UNLESS fate decides to intervene, the premiership of Great Britain after the war will be held either by Anthony Eden or Herbert Morrison. The little Cockney clerk has come into his own in this war, and Eden has thrown off all rivals in the Tory Party.
Morrison’s path will not be as smooth as Eden’s. Ernest Bevin, the Trade Union boss, has tasted blood. As Minister of Labor, he has done prodigious things and he feels that there is no task beyond his capacities. The Trade Unions exert immense influence on the Socialist Party and will want a leader less assertive than Morrison. Nor will Morrison find a unanimous backing among those Socialists who are not held in tutelage to the Trade Unions.
Y et he has est ablished such a political ascendancy in this war that the Labof: Party will be untrue to itself if it does not make Herbert Morrison its leader. There is no one in the Socialist ranks to challenge him as an administrator and as a Parliamentarian. Will his own people deny him the crown?
The Tories, as usual, regulate their affairs more easily. Anthony Eden is as obviously the successor to Churchill as Chamberlain was to Baldwin. All other contenders have fallen away. There are still murmurings that Sir John Anderson is a dark horse and that Oliver Stanley comes from a winning stable but that is just the prophets having a little intellectual exercise.
As Eden goes to the Foreign Office he must cast his eyes across the road and take a look at No. 10 Downing Street. If anything can be safely predicted in this unpredictable world it is that Anthony and Beatrice Eden will one day be the tenants in that house.
It would seem then that the duel of the future will be fought by the elegant descendant of the Eden baronets and the ex-errand boy. The stars look down on them both.
Morrison, “Conchie” and Fire-eater
IF MORRISON becomes the leader of the Socialists and eventually Prime Minister it will prove that character, ability and personality can win through despite a man’s own errors.
For let there be no mistake about it, Morrison’s political past is a study in contrasts. That he was sincere no one doubts. That he was wrong is equally true. That his past is completely at variance with his present cannot be denied.
His enemies say: “Which is the true Morrison— the conscientious objector of the last war or the fire-eater of this one? The pacifist who banned the cadets from the L.C.C. schools or the Home Secretary who arrests any man on suspicion alone?” Morrison’s reply would be: “I do not propose to explain myself to you. My record in the past is for everyone to see. I? you think that my actions in 1914 and my outlook in 1935 render me unfit to serve the nation in 1943 then you must dismiss me. On the other hand if you happen to think, as I do, that I am doing my job extremely well you may feel like asking whether the importance of the past is not being overestimated.”
He will never apologize. He will never explain. If they shout to him on the public platform,
“Weren’t you a conchie in the last war?” he will reply, “Certainly.” And if they shout, “Why aren’t you a conchie now?” he will say, “Because I want to see Germany defeated.”
Nothing is harder to overcome than candor. Herbert Morrison has a gift for saying exactly what is in his mind. Again and again the House has stormed at him in this war over his detention of suspects without trial. “The House,” he will say, “has a perfect right to its opinion, so have I to mine. The House thinks I am too severe with these suspected people. I don’t think I am. I am responsible for the nation’s safety and must take my own decisions. If you don’t like it you must dismiss me. But as long as I am His Majesty’s Secretary of State so long will I carry on in my own way.”
The hotheads in his own party say that the virus of dictatorship has entered his blood. They say that “Our ’Erb,” as he was once affectionately called, sees himself as another Cromwell. Morrison, with his tuft of hair making him look like a cockatoo, bows ironically to them. “My Honorable friends confuse discipline with dictatorship.”
I saw the change in him two years ago when we were debating the powers of the Executive over the citizen. Morrison was proclaiming the gospel of firmness. “This war,” he said, “could have been prevented if Germany had had a strong Government at the time of Hitler’s November putsch. Hitler was arrested and put into prison. If I had been the German Chancellor I would have shot him.”
We blinked our eyes. Here was the ex-errand boy, the ex-clerk, the ex-pacifist proclaiming the law of death for political disorders in peacetime. The wheel had made a turn indeed since the days when he contended that war was murder and that no man should take another’s life.
Thwarting the Fifth Column
HERBERT MORRISON joined Churchill’s Government in the cataclysmic days of late spring in 1940. He became Home Secretary and Minister for Home Defense, which meant that he was virtually chief constable and chief fire-watcher. Almost at once there was the threat of an invasion. France had fallen, our broken Army was streaming back from Dunkirk and it seemed a certainty that the Germans would follow on their heels.
What about the German and Austrian refugees in London? WThat about the Italians? People said to Morrison: “These good people are Hitler’s
enemies. They hate Hitler. The Italians are mostly waiters and have no interest in Mussolini or Fascism. You can trust these people.”
Morrison thought swiftly and clearly. He knew that it was one thing for a German to work against the Naxis when the Channel was between the enemy and ourselves—but what would that German do when the Nazis invaded Britain? Would not terror and expediency prove too strong? Would not the refugee salve his conscience by saying that after all he was a German?
As for the Italians, would they not find that hands which reach out for tips could easily be extended to the Fascist salute?
So the police swooped on them and the jails were
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filled with decent folk who honestly regarded themselves as enemies of the Third Reich and denounced their detention as sheer persecution. Nor were they only foreigners. Under Regulation 18B Morrison arrested a number of British-born subjects and put them behind bars. They were mostly members of Sir Oswald Mosley’s blackshirt organization whose utterances were as foolish as their ideology.
Now detention without trial strikes very deep at the Englishman’s conscience. He does not like it. It smacks too much of the bad old days before the Magna Charta conferred the rights of freedom on man.
Under 18B a detained person can apply to be heard by a tribunal, but the decisions of that tribunal can be overruled by Morrison. The detained person cannot be represented by a lawyer and at the discretion of Morrison can be refused a trial.
“Why shouldn’t he be tried?” asks the House of Commons as champion of the people.
“To be perfectly frank,” says Morrison, “I couldn’t get a conviction in most cases. It is one thing to be suspicious of a man’s intentions and quite another to prove that he has done wrong or would do wrong under given circumstances. But as the Minister responsible for home defense I demand the right to imprison those whom I have every reason to think would aid the enemy if he comes here. Unless the House confirms that authority then I shall resign because in no other way could I assume responsibility for the nation’s safety.”
Sir Oswald Mosley has been in prison for more than three years without a trial. So has Captain Ramsay, M.P. There are others less prominent who are also imprisoned without trial. But Morrison is adamant.
Labor Has Found Its Voice
ALL THIS might enhance a Minister’s reputation for firmness without bringing him into line for party leadership and eventual premiership. Why then is Morrison being coupled with Eden as coinheritor of the political future?
The reason is that Morrison has made a series of speeches outside the House which have raised his prestige enormously. In fact he is praised alike by Tories and Socialists.
Wendell Willkie’s criticism of the British Empire gave Herbert Morrison his chance. He made a speech which sent the blood tingling through British veins once more. Graphically and convincingly he told of the great human effort for good which made the British Empire. He spoke of the unknown men who had fought tropical disease, ended famine and drought, brought health and hygiene to backward peoples, given the law to the lawless and knowledge to the ignorant.
He admitted the errors and shortcomings of our colonial administrations but he proclaimed their glory
as well. And he let it be known for all to hear that the British Empire was not going to be put in pawn to anyone or any combination of powers.
It was a grand speech—but only one of a half dozen. At last the Labor Party had found its voice.
As I indicated in a recent letter the Socialists have become a party without a cause. The social legislation which seemed a century off in 1918 is now in force. The rights of the workers and unions are clearly established. Health and industrial insurance, old-age pensions and unemployment pay are all part of our lives now. The only difference between the Tories and the Socialists is one of pace.
As someone said: “The Socialists
are in favor of giving everything away at once. The Tories are in favor of giving everything away, but as slowly as possible.”
With so much agreement in principle, the mere question of tempo is not enough to keep the flames of party fervor alive. So the Socialists have seen the Communists monopolizing the revolutionary zeal while the Tories remained, as always, the landlord on the premises.
But Morrison’s speeches have opened up a new vista for the Party. They see the horizon again. No longer need the Labor Party be merely the champion of workers rights already conceded. It can broaden out into a new-old SocialistLiberal Party, achieving fresh strength, more responsibility and ceasing to represent only a section of the community.
It is the transition from the cloth cap to the bowler hat. And where there are bowler hats there are bound to be some “toppers.” In short “our ’Erb” has enlarged the horizon of the Socialists and given them a new chart.
Who are his rivals? The present leader, Mr. Attlee, has won the respect of Parliament, but in my opinion he possesses none of the essentials of leadership. Arthur Greenwood, the acting leader, is a gifted doctrinaire and a first-rate Parliamentarian but he has grown tired. Ernest Bevin is a tremendous personality but the Socialists, already in hock to the Trade Unions, do not want the T.U.C. boss to be the political leader as well.
There are many in the party who fear the electoral effect of Morrison’s “conchie” past. There are others who resent his dictatorial methods in the years of the London County Council. But there are none who deny his ability.
Eden, Highborn, Hard-working
IF THE portents prove correct Morrison will not find an easy adversary in Anthony Eden. Our handsome Foreign Secretary is becoming a first-rate Parliamentarian even if one has to admit that he will never climb to greatness on the winged glory of his words.
As leader of the House he is as good as Stafford Cripps was bad. He knows when to be firm and when to cajole. When he rises to speak his mind is made up about what line he is going to take. The House respects that. There is nothing it resents more than a Minister who pretends to be firm although obviously in the grip of indecision.
Eden is a tremendously hard worker. By doubling the posts of Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House he assumes a burden second only to that of the Prime Minister. If Eden fails it will not be through laziness.
In my childhood in Toronto I used to sing a song called “The Children’s Home.” It was a ballad of snobbish pathos and began:
“They played in their beautiful garden,
The children of high degree: Outside the gates the beggars Passed on in their misery.”
Well, in England the little Cockney and the young man of “high degree” are both playing in the political garden. T(he one went to Eton and then on to the war and after that to Oxford. The other went to elementary school, ran errands, became a shop assistant and a telephonist. Eden was heir to a great tradition, Morrison was heir to nothing more than a Cockney’s humor and selfassurance. Eden’s clothes are a form of self-expression. Morrison’s clothes are the kind that once seen one never remembers.
Yet they have much in common even if they have travelled by such differing routes. Each of them loves England as if she were his child. Each hates England’s enemies because they are England’s enemies. Each feels that the proudest boast a man can make is to say, “I am a British citizen.”
So do not be surprised if some day one of them leads the Government and the other the Opposition. And if that happens these Islands will be governed well, for both these men have achieved character through error, turmoil and strife.
The child of high degree and the little Cockney lad have met at the steps of the throne.
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