Fighting over food

The truth is unlikely ever to emerge from the rubble of world war two, but the British ruling class was convinced that there was a significant black market trading in the wartime British Isles. The obsession with even the possibility that spivs might be getting away with crimes against upstanding citizens is captured by William Sitwell in his book Eggs Or Anarchy.

At this time, the House of Lords could be relied upon to make the most fuss over the least incident supported by little or no evidence. The sensitivity of the establishment to the idea that people might be getting away with crime, be it real or imagined, beggars belief. One particularly paranoid peer accused Lord Woolton, then minister of food, of failing to act in a timely manner to pre-empt the spread of profiteering, which he now believed to be out of control.

Woolton was, of course, held responsible for this state of affairs, be it real or imaginary. A man of humble origins, his arrival in the upper house was a reflection on his achievements in business rather than his birthright. To be sure, he was as irked by tales of black marketeering as his fellow peers, yet he was to be judged on getting results that were far from being attainable.

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