London Letter

Why did The Times knife Selwyn Lloyd?

BEVERLEY BA ER July 18 1959
London Letter

Why did The Times knife Selwyn Lloyd?

BEVERLEY BA ER July 18 1959

Why did The Times knife Selwyn Lloyd?

London Letter

BEVERLEY BA ER

The Times of London is a very important newspaper even though

it has not nearly as many pages as its New York namesake. It does not operate primarily for anyone’s personal profit and indeed is own-

ed by a trust presided over by

Viscount Astor.

One of its most remunerative

columns is on the front page and is headed by the single word:

PERSONAL. But do not imagine that The Times would descend to gossip. Not at all. In fact the personal column is largely devoted to the woes of gentlefolk who want to augment their meagre savings

by acting as tutors, social guides or companions.

But The Times realizes that not all is woe. If your daughter be-

comes engaged to be married and

you are somebody — or you think

you are somebody—the announce-

ment must appear in the appro-

priate column of The Times. Later

on you will pay for an additional

announcement that the marriage

has taken place. And in the course of time your daughter's husband

will buy space for the joyful news that a son or daughter has been born.

Frequently in the House of Commons an MP will quote from I he Times — either in agreement or disagreement with The Thunderer (as it used to be called) and if there is available space The Times will usually find room to print the quote in its parliamentary report.

But perhaps the most important column in The Times is the one that publishes letters to the editor. With dignity and arrogance The Times either publishes or does not publish and gives no explanation to the writers. In short The Times is a great newspaper in which commercial profit plays only a small part.

Back in 1908 Lord Northcliffe, who had made a dazzling if rather noisy success with the Daily Mail, staggered Fleet Street by buying The Times. But he could not straddle two such opposite worlds even though he acquired the assistance of that remarkable young Canadian, Campbell Stuart.

Northcliffe, however, refused to be beaten. How could a newspaper be more powerful than the man who owned it, especially if the owner was a newspaper genius like himself? No one could explain it, or at any rate no one could convince Northcliffe that The Times had a personality more powerful than any editor or owner.

In short this newspaper was Northcliffe’s one great failure — and the failure was complete. Un-

doubtedly it

continued on page 53

continued from page 10

“The Times went about its self-appointed task with the utmost decorum and

sensitivity”

hastened his decline, his collapse and his death.

So began the return to Olympus. The Times, detached from any affinity with the popular press, resumed its attitude. "We are not merely a newspaper, we are ii permanent record of the arts, the sciences and above all — politics.

In Printing House Square where The Times is put to press each night it is almost impossible for the editorial staff not to assume an air of superiority over other journalists who toil in the Street of Ink. For years The Times drama critic wore an elegant cape to every first night. The foreign correspondents walked and worked with the imprint of conscious superiority. And lest we forget, the editors undoubtedly turned out a newspaper of quality and character.

Unhappily, however, there is a ghost that haunts the editorial spaces of The Times building — the ghost of the great Delane under whose editorship The Times acquired the name of The Thunderer. To Delane words were bullets, and life was an endless battle. He supported or opposed a cause with equal violence. Not for him the soft cushion of compromise. He would have died of apoplexy if he had been alive to see I he 1 imes fall into the possession of Northcliffe.

If I have dwelt upon the past with considerable length it is because what l have described is an essential background to what has just happened. I he story begins with “Aunty Times,” as it is sometimes called, suddenly deciding that it is not enough to criticize a minister of the crown if he deserves it, but he must be told to go. Which brings us to the dramatic situation of the moment.

No one can complain that 1 he I imes chose a sitting bird for a victim, w'hcn the editor of The Times, no doubt after consultation with Lord Astor and high-up members of the editorial stafl, decided that it was time for Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, Her Majesty’s secretary of state for foreign affairs, to resign and make way for a stronger man.

Now if Lord Beaverbrook had come to the same decision he would have ordered his Daily Express, Sunday Express and Evening Standard editors to open fire with all their guns and never let up until victory was attained. Politically the Beaver is such an honest ruffian that when lie sets out to commit a political murder he wears an assassin's hat. dark glasses and carries a spiked club. Not even a stage detective would fail to grasp his purpose.

By contrast The Times, written by gentlemen for ladies and gentlemen, went about its self-appointed task with the utmost decorum and sensitivity. Without waiting for the resumption of Parliament after the recent Whitsun recess, it opened its main news page with double column headings to this effect:

PRIME MINISTER’S PLANS

FOR MR. SELWYN LLOYD

EASING STRAIN OF OFFICE

POSSIBLE TRANSFER STILL SEVERAL MONTHS AHEAD

Even we tough Canadians can recognize gentility when we see it. Note how those headlines are careful not to suggest that Selwyn Lloyd is to be given the boot. Indeed nothing could be further from the

editor’s thoughts. All that The Times wanted to do was to prophesy that the foreign secretary would be given another appointment where the strain would not be so heavy.

In fact The Times is so full of human

kindness that it explains at length how gruelling it is to be a foreign secretary in modern times. Did not Ernie Bevin die in harness from the unendurable strain of the Foreign Office? Did not Sir Anthony Eden collapse after his years of

wrestling with foreign affairs? And is it not a fact that during Macmillan’s short term at the Foreign Office he aged appreciably?

“Hear ye!" shouts The Times. “A prime minister must not ask too much

from his ministerial galley slave. In Mr. Selwyn Lloyd’s own interests and for the sake of the service he can still give to the country and his party, a reasonable term must be set to the carrying of the burden.”

In other words the foreign secretary was to be fired.

Now comes the final scene. The setting passes from The Times office to the House of Commons, which had just resumed after the Whitsun recess.

Macmillan has his own way of doing things. He knew that the socialist MPs would find some way of dragging the Times editorial into the byplay of question time. And it was even so. For example there was a question on the order paper concerning the conference at Geneva, so a socialist front bencher asked: “In view of the conference, who was responsible for the inspired statement in The Times that Mr. Selwyn Lloyd was about to resign?”

“There has been no inspired statement,” said Macmillan with an icy note in his voice. “But it does perhaps give me the opportunity to say that I have been reading the newspapers, as no doubt the gentleman opposite has been doing, and the foreign secretary and I hope to carry on our work together for a very long time to come.” There was a terrific cheer from the Tory benches and even some cheers from the socialists. Then up jumped Aneurin Bevan:

“Is the prime minister aware,” he asked, “that if statements of this sort had been made by the socialists we should have been accused of unpatriotically stabbing the foreign secretary in the back in the course of international negotiations?”

There were cheers and counter cheers, as well as some wholesome laughter when Selwyn Lloyd walked out of the chamber preparatory to his flight back to Geneva. On the whole both the Tories and socialists felt that The Times had blundered. Instead of weakening the foreign secretary’s position — which was the obvious purpose of the article — it had actually strengthened Selwyn Lloyd at a critical moment in his career.

Why then did Sir William Haley, Editor of The Times, commit such a blunder? Who advised him?

Fortunately we have Randolph Churchill always with us. The political situation has only to boil and Radolph appears like a genie in a pantomime. “Who put the editor of The Times up to it?” shouted

Randolph in the columns of Lord Beaverbrook’s Evening Standard.

Having asked the question Randolph proceeded to answer it. “There are three people,” he declared, “who might reasonably or unreasonably be supposed to aspire to the Foreign Office. They are Mr. Duncan Sandys (Randolph’s brotherin-law) Iain Macleod (minister of labor) and RAB Butler (the home secretary).”

But, says Randolph, all three of them are much too shrewd to believe that the editor of The Times, if he were anxious to drive Lloyd out of the Foreign Office, would make the blunder of attacking the foreign secretary at the very moment that he was attending the conference at Geneva.

Therefore Randolph comes to the conclusion that someone planted the whole idea with the Times editor and that he, the editor, fell for it.

Well, that is all I can tell you just now. We are left with a mystery that is beyond our understanding. If The Times had come out with a forthright demand for the foreign secretary’s resignation that would have been understandable even though ineffective.

But for the Times to use the heading “Prime Minister’s Plan for Mr. Selwyn Lloyd” when the “plan” consisted of nothing more than arguments for the dismissal of the foreign secretary — then the Old Thunderer has struck a blow not at Selwyn Lloyd but at itself.

And what did it accomplish? Macmillan will never be able to dismiss the foreign secretary even if he wanted to do so, for the simple reason that there would be the outcry that Macmillan was taking orders from Sir William Haley.

In other words Selwyn Lloyd has become an immortal protected by a shield that no arrow can pierce. The Times has carried him to the summit.

Therefore let Robert Boothby, recently promoted from Commons to the Lords, speak the epilogue of this strange drama in the Street of Ink. Using the Sunday Despatch as his medium he declared, The mystery of The Times and Mr. Selwyn Lloyd remains impenetrable. The attempted political assassination of the British foreign secretary when he was in the middle of conducting international negotiations as delicate, difficult and crucial as any that has taken place since the war is not something to be undertaken lightly.”

And so say all of us. -fc