Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER
An Eden Marches East
TO BE in London at this time of the world's history is like standing on a rock in the midst of a turbulent maelstrom. The fury and foam of events give a sense of deep confusion, a suggestion of shifting sands and impending torrents, yet the rock remains immovable.
And from this unyielding citadel one studies not only the immediate menace of the waters but the inevitable changes that may take place when the waters have subsided.
When this letter appears in print the battle of 1941 may be in full force. I litler cannot wait and he must strive for a decision before the autumn leaves fall once again and winter cloaks the weary earth in white. But while waiting for the battle to commence I cannot help wondering what changes we shall see when it is all over. And strangely enough one of the men who inspires this line of thought is Anthony Eden.
At the moment that I am writing this he is in Turkey. The Germans have occupied Bulgaria and the black stream of Nazism is oozing southward toward the Bosphorus. At the end of the route lies Turkey, puzzled, harassed but brave. And at the capital of Turkey is youngish Anthony Eden who, second only to Churchill, embodies the implacable spirit of the British race in this war.
He is Foreign Secretary, which means that he has wide powers, yet even a Foreign Secretary must refer his policy to the Cabinet for general responsibility. If he were no more than that his mission would not be so significant.
But Eden, accompanied by Sir John Dill, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, flew to the Near East with one of the most remarkable mandates ever given to a plenipotentiary. “Make your own decisions on the spot,” said Churchill. “Make any commitment you think wise and you need not refer to London for permission.” Thus did the young Minister travel to the East with virtual authority over the fighting services as well as the foreign policy of his country.
No longer was he a departmental minister, but a special envoy entrusted with practically the powers of a Prime Minister. So far had necessity broken down the barriers of tradition.
One might ask why Churchill put such confidence in Eden. There are many reasons, but the principal one is that Eden has demonstrated that he possesses a clear brain, a strong character and calm judgment. Those qualities have made his services in this war an invaluable contribution to victory.
Already in these letters I have described how he fought in the cabinet for reinforcements for Wavell when the invasion of Britain seemed imminent; and again how he fought for reinforcements from Wavell to Greece when the attack against the Italians in Libya had all been prepared.
Eden played a big part then, but it is not known that his influence was most important at another critical juncture.
Some months before the British offensive in the Egyptian desert General Wavell was summoned to London for consultation. As often happens, the soldier feels himself at a disadvantage with the politician, and Wavell was no exception. The dazzling mind of Churchill played all about him while poor Wavell sat as mute and expressionless as any one of fifty Major-Generals.
The rumor spread in political circles that Wavell had made a poor impression on the authorities and that there were ministers who thought he should be replaced. Eden, however, had flown out to greet the Australians sometime before and had had a chance to see the General in his own military setting. He fought hard for him and again carried the day. I do not say that the question of replacing Wavell had become an urgent issue, but Eden removed all doubts and prevented the criticism reaching danger point.
Before 1 try to show why Eden’s conduct is a portent of the future in British politics I feel that his whole career is an extraordinary justification of the philosophy that no man can reach the summit of success unless he has endured the bitterness of discouragement.
Eden was a lieutenant in the last war at eighteen, a brigade major at twenty-one, with the M.C. Thus at an age when boys are usually feeling their way for an opening iir the bewildering maze of life he had tasted glory and achievement.
But fate was determined to test him. In 1922 he fought an election and was beaten. He was married in 1923 and entered Parliament the same year, but it was not until 1931 that the public or the press took any notice of him.
Then in 1934, as a sort of wandering Sir Galahad, he went about Europe offering his league of Nations policy to everyone while the women of the world were moved to a near frenzy. He was the first film star Foreign Office Undersecretary. His clothes set new fashions, his black hat pushed all others off the shelves and even Moscow put out the red carpet for him.
The next year—Foreign Secretary, and the plaudits of untold millions were thunder in his ears. And then, three years later, he resigned and was nothing more than a mere private member like the rest of us.
I sat beside him one day while he addressed an almost empty House. When he had finished there was hardly an extra listener who had bothered coming from the lobbies or the small rooms to hear him.
“I never get over my nervousness in speaking here,” he said to me. “My mouth always goes dry.”
He had broken with Chamberlain but he would not intrigue against him. There were all sorts of plots hatched and 1 believe that Churchill would have served under him
if he had ousted Neville Chamberlain, but Eden’s attitude was: “I will oppose him in
debate but do nothing in secret against him nor try to weaken his authority.”
Many of his friends were disgusted with him and said: “He has neither the loyalty to follow a man nor the courage to fight him.” That was super-
ficial and not very clever. Eden has never sat at the feet of Machiavelli or studied the technique of the Borgias. There is nothing subtle about his mind nor his soul, which probably accounts for a certain lack of color in his speeches.
He was never embittered by discouragement. Neither was Churchill. Small wonder that the older man had supreme confidence in the other when the testing time of war came.
"DUT THE use of Eden as a Minister with extraordinary ■D powers, and the appointments of D>rd Beaverbrook to the Aircraft Ministry, D>rd Woolton as Minister of Food, and Mr. Ernest Bevin to the Ministry of Labor, make one wonder if the whole conception of political values and methods may not be undergoing a change that may spread from Westminster to Ottawa and other capitals of the Dominions.
The system by which an M.P. becomes a minister in normal times is pretty well the same wherever a Parliament exists. First you must get elected. Then by constant attendance and good speeches and, of course, party loyalty (not to be despised) you eventually are given a minor ministerial post.
In the British Parliament an M.P. almost invariably serves first as an Undersecretary, but like everything in England there are grades within grades. For example, to be Parliamentary Undersecretary to the Ministry of Pensions or the Board of Education is to be politically unimportant. But to be Undersecretary to the Foreign Office or Financial Secretary to the Treasury is to be on the verge of Cabinet rank.
Eventually you become a full-fledged Minister and belong to the inner circle. You become Minister of Health, for example, knowing nothing more about health than is good for an ordinary man. You are surrounded by experts and by skilled civil servants and preside over their councils. Your authority is great, but the experts and the civil servants strive to keep you from exercising it except in a broad, impersonal way.
After three years you begin to know something about the nation’s health, when suddenly you are made Minister of Agriculture. Having been a townsman all your life you find yourself in charge of the nation’s biggest industry —agriculture.
Once more you begin the learning process. Once more the experts and the civil servants endeavor with all politeness to keep you in your place. Perhaps two years later you become Minister of Labor knowing nothing of factories or trade union mentality.
So, if you are lucky, you continue your Rake’s Progress until one day you are placed in charge of the nation’s finances—never having engineered a bigger deal than a personal overdraft—or are given the job of First Lord of the Admiralty having once crossed the Atlantic on the Queen A'lary.
The logical mind cries out in protest: “This is absurd !• This is political tuition at the price of perpetual inefficiency. This is the negation of common sense and practical experience.”
As in most things the truth is not quite so simple as that. It must be remember that each government department has its permanent staff with one official at the head. To the department comes the Minister, bringing with him a knowledge of the House of Commons and an understanding of Government policy. He and the chief official pool their practical and political experience and
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often the fresh point of view of the incoming Minister is of value to the official whose eyes are grown dim with too long a concentration on one subject.
That is the defense of the system which has prevailed for so long. Undoubtedly there is a lot to be said for it—but does it do away with the charge of tuition at the nation’s expense and at the cost of inefficiency?
Startling Wartime Choices
THINK what has happened in the war.
When Mr. Churchill came to power and sent Sir John Simon to the Lords, Sir Samuel Hoare to Spain and accepted the resignation of Oliver Stanley, there were big jobs going for Ministers eager to have them.
The first shock was Beaverbrook. Our old friend Max was catapulted from the darkness of long political oblivion to the dazzling sunlight of great power and the radiance that only comes from close proximity to a Prime Minister.
“They call me Minister for Aircraft Production,” roared Max, “and I don’t object to that. But actually I regard myself as General Manager of the Aircraft industry and if the Government does not like it they can have my resignation whenever they like.”
He made no speeches in the House of Lords or in the country—save a couple of broadcasts—and ignored party politics completely. He was back in business again, running a bigger enterprise than even his leaping imagination could ever have conceived. In comparison, the formation of the Canada Cement merger was but a week-end caprice, an excursion in financial self-expression.
Not a Minister, but a General Manager ! Politicians scratched their heads. 1 his was something new.
Over at the Food Ministry is Lord Wool ton, formerly Sir Frederick Marquis, the head of the great John Lewis’ departmental stores. “You understand distribution, supply, imports and price control,” said Churchill. “I make you Food Dictator.”
Beaverbrook—General Manager. Woolton -Dictator. Big jobs were going to big men of practical experience and the politicians were left out.
The question of the worker was all important because our factories must match the output of a country with nearly twice our population and with vassal states from which to draw slave labor.
Ernest Bevin had long been the trade union boss. In fight after fight he had championed the workers against employers and in demanding concessions from the government of the day. “You know everything about Labor,” said Churchill, “then I offer you the post of Minister of Labor.”
The junior ministers, longing for promotion and with a sincere desire to help the nation’s war effort, looked on with a sinking of the heart. In the hour of the nation’s extremity there was no time for
them to be taught a new job while being in charge.
There is a storm brewing now over the Minister of Shipping. The present Minister is young Ronald Cross, a former Whip a likable and cool-headed fellow with all the right Tory background and an attractive wife. No one has worked harder than Cross since he became a Minister.
But the Daily Mail and other voices are saying: “We are at war and the sea routes are our arteries. I f our ships do not bring us supplies we perish. What does Mr. Cross know about ships or shipping? What we need is the biggest brain in the shipping world.”
Again it is the cry for the General Manager as opposed to the Minister, the demand for an executive without political experience or even political ambitions but who is supreme in that department of the nation’s life.
And although Anthony Eden is politically trained I include him in this new development. He took honors in Arabic at Oxford and the Arabs are a big factor in the Near East. As a former Secretary of State for the Dominions he had met the Australians in Egypt. As Secretary of State for War he had taken part in the plans for the Libyan offensive. As Foreign Secretary he knew the Balkan situation to the last button.
Here, you might say, is a justification of the political system which gives one man so varied a training. The argument is good and should not be lightly set aside. But it is in the new use of Eden that Churchill follows the fashion of the hour.
“The crisis point is in the Near East,” he says. “I must have a man on the spot who knows the situation and is the best man available. Send for Eden.”
And out goes Eden as General Manager of British interests in that territory. Even the Foreign Secretary has been merged into the new mold.
New Vision of Government
THERE for lack of space I must leave my theme for your consideration.
But if all this portends something new in the politics of the future one must remember these things:
In every country at some time there has been a demand for a “Businessman’s Government.” The idea sounds well, but it never works. A Cabinet composed entirely of successful businessmen would crash of its own weakness or be hurled from office by an indignant electorate. The Ministers would be too impatient for the necessary cajoling and placating of public opinion which moves at its own pace. And public opinion in a democracy cannot be flouted or by-passed.
No. The dictionary meaning of politics is “The Science of Government” and that cannot be learned anywhere but in Parliament.
But I can foresee the day when we who are elected to Parliament may become a council of State, controlling policy and the Executive, but reaching out beyond our own ranks to secure General Managers as Ministers of Departments.
Certain appointments like the Prime Minister, and Foreign Secretary, would of necessity be from the political ranks, but many of the others would be on the sole basis of fitness for the particular job and having nothing to do with party allegiance or political experience.
Instead of an office seeker, an M.P. would be a guardian of the nation, a trustee, a counsellor and spokesman. Strange things will come after this war and a new vision of government may be one of them.
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