'The gentleman in Whitehall' reconsidered: the evolution of Douglas Jay’s views on economic planning and consumer choice, 1937-1947
University of Exeter
Labour History Review
In his book The Socialist Case, first published in 1937, Douglas Jay wrote: ‘in the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves.’ This phrase became notorious, and, as a result, Jay’s views on economic planning and consumer choice have frequently been misrepresented. Far from wanting to dictate to people what they should consume, Jay was a planning sceptic who believed that the price mechanism had many virtues. The experience of World War II, however, convinced him of the merits of central planning, and this was reflected in key changes he introduced to the new edition of The Socialist Case, published in 1947. The changed role envisaged for Jay’s ‘gentleman in Whitehall’ not only illustrates important points about the impact of war on the Labour Party’s attitudes to planning and consumer sovereignty, but also casts light on the relationship between the socialist revisionism of the 1930s and that of subsequent decades.
67 (2), pp. 185-202