Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER
Who'll Succeed Chamberlain?
THE THEATRE of Westminster is a place where the lights are never dimmed. The play of personalities, the swiftly changing human values, the seizing and fumbling of opportunities, the hopes and heartbreaks of the ambitious, the triumphs of the plodder or the collapse of the brilliant—it goes on year after year, the nonstop drama of British politics.
And just as in an ordinary theatre, each star at Westminster has an understudy, sometimes more than one. There is no possibility of the play ending merely because the leading man takes ill or breaks his neck. Unlike the ordinary theatre where the understudy has to stay hidden in the dressing room or kicking his heels in a little café next door, the young men of Westminster are in full view of their elders, on the same stage, and word perfect if called upon at a moment’s notice to play any of the stellar roles.
To drop the theatrical metaphor, it would be unfair to give the impression that personal ambition rules out all questions of personal loyalty. On the contrary, there is an admirable, almost schoolboy sense of teamwork among Ministers of all grades. Perhaps it is intensified by the knowledge that without teamwork no one’s task can succeed. It also goes deeper than that. Politics create the one setting where personal ambition and esprit de corps are actually indispensable to success.
One of the never-ending topics of conversation among politicians is, “Who are the men of the future?” Introduce that topic into any dinner party where M.P.’s are present, and the bridge tables remain neglected for the rest of the evening.
Assuming that the National Government will hold office for another ten years, and it is difficult to see any alternate Government seizing power before that time, we have the following situation:
Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party:
Mr. Neville Chamberlain.
Three Senior Chiefs of Staff:
Sir John Simon Sir Samuel Hoare Sir Thomas Inskip.
If Mr. Chamberlain should decide to retire within the next two years, he would undoubtedly advise His Majesty to send for one of these three gentlemen. It is not within the scope of this article for me to suggest which one it would be, although I have my ideas.
On the other hand, should Mr. Chamberlain hold office for three or four years and then retire, the w'hole affair would be complicated by the younger men whose claims would have to be considered. In other words he could not ignore:
Anthony Eden W. S. Morrison Leslie Hore-Belisha Oliver Stanley.
I suggest that we should examine these youngish men, look dispassionately at their careers and their personalities, and read the crystal for them. When it is finished they may not agree with the reading, but that
will not worry us. Unlike the witches of “Macbeth,” I do not want to direct a man’s destiny by prophesying from a caldron; or from a crystal either.
Eden’s Reputation Untarnished
"DEFORE the sensational resignation of Mr. Eden from the post of Foreign Secretary, his position within the Conservative Party was growing stronger each month. His difficulties were always recognized, and his patient courage applauded.
If it is true that style makes the man, then Anthony Eden has the most obvious human qualities for eventual leadership of the Party. Only two post-War politicians in this country have inflamed public imagination, Earl Baldwin and Mr. Eden. The former won the affection of the country with his air of being a country squire who had wandered into politics by chance, a benevolent, unselfish and absolutely honest Englishman with a love of books, a passion for pigs, and a flair for pipe smoking. The other and younger man flashed across the sky like a meteor. His dark hair, his fine features, his slim waist and broad shoulders, his smile, his clothes, his camerability (if I may coin the word) and his news-realism (if I may coin another) —all these things caused the women of the world to take to their hearts the youth who bore mid snow and ice the banner with the strange device, “Geneva über alles.”
Like all other National Government M.P.’s, I received a
considerable number of votes in 1935 because Mr. Eden was on our team. Next to Earl Baldwin, he was the greatest personal factor in that glittering electoral triumph.
I have already described in Maclean’s the career and characteristics of Mr. Eden. A. Beverley Baxter, M.P. I know, of course, the great admiration and sympathy for him which exist in Canada, and I would not write any word now to lessen that feeling. There is no question at all that he possesses outstanding qualities and, of course, a most spectacular personality. Lady Oxford was telling me the other day alx>ut the furious temper of Anthony Eden’s father, the late Sir William Eden. The tale lacked nothing in the telling, but allowing for the spice of "Margot’s” famous conversational style, one could not help but visualize a remarkable and formidable character. Sir William’s rages swept the countryside, and he was much admired for them. Therefore, when we praise Anthony Eden for keeping c;x;l so long when he held the position of Foreign Secretary, we must remember that he was reared on a barrel of gurqxjwder and nourished in a hurricane.
As a political leader, he jx>ssesses the great quality of spiritual simplicity. I might go even furl her and say that he possesses intellectual simplicity. Unlike his personality which is vivid and colorful, his mind goes steadily on one track. Such consistency as that almost invariably commands public esteem. On the other hand, diplomacy in these days requires subtlety as well as strength, and I think Eden’s downfall came about, because he would not vary his plan to the altering circumstances of Europe. More than any other man, he was responsible for alienating Italy and driving her into the arms of Germany. I admit at once that it was his faithfulness to the League of Nations ideal that brought this about. But if we praise a man’s idealism, we must also estimate the cost to the country. Italy should never have been allowed to enter into the German orbit of influence.
At the same time, we cannot deny the fact that Eden is outstanding in his generation and that the House of Commons has producer! no one among the younger Ministers so capable of leading.
Is he then the obvious choice for leader of the Conservative Party five years from now?
That is not an easy question to answer. His return to his former importance offers many difficulties. It is true that he left a noticeable gap in the Cabinet when he strode from the Westminster stage, but nature abhors a vacuum and new reputations are always on the make. G. B. Shaw wrote in one of his plays that the difference between a duchess and a flower girl is the way you treat them. The difference between a back bencher and a front bencher is often
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nothing more than the way you listen to them. And, as I remarked at the beginning of this letter, the understudies are always standing in the wings.
I do not believe that Mr. Eden’s political career is ended. The difficulty will be in finding the road back to office. As long as Mr. Chamberlain remains Prime Minister, Eden stands as a man who challenged the Premier’s policy. Supposing Chamberlain gave him the post of Home Secretary or Secretary of State for India, Eden still would be in the position of a Minister who, as a member of the Cabinet, would have to share in the responsibility of the Government’s foreign policy. It might even be said that he could only come back if Mr. Chamberlain’s policy collapsed.
It will be agreed therefore that the return of the pilgrim is not easy. Mr. Eden’s reputation remains untarnished, but his resignation, whether justified or not, has complicated the chart of his career. He could, of course, become a great ambassadorial figure, and one need only mention the post of Ambassador to Washington to realize what immense value he could be to the Empire. I cannot, however, see him becoming leader of the Conservative Party unless a completely unforeseen upheaval occurs. A few months ago I would have made him my first choice for the ultimate leadership. Now I must merely include him as a “possible.”
Morrison a Strong Contender
T-TOWEVER, the viewing committee is
clamoring for a second applicant, so we shall page W. S. (Shakespeare) Morrison, the ruling favorite in the Maiden Stakes at Westminster.
The very air trembles with vitality as he enters. His piercing dark eyes turn on us like headlights searching for obstacles in the road. His heavy black eyebrows are like a double reprimand to his wiry grey hair, which bristles upward and outward like a startled brush. He is gaunt yet oddly young of body. His mouth is firm, argumentative and humorous. Looking at him we feel that one of two things is coming, a Knoxian denunciation of the frivolities of humanity or a deeply humorous jest.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen.” It is a voice to put the Sassenach in his place. The “r” is rolled with defiant respectfulness as though to say: “If a Scot must submit himself for examination by his inferiors, let him do so with a proper appreciation of his racial condescension in doing so.” Then a smile widens the lips and one realizes that it is a game to him as well as a crusade. And the heart warms to this savage Scot who has cut his way through life with nothing but his own claymore and feeds after the battle on a mixed grill of Burns and Shakespeare.
His own people in Scotland threw him out twice when he tried to enter Parliament, so he crossed the border to the slowthinking English and was enthusiastically elected M.P. in 1929 for Cirencester and Tewkesbury. Not only was he elected, but his constituents have since raised the money for his election expenses.
When the National Government came into power, Morrison soon began to make his presence felt. As there was no opposition left from the Socialist benches, Mr. Churchill had enlivened the proceedings by leading the prolonged revolt against the India Bill. One night the debate was going badly for the Government. Morrison was sent for from the smoke room to hold back the Churchillian hordes, and hurled himself at them like the French Army which was sent to the front in taxicabs in 1914.
With piercing eyes and resonant voice he laid about him with the fervor of a Samson smiting the Philistines, but not
with the jawbone of an ass. His passionate love of democracy and his detestation of privilege standing in the way of progress were his weapons, and he threw them like javelins at the head of the great Churchill. He hurled scorn and ridicule upon the leader of the revolt. He smote him hip and thigh. He mocked him, denounced him, pitied him. Churchill, the hero of a thousand Parliamentary battles, breathed fire through his nostrils like Siegfried’s dragon but he could not escape.
Morrison was marked at once for office. But first he became chairman of the 1922 Committee—that powerful body of Conservative M.P.’s which exerts so powerful an influence upon the Ministry. In 1935 when the Government was again returned he was appointed Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the one junior post that is recognized to be an immediate prelude to the Cabinet. He revelled in the nation’s finances with all the sagacity and sensuality of his race when it deals with money. The front bench was his spiritual home, and he entered upon it as his kingdom.
A little more than a year later there was a Cabinet reshuffle. Morrison heard the news with a glint of triumph in his eye but an imprecation of disappointment. He was in the Cabinet all right, but now he had to ride the plowed fields of Agriculture, where the hoofs sink deeper and deeper and the huntsman is never in at the kill.
Nevertheless his jubilant fellow countrymen in Scotland drank deep to his honor, and he was invited to be the guest of honor at the Caledonian Club in London. For reasons not so apparent, I was also asked as a guest and to make a minor speech.
It was a grand affair. If a bomb had exploded in that gathering, half the highest executives in England would have been blown to pieces. The haggis was piped in and the piper duly rewarded with a drink by the president. A choir from the Hebrides brought tears to all eyes with the lament of the Scot exiled from his native country. One felt that the Flying Scotsman at Euston Station might at any moment be overwhelmed in the rush.
Morrison was acclaimed to the roof. He was called upon for a “sentiment,” which means something between a speech and an address. He chose “Perseverance” or, as he pronounced it, “Pairsavairance.” Three hundred company chairmen and directors nodded their heads in sympathy.
“Pairsavairance, gentlemen.” He spoke of struggle to an audience that rejoiced in it. He spoke of disappointment to an audience that had eaten it with its boyhood porridge. He spoke of waiting to an audience that knew how to wait.
When he was finished, Scotia acclaimed her son and Morrison sat down flushed with a well -deserved triumph. Then they called on me. It was like asking for a piccolo solo after a trombone.
Being unable to speak for Scotland, I spoke for England. I asked why the Scots had rejected their brilliant native son and driven him to the camps of the Sassenach. Then I asked why they had listened with such awe to a speech on perseverance from a man who had leapfrogged from the backbenches into the Cabinet almost on arrival at Westminster.
I must say they took the jibes in excellent part and laughed more heartily than I deserved. Then the choir ended the evening with another exile’s lament, and they all went home to their massive London residences to sleep.
Actually Morrison has perseverance, or at. any rate determination. He could have made £3.000 a year at the Bar when he chose instead to draw £400 a year as a private Member and give practically his whole time to Parliament. When he was appointed Financial Secretary to the Treasury at £1,500, he could have been
earning £10,000 a year at the Bar. There was nothing to stop him becoming one of the leading pleaders of our time in the courts, but his soul had been surrendered to the old Mother of Parliaments.
He is never unsure of himself. Like Euclid, he believes that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Thus we find him in the War in 1914. He emerged a captain of artillery, wounded, three times mentioned in dispatches, and an M.C, One can almost hear him saying in 1918: “That was that! Now let’s get on with the real business of fife.”
Morrison has not made any great success of the Department of Agriculture for the simple reason that no one can. A nation that plans its economy on importing foodstuffs as payment for its manufactured goods, must always regard its own agriculture with an ungenerous eye.
Nevertheless, William Shepherd Morrison will be a strong contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the Premiership. He has the overwhelming advantage of the Scottish barefoot-boy tradition. An Englishman will jest about anything but that. In its presence he is humble.
Morrison also has a warm humanity that does not lack a dignity of its own. He is no humbug. If he reads this article in Maclean’s he will say to me: “I am much obliged. An article like that is very helpful.” He won’t even pretend that he had his attention called to it. In addition, he has a Scottish wife whose whole outlook is so in tune with his that he is reinforced in every aspect of his character.
Whoever you back for the Maiden Stakes you cannot leave out the relentless and richly humorous Scot who sits for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, recites Gaelic to his children, and plays Scottish laments on his violin.
“On, Stanley, On!”
FROM THE barefoot boy of Scotland to the President of the Board of Trade. Let us take a look at Oliver Stanley, the man with a load of mischief.
If Oliver Stanley becomes Prime Minister, there will be many men who will be able to say honestly: “I told you so.” If, on the other hand, he drifts out of politics altogether, having failed to consolidate his position, there will be an even greater number who will be in a position to declare that they always predicted such an end.
Mr. Stanley is the man of climax and anticlimax. Fate is always handing him a rose and pricking him with its thorn. If London should ever be bombed I hojxt that I shall not l>e dining with the President of the Board of Trade at the time, despite his attractive wife and charming home. A splinter at least would be bound to hit us.
He is both lucky and unlucky. As l once wrote about him in an attempt to clear my own mind: “The gates swing
open for him and the trees drop leaves to make the path softer for his feet. Unfortunately, the trees also drop cocoanuts on his head.”
Take his advantages first. To lx» bom the second son of the seventeenth Earl of Derby is to have all the advantages of birth without the restrictions which limit the career of the eldest son. His brother, Lord Stanley, is an able Minister, but the very fact that he is destined for the House of Lords doses the doors of both 10 and 11 Downing Street,
Oliver did well in the War. In fact it is worth noting that the qualities which won success in the line have produced political success for nearly all our younger Ministers. Needless to say, Stanley went to Eton, which remains the supreme incubator of the nation’s leaders in political life. I imagine, though, that the War was the real school of his character.
He emerged a major with an M.C, and Croix de Guerre, plus the passing immortality of dispatches. Afterward, in the proper tradition, he was called to the Bar but did not practice,
Here, in my opinion, Oliver Stanley
blundered, He has a first-rate legal mind. His powers of concentration and elucidation are only surpassed by one Minister-— the thinking machine called Sir John Simon, I do not claim that Mr. Stanley would have made juries weep or save murderers from the gallows. His forte would have been in the realm of company law, where endless and intricate details formed a labyrinth where only an extraordinary mind could find the way out.
However, he did not embrace the law but moved on Westminster, which he reached after an initial rebuff at the polls. The hereditary system in the House of Commons of course is very powerful. Joseph Chamberlain’s sons were automatic choices for Ministerial posts. There is always a Cecil in the Government, Even the son of the late Ramsay MacDonald presides over the Dominions Office. Thus the two Stanley brothers were marked for office and, for reasons already outlined, the younger one was acclaimed as the man of the future. “On, Stanley, on!” they cried.
His marriage heightened his chances. A daughter of Lord Londonderry, witty, vital and with politics in her blood, Lady Maureen Stewart would need no coaching as the hostess of No. 1(3.
The House of Commons liked Oliver Stanley. He was friendly even if rather shy, showed great respect for the opinion of the humblest back bencher, and his grey hair and glasses made him look rather like a studious schoolboy. The House loves men who keep their youth.
What is more, he paid the House the compliment of mastering all the details of his subject. He would have made a grand permanent head for any of the departments. As a civil servant advising himself, he would have been magnificent.
Unfortunately the weaknesses in his armor were found in controversy. One must admit that he inherited some tough propositions—the Unemployment Regulations as Minister of Labor, the rising casualty list as Minister of Transport, and the Coal Bill and the Film Bill as President of the Board of Trade.
In all these measures he failed to defy his critics at the right moment, and equally failed to make concessions when they would have been accepted as a gesture of generosity. Some say that this is lack of courage. I do not hold that view. It is more likely the legal mind sticking to a point because of its logical justification when the sentiment of the House demands its withdrawal. In other words, Parliament is a place where emotion plays a considerable part—and Oliver Stanley opposes emotion with the sword of clear reason.
I admire the President of the Board of Trade very much. In his home or in the day-to-day life of the Commons he is sincere, courteous and unassuming. His civil servants admire him enormously, and they are not given easily to hero worship.
Then what are his chances for the ultimate leadership of the Party? I have a feeling that he is not lucky as a politician, and a man needs a lot of luck to reach 1 »owning Street.
Hore-Belisha, the Outsider
IF HE is not too busy firing generals, I suggest that we now call that blushing violet of Westminster, Mr. Hore-Belisha, to our presence.
Admiral Nelson is supposed to have said to Lady I lamilton : “If there had been no Emma, there would have been no Nelson.” Similarly, one might contend that if there had been no Disraeli there would have been no Hore-Belisha.
The career of “Dizzy” fascinated HoreBelisha all his life. If he is not quite so bizarre as his master, he is still colorful,
theatrical, and more than a little flamboyant. Westminster is truly a stage to him, a stage hung with rich curtains and decorated with a throne before which he alternately plays Hamlet or Caesar according to his mood.
There is much of the actor about Leslie Hore-Belisha—but has it not been said that all successful men are good actors? Belisha not only dramatizes himself but his office.
Early one morning we walked home together from the Commons during his regime at the Ministry of Transport. To make agreeable conversation, I suggested to him that the nation’s transport must be a heavy burden. He waved his hand airily: “My dear Beverley, when I am
away from my office I forget it all. I have the power to put things out of my mind.”
Just then a horn tooted as a motor went around the corner. “Monstrous!” ejaculated the Minister. “Where are the police? At this hour, too !” (In London, no hooting is allowed after 11 p.m.)
I soothed him down, and we resumed our discussion on detachment. Again he stopped. We had reached a Belisha Crossing Beacon and his hand caressed its slim spine. “Fascinating things these,” murmured the Minister. “They are as much part of London now as the Tower.”
Again we resumed our walk through the silent and deserted streets. At a crossing I led the way when his arm pulled me back. “You must cross on the studs,” he said earnestly. “It is the only safe way.”
The man who could forget at. will that he was Minister of Transport ! He never forgot it for a moment—until he became Minister for War. A great actor is always an actor.
Shortly after his appointment to the War Office I met him at a private dinner. While he was just as cordial as ever and just as amusing, his manner, his voice and his appearance had changed in some curious way. Then it came to me. Instead of suave, elegant phrases, he was energetic, almost abrupt. His shoulders had straightened, and his movements were sharp and emphatic.
The philosopher of the Transport Office had become a major-general overnight. The best actor of Westminster had taken on another stellar role.
Is Leslie Hore-Belisha, then, a man whose name should be in theatre lights on Shaftesbury Avenue instead of stealing the political headlines? Has Parliament robbed the theatre of a star?
He is much more than an actor. He is a great political strategist. Above all, he has courage and vision.
The political head of a Government department requires different qualities altogether from those of the permanent head. He must understand the House of Commons and the public. That is why every “businessmen’s government” in history has failed. Industrial chiefs have never learned the art of government by persuasion.
Paradoxically, that is one of the reasons why so many people scoff at politicians. They sneer at them because they bend with the breeze and only stand erect again when the storm has passed. On the other hand, let them fail to bend with the breeze and an outraged electorate screams, “Dictator!” “Tyrant!” or “Diehard!”
Behind Belisha’s genius for gauging the play of public opinion is a passion for public service. Fie has a love of this country and a vision of her enduring greatness which sometimes comes most clearly to the man whose racial origin is not in British soil. The winding path of Hore-Belisha’s Jewish ancestry travelled through the troubled centuries and many lands before it found rest in England.
Fie believes that Great Britain has something to give to the world that no other nation can supply. That belief may bring him to Downing Street at a moment of crisis. Without a crisis he has no chance, for he is a man whose party is a mere remnant of political history, the little band of “Enlightened National Liberals” or “Liberal Mercenaries” (according to the point of view) that followed Sir John Simon and Mr. Hore-Belisha across the Great Divide to the National Government in 1931.
Given a crisis, Leslie FIore-Belisha can act swiftly. At such a moment he would be without fear. In addition, he has the power of summoning reserves of superb and compelling language that can voice the thoughts of the nation. He can speak better than any Minister on the Government front bench if the occasion is worth it.
I like his irony and his melancholy. “Never come into the House of Commons,” he once said to me when we were spending a week-end together in the country. “It is heartbreak house.” One night when half a dozen of us were dining together, the talk turned to the Great War. “We belong to the lost generation,’-’ said Hore-Belisha as the smoke from his cigar floated upward like a wraith. “We are not men but merely ghosts. There is no place for us in the world. The old men hold the fortress and the younger generation hammer at the gates. We are nothing. Only those who were killed are real. We are but shadows.”
The next day one of the Labor leaders made a speech attacking the Government. “A sheep in sheep’s clothing,” remarked Hore-Belisha, and his face lit up with delight at the zest of political battle.
Belisha wants power. He wants it hungrily because only through it can he find self-expression. He is a romantic in love with love—but though happiest in company of women, he remains unmarried.
He is the outsider of the four in the Downing Street Stakes. On form he has no chance, but the jumps are high and if the track grows heavy and slippery the favorites may fall.
There is an old saying among gamblers: "Back the outsider of four.” If you put your money on Hore-Belisha he will give you a great run for it, even if at the end we shall have to fish him out of the water and take him home in a tumbril.
These four young men are the future challengers to the political throne. By general consent Morrison is the heir apparent, but fate has a way of playing pranks with Scottish designs on thrones set in London.
Eden is the Prince Rupert or, shall we say, Charles Stuart the younger? He cannot be left out of any calculations, even if he will have to find his General Monk to prepare the way for him.
Stanley will wait for destiny and not court it. Sometimes it pays to wait. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Hore-Belisha is the Pretender. His chances depend on the unexpected, but in politics one must expect the unexpected.
Thus, like a racing tipster, I have summed up in such a manner that whichever one wins I shall have clearly indicated it in these notes.
• • •
Automatic Gas Alarm
INVENTED to protect against the danger of explosions, an automatic gas alarm soon may be placed on the market. It is a small thermal tube containing mercury. A wire penetrates the mercury, with one end connected to an ordinary electric line, the other end treated with chemical paints sensitive to gas. Leaking gas affects the treated end of the wire, causing it to heat up. This causes the mercury to rise in the tube. At a certain point, contact is made with the outgoing wire and an alarm bell sounds. The tube is sealed so that leaking gas cannot be ignited when the electrical contact is made.—Popular Mechanics.