Beverley Baxter's London Letter

The Tories Gird Their Loins

July 15 1947
Beverley Baxter's London Letter

The Tories Gird Their Loins

July 15 1947

The Tories Gird Their Loins

Beverley Baxter's London Letter

WHO WOULD not be a politician at £1,000 a year? It. is true that you have to pay a secretary, contribute to all sorts of charities, pay for your stationery, postage, telegrams and telephone calls and if there is anything left the Chancellor collects income tax on it. However it gives you a ringside seat at the great fight of Capitalism vs. Socialism and if you feel like climbing over the ropes and taking part in the slogging that is quite in order.

However our activities do not end there. We frequently have to go on tour, for it is one of the ironies of politics that constituencies like to hear some M. P. other than their own. Britain is a small island and, therefore, it is not as easy to travel here as in a big country like Canada. A few weeks ago when I had to speak three times in Hull on a Friday I had to travel on Thursday and return on Saturday, thus taking up three days. All this because the distance is too long for motoring and too short for airplane or overnight railway services.

It is true however,-that the restaurant cars have been restored with a set meal of three courses— soup (no bread), fish or sausages with vegetables, trifle or Cheddar cheese. Maybe the sausages are all right, but that noble animal the horse is apt these days to reappear after death like the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

Yet it is good to leave London and make contact with the realities of I^eeds, Manchester, Glasgow, Derby or Hull. They are in the front line of the industrial battle and their spirit is not so bemused by political controversy as is the case in the metropolis.

There is one thing about making political speeches these days, we always have a full house. Public interest in politics is so intense that neither the rain nor the sun can keep the public away. Now one of the troubles that has faced Tory

speakers since the General Election has been the not unnatural question that comes from the body of the hall: “You’ve told us what’s wrong with Socialism, but what’s your policy if you win the next election?”

The Tories Report

PRESUMABLY every Tory had his own way of answering this question, but I found it both useful and logical to say: “Sir, supposing you had a sick wife and I were a doctor, and you came along and said to me, ‘My wife’s very poorly and she isn’t doing any good under her doctor. Now if I bring her to you in two years’ time what would you do for her?’ To this I would reply that I would have to wait until I saw what her doctor had done to her in the two years that is if she were still alive.” However, despite such excursions into the hypothetical the public was insistent that the Tories should produce a policy and not merely denounce the Socialists.

Churchill maintained that a policy, like a gun, should not go off at half cock. He cited cases from the past where premature political programs had become like warmed-over hash when the actual election came along. However a compromise was reached. Instead of a policy which could only come from the party leader it was decided to set up a committee to prepare a Tory Industrial Report and a Workers’ Charter. This would be a background to the ultimate pre-election pronouncement of policy.

Nine members of the party were chosen, including the 47-year-old R. A. (“RAB”) Butler as chairman. Here, for the sake of brevity, is the list together with the “low-down.”

R. A. Butler—Former Minister of Education and Undersecretary of Continued on page 45

Continued from page 14

Foreign Affairs. Scholastic, aloof, married to a rich wife, hard-working, clear mind but little magnetism.

Oliver Stanley—Younger son of 18th Earl of Derby. Fine ministerial record behind him. Won M.C. first world war. Perhaps the best brain in the Tory Party, but lacks the fire necessary to popular success.

Oliver Lyttelton—Descended from great literary family but is himself a tough top-salaried industrialist. Gave up £20,000 a year to serve in Churchill’s War Cabinet. Won M.C. and D.S.O. with the Guards in first war. No sentimentality toward either workers or employers. Tough fellow.

Sir David Maxwell Fyfe—Former Solicitor-General under Churchill. Conducted British case against Nuremberg criminals. Married the sister of film star

Rex Harrison. Calm, legalistic, shrewd.

Sir Peter Bennett—A Tory backbencher,, self-made Birmingham industrialist. Rough tongue, kind heart. Probably Minister of Labor in next Tory Government.

Captain Harold Macmillan—Was once A.D.C. at Ottawa, where he married daughter of Duke of Devonshire. Won M.C. first war. A Tory rebel during Baldwin and Chamberlain regimes. Given office by Churchill who likes rebels. Head of family publishing house. Looks and speaks like 18th-century statesman, but firstclass brain.

Lt.-Col. Heathcoat-Amory— New Tory backbencher. Eton, Oxford. Silk manufacturer. Good businessman and a developing politician.

David Eccles—Ex-diplomat. Young, good-looking, suave and very intelligent. Too much inclined to see other fellow’s point of view. A progressive, and a clever debater.

Colonel James Hutchison Quietmannered, neatly dressed businessman from Glasgow. Tory backbencher. Speaks French so well and knows France so intimately that he used to be dropped by parachute during the war to help organize French resistance movement. Modern Scarlet Pimpernel who looks like a solicitor.

Covering the Country

Naturally enough there were criticisms when the names were announced. Certainly there was a good deal of Eton and Oxford and the Brigade of Guards about the team. There was no Trade-Unionist, no hornyhanded son of toil, no worker from the bench, no secretary of a co-operative society. At least five of them wpre theorists with political but no industrial background. It is one of the weaknesses of the Conservative Party, and perhaps an unfortunate development for the country

as well that the great Trade-Union Movement has allied itself to one party, the Socialists.

However, our nine questing M.P.’s got down to work wiLh a will. They divided into twos and threes and went all over the country, interviewing management and workers and seeking for a formula that would substitute incentive, opportunity and reasonable security for what they denounce as the soulless regimentation of Socialism where, under state control, there can be no reward for efficiency or no dismissal for inefficiency. I am being completely objective (a word which must not be confused with objectionable) in this article and will neither decry nor endorse these sentiments. 1 merely record them as the case which is put by the Tories.

They know that the deepest fear in the worker’s heart is that he will be laid off at a moment’s notice. To avoid that a man will endure a lot of regimentation and frustration, for the memory of unemployment in Britain between the world wars is a scar that does not heal. So Butler & Co. travelled from one place to another, choosing between sausages and fish on the restaurant cars, but finding out to their joy that employers nearly everywhere were anxious to discuss a new approach to labor.

Thus there was born the Conservative Workers’ Charter which may play a big part when the next fateful election is fought out. Nor is it only an election factor. The Conservative Party promises, if it is returned to power, to ratify the Charter by bringing a hill into Parliament.

Offering Opportunity

Under the Charter a workman will be given a statement setting out the conditions and terms of his job. These will provide for a period of notice which will take into account his length of service. The principle is established that an employee of long standing must not be summarily sacked but must he given adequate notice and appropriate compensation. Employers who do not adhere to these rules will be blacklisted, and will receive no contracts for work put out by public bodies.

In addition to the existing schemes of national security together with children’s allowances, old-age pensions, etc., the Conservatives will encourage pension schemes by firms and even whole industries.

If none of this is startlingly new it Ls a gratifying fact that many big employers

assured the Tory Committee that they would support this conception of industrial relationship and give their complete co-operation. Many TradeUnion officials accorded it their blessing.

It is impossible for me to deal except superficially with this immense subject of the Workers’ Charter, but in essence it is an enlightened attempt to destroy the dead-end character of so much work and to revitalize the workers’ lives with a sense of opportunity and reward.

The Tory Report visualizes the Trade-Unions as co-partners with the government and the employers in the national drive of reconstruction, but the Tories bluntly say that they will stop the automatic political levy made on Trade-Union members, nor would they permit any public authority to compel a worker to join a particular union or would bodies of Civil Servants he allowed to take part in politics.

* * *

This subject is so important, not only to us in Britain but to America and the Dominions, that I suggest we now postpone discussion for the present and resume it in a later “London Letter.” We are passing through a bloodless revolution in Britain but it is not less a revolution because no heads drop in the basket. The nine just men who drew up the Tory Charter are being condemned by the die-hards for offering the nation a diluted compromise brand of Socialism and, in their disgust these critics fall back on the simplification that if the people want Socialism they will goto Labor, the Party for it. Thus, in this island of wisdom and paradox, where the inevitable seldom happens and the impossible frequently does, we may find that at the next general election there will be this line-up:

The Labor Government proclaiming the rights of private enterprise under Socialism.

The Tories advocating a measure of Socialism under private enterprise.

I imagine that if Mr. Chairman Butler spoke his innermost thoughts he would say that Socialism cannot possibly be entrusted to a left wing Government, because it would be like a rider on a runaway horse which he cannot stop and from which he cannot dismount. Therefore it must be ridden by an experienced rider with strong hands and a skilled horsemanship born of long years in the saddle—in short the Conservative Party.

With that thought I move that this debate be now adjourned, to be resumed at a subsequent date. -AT