At a little over 200 pages, the book is admirably brief — and indeed the diaries themselves make up less than half of it. The remainder is a very full commentary by the editor, Roger Middleton, plus copious notes and other paraphernalia and marginalia. Professor Middleton is to be commended for the diligence with which he has edited the book — not least the work of deciphering Samuel's typing, which has to be seen to be believed, not to mention his manuscript annotations, which even I, after all these years, frequently find impossible. But the reader can safely skip Middleton's commentary itself. This is not principally because of the questionable economic opinions the editor ventures from time to time, but rather because of his delusion that, during its short life (it was to disappear, unlamented and without trace, in 1969, having been greatly diminished within months of Brittan's departure in 1966) the Department of Economic Affairs was an important experiment, and even perhaps of some merit.
This was a delusion not shared by Brittan himself, nor indeed by many within the DEA. Ostensibly, its purpose was to improve Britain's economic performance (which badly needed improving) by releasing the real economy from a Treasury allegedly obsessed with the constraints of money and finance. So money and finance would be left with the Treasury, while the real economy was to be under the care of the DEA, whose most important contribution was to be the creation and publication of a five-year National Plan (the capital letters were de rigueur), positing overall economic growth of 3.8 per cent a year and showing how this would affect every part of the economy, down to the projected output of socks and stockings five years hence.
It was, in short, simply a joke — and a bad joke at that. The projections were meaningless and the separation of economics from finance wholly mistaken. But its creation was, inevitably, a challenge to the authority of the Treasury, which that great department of state was determined to see off, and duly did so.