Salvation Lies in Extravagance

Edwin Montagu

On 23 March 1915 the newly-appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Edwin S. Montagu, wrote to Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, about the looming ‘Shell Crisis’ which would, in a matter of weeks, be a factor in the latter succeeding the former. Montagu proposed that the War Office should have a civilian Secretary of State instead of Lord Kitchener or that Lloyd George be appointed Minister of War Contracts (‘one or the other’). He also outlined his idea of what should drive procurement:

I am quite clear that the only attitude in which a Minister can hope for salvation at the end of this war is the attitude which says – it is possible that I paid too much for this; by careful search I might have made a less extravagant bargain for that; it is true that these things are not as good as they should be, but I went on the belief that something is nearly always better than nothing and that extravagance is the only method to speedy equipment.

Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, CHAR 13/44/122.

Whether Montagu would have advocated the same principle with regard to PPE, Track and Trace, and vaccine procurement is anybody’s guess.

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