole world today is a single, close-knit unit, with every nation depending on every other.

Yet there is no effective international government or control. Is it surprising that we live amongst war, poverty, unemployment, fear and unrest? These evils exist, and will go on existing, until there is law and order among the nations. Federal Union is a detailed, practical plan for obtaining that law and order.

Federal Union may be confused with the more familiar League of Nations, but it is quite another thing. The best way of grasping the whole idea is by thinking of the English counties.


Suppose for a moment that the forty English counties were separate, independent countries – like the countries of Europe in 1938. Think of forty different kinds of money, and tariff walls at every boundary! You could hardly do a day’s hike without a passport and several kinds of money. And think of the more serious consequences. Yorkshire, to encourage home industries, might set up little potteries, but it would have to protect them from Staffordshire competition by heavy tariffs. Then Stafford, prevented from selling pots in York, would have no York money to buy York wool. It would have to start scrabbling for wool of its own, or some silly substitute. The nett result: unemployed spinners and bad pots in Yorkshire, unemployed potters and bad wool in Staffordshire, and increased poverty all round. Trade would soon be paralysed, but the unemployed would be forbidden to take a paid job outside their own county.

The burden of taxation would be unbearable. Every County Council, afraid of its neighbours, would be piling up tanks, guns, aeroplanes, ammunition. Every coastal county would have its navy and every inland county would clamour for its corridor to the sea. Precious little money would there be for hospitals, or schools, or pensions! Every County Council would set up as sole judge of what concerned its vital interests; so that every petty squabble might mean war. Needing to be “strong” in self-defence, half the counties would be Fascist. England, in short, would be a scene of poverty, fear and endless bloodshed, with nothing gained but the splendid isolation of the counties. Independence of the county would mean bondage of the individual.

That nightmare vision of the English counties is, thank heavens, only a nightmare; bad as things are, they aren’t as desperate as that. But it’s a pretty accurate picture of the nations of twentieth-century Europe.


Sooner or later, after an exceptionally grim war, the County Councils might set up a League of Counties out of sheer desperation. Each County Council would then send a delegate to represent its interests at a League Assembly, held, perhaps, somewhere in the Midlands. Now, at least, there would be some degree of co-operation, and squabbles between the smaller counties could be adjusted without war. But the League would have little chance of securing permanent peace, and for obvious reasons. Each County Council would still consider itself entirely free and independent in the last resort, with its own “foreign” policy and its own armed forces to back up that policy. Therefore no League decision could be binding until accepted and endorsed by every single one of the forty separate Councils. Only very unimportant decisions would have much chance of obtaining such all-round approval, and in practice the League would have to steer clear of all major problems. The real grievances, the ones containing the seed of further wars, would be left untouched. Aggrieved counties would soon be backing out of the League; and an aggressive County Council could only be restrained by the unjust method of an attack on that whole county – men, women and children, peace-lovers and law-breakers alike. There would inevitably be breakdown and war.

Once again, that is a pretty fair account of Europe since the Great War. Despite the League of Nations (the greatest attempt in history to organise for peace), we are again at war.


Now consider what really does happen in England. No County Council owns a single usable tank, gun, aeroplane or shell. No inland county cares two hoots about a corridor to the sea. No county ever dreams of declaring war on any other. No county has even barbed-wire defences, let alone tank-traps or garrisons. No county hinders trade by tariff walls. Good Staffordshire pots are sold in Yorkshire and good Yorkshire wool in Staffordshire. A London factory can choose its materials from anywhere in England, and find its customers anywhere in England. An unemployed Notts miner can at least try his luck elsewhere. If some brigand up in Lancashire takes the law into his own hands, we don’t send an army to invade Lancashire, we send a policeman to arrest the brigand. Within England, in other words, sanity and organisation do prevail in these respects. It is easy to see why. England has a single army, navy and air force, a single tariff wall, a single kind of money and a single citizenship. Above all, it has a single central government at Westminster whose decisions are law. MPs are elected by the people of England, not by the County Councils. Members from any particular county may represent all shades of opinion and not just the dominant interests of their own district. No county can set up on its own. The County Councils, in short, control those matters which are the concern of separate counties, but Parliament controls those matters which concern the country as a whole.


And yet, you will say, we have still in England much poverty, unemployment and suppression; our united England has at most made only a beginning in the task of abolishing them. That is the whole point of this pamphlet. The nations have not yet learned the lesson of the counties. In a thoroughly inter-dependent world, they worship an independence that vanished a century since. They are out of date. Separate armies, navies, tariffs, moneys, and worst of all separate governments, each standing as sole judge of its vital interests – for all the world as though we lived on little islands. We don’t. A world that depends on oil and rubber and aluminium can no longer afford to play Robinson Crusoe. The game will spell disaster.

Federal Union is the lesson of the counties – nothing more and nothing less. It suggests that nations, too, can submit their common interests to a common authority. For them it proposes a single army, navy and air force, a single tariff policy, a single money, a single postage system, and above all a central (“federal”) government. This would be elected by Tom, Dick and Harry, the citizens of the Union, not by their national governments. We all have a local vote and a parliamentary vote at present; we should also have an extra one, a federal vote. Our federal government would deal with whatever concerned the whole Union (e.g., tariffs), and with nothing else whatsoever. In every other respect the nations would keep, or indeed recover, their independence and individuality. They would not be reduced to the status of mere counties, but on the contrary, freed from the crippling burdens of fear and armaments, they would develop their true importance as human cultural units. – That, in a nutshell, is Federal Union.


But nobody in his senses expects to see World Union on these lines now, or at the end of the war, or for a long time to come. Where then could we start, and when? Should we offer to unite with the USA here and now, as a first step? Should we, at the end of the war, repeat Mr. Churchill’s astonishing offer of complete Union with France (surely the most encouraging event in twenty years!), and extend it to other European nations? Or both? One thing is clear, that the greatest advances towards union will not come with a single bump, but gradually. Much can be done in war-time to prepare the way. The declared policy of the supporters of Federal Union in this country includes encouraging the setting up of permanent joint institutions with the USA and the USSR as the basis for complete union later, and at the same time the formation of an effective Federal movement on the Continent through propaganda here and abroad. Other immediate steps are suggested in the official statement of policy which you can send for (see page 7).


It is not easy to take in at once all the gains that would follow Union, or even the beginnings of Union, nor have we space here to do more than hint at them. The Union would offer the best possible conditions for maintaining law and order across frontiers. Embryo Hitlers would be dealt with by federal policemen before they could endanger the peace of their fellow citizens. Nowhere within the federation would people any longer be afraid of being spied on and denounced by their neighbours, of being arrested without cause given, or of being thrown into prison without trial. Economic security would be achieved by gradually removing tariff walls and all other trade barriers within the Union’s boundaries and by the setting up and maintaining of a minimum standard of decent living for all. The problem of war between the member countries would be solved – not for ten or twenty years, but for ever. The combined defence forces of those countries would make attack from outside mere folly. Moreover, any other country accepting the constitution would be welcomed into the Union. Other nations could hardly fail to see that a place in the sun was theirs for the asking. Eventually it would be possible to scrap every gun, tank and battleship in existence. Just think what we could do with the mountains of money saved! And think what freedom and security will mean to you, and your family and your friends.


Perhaps the idea sounds new-fangled or risky? It isn’t at all. Federal Union has solved the same problem at opposite sides of the world. It has been tried and it works. The American States, for example, were once in just the same condition of fear, hatred and muddle as the states of Europe today. Leagues and alliances failed. Then thirteen states agreed to form a Union. Gradually the forty-eight states linked up, and for 150 years the Union has flourished. During all that time the United States of America have only once resorted to fighting amongst themselves. How different is the record of the disunited states of Europe! England and Germany may fight, but never New York and Connecticut. The lesson of the counties has been learned and applied through all the vast area of the USA. Why let it stop there?


Perhaps it all seems idealistic, impracticable, too much to hope for? Well, in 1787 there were able, well-informed American thinkers who took that view about America. They were wrong; it happened, in a matter of months. Many people thought that about the League of Nations – yet it happened. Already there is a very strong international movement for Federal Union, supported by men and women of all parties, religions and trades. Among these supporters are many whose names you will know, including Mr Richard Law (Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs), President Benes, J B Priestley, Dr C E M Joad, Miss Storm Jameson, Miss Dorothy Thompson, Admiral C V Usborne, Captain Liddell Hart, Raymond Massey – and many others. Can the idea, then, be so quixotic?


The truth is, it depends on you – not the other fellow, but you. Keep this pamphlet. Think it over. Show it to your friends. Argue about it. Send for more information. Find out about the organisation of Federal Union; find out what you can do to help. But don’t just forget it. There was never in history a more vital decision to be made than now, and the choice rests with YOU.


The Secretary, Federal Union Ltd, 3 Gower Street, London WC1


In 1938, three young men decided that if ever we were to get federation between Britain and other countries, a popular movement would have to be founded to press for it. That decision was the origin of Federal Union.

Today, Federal Union Ltd is a non-profit membership organisation, with branches all over the country, in touch with similar organisations overseas.

Federal Union organises conferences, study groups, public and private meetings. Its speakers address audiences of all types – the Services, Rotary Clubs, factory meetings, co-op meetings, trade union groups, study groups, debating societies, Church guilds, Toc H, as well as public meetings.

Membership is open to all over 18 who agree with the objects printed on the next page, and who pay an annual subscription. Full particulars of subscription rates, etc., will be sent on request.

Federal Union literature includes pamphlets, leaflets, and the periodical, “Federal Union News”, which is sold on bookstalls. A list of publications dealing with the subject of federation, and including Federal Union publications, will be sent on request.

The finances of the movement are derived solely from membership subscriptions, donations, and the sale of literature.

If you want federation, Federal Union wants your support. The Head Office of Federal Union is at 3, Gower Street, London, WC1. Write and enrol today.


(a) To secure support in Great Britain and elsewhere for a Federation of Free Peoples under a common government elected by and responsible to the peoples for their common affairs, with national self-government for national affairs.

(b) To ensure that any federation so formed shall be regarded as the first step towards ultimate world government.

(c) And within such a federation to secure peace, economic security for all, and the civil rights of the individual.


Adapted from the famous 3-arrow anti-Nazi symbol, chalked on walls all over Europe, these three arrows flying in V formation, stand for Federal Union – Freedom across Frontiers

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