GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

June 1 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

June 1 1945

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Who Will Lead the Left?

THE Socialists are not happy, which is odd, because the more they study their prospects in the forthcoming election the more they are convinced that it presents for them the chance of a lifetime. But, also, as they look at Winston Churchill, vibrant, confident and victorious, they ask themselves what man they have to put into the ring against him.

Churchill looks on with the calm eye of Joe Louis wondering which misguided citizen of the U. S. A. will be the next to stretch himself full length on the canvas before him. Churchill is in perfect condition, trained to the minute, and spoiling for a fight. To abandon the boxing metaphor he finds himself, for the first time in his life, and at 70 years of age, about to ask the country to vote him into power as Prime Minister. He is no stranger to electoral defeat, but he is historically aware that this time the principal chance which the Tories have is that the nation will vote for him.

The Tories possess a discipline which is the despair of their opponents. They backed Chamberlain when he was their leader and left Churchill in the wilderness. Now they support Churchill as if he had never strayed from the fold. “The Tories are hypocrites, opportunists, sycophants,” bellow the Socialists. The Tories reply: “On the contrary we are realists.”

The truth Is that the Socialists are in an unholy muddle about their leadership. Clement Attlee, who heads the Party, has not an enemy in the world. That is a tribute to his character but a reproach to his personality. How can you cheer for a man if no one jeers at him? He is a man of clean heart and good mind, selfless and patriotic. In this war he has worked ceaselessly, under Generalissimo Churchill, and never asked for a medal. Churchill has acclaimed Beaverbrook as a miracle man and Eden as an immortal but there are no orchids for Mr. Attlee.

Mr. Attlee had a good war record in the first world war, but he is a better fighter in the field than on the hustings. When he criticizes the Tories he does not denounce them—he scolds them. When he attacks private enterprise he does not invoke the lightning against financiers but merely complains. Had he been confronted with Hitler he would have given the villain a telling off instead of calling upon the pit of hell to open up and take him to its flames.

Everyone likes Clem Attlee and everyone trusts him. It is hard to depose such a man as a leader. But it is harder still to win an election with a man who lacks magnetism, oratory and glamour.

Ernest Bevin is much more different from Attlee than chalk is from cheese. He is a demagogue, not an intellectual. The sound and fury of language signifies a lot to him. In fact, when he opens his mouth and gives his oratory full play it is like a torrent rushing out from a cavern.

As any Rotarian chairman would say when introducing Bevin: “He is a Big man with Big ideas.” He thinks in mass terms of industry, transport, wages, workers, production. Never does he break down any problem to the mere troubles of the John Smith Manufacturing Company. His conception of things is too wide for such niceties.

Unlike Mr. Attlee he is a Vesuvius of emotion. The spectacle of unemployment angers him until his indignation pours out like burning lava. He will not balance argument with argument at such a time, but rightly brands unemployment as a crime against man and a form of blasphemy. Naturally a mind so

moved by emotion must occasionally slip up in its facts. That is Bevin’s weakness.

Hitherto Bevin has not been an avowed Socialist. In fact he has an ill-concealed contempt for the Bloomsbury intellectuals and the rich amateur sociologists who seek to solve the problems of the world with catchwords. What he likes is a wellbalanced economy with the employers doing the business and the Unions exacting more and more in wages.

But his position grew difficult. When the Coalition Government breaks up he will be a member of the Socialist Party, committed to whatever policy is decided on by the Party Executive. Even allowing for the genius of the Socialists to whittle any pronouncement down until it means nothing to all men, the executive will have to proclaim its belief in the sanctity of nationalization.

Naturally it will indicate that nationalization must be achieved by a graduated process, forgetting that once you mount that steed you are in the position of the young lady of Riga who went for a ride on a tiger.

For a long time Bevin has kept his counsel, leaving the lesser men in the Party to picture the paradise of nationalization and to fulminate against the “hardfaced capitalists and the party of privilege.” But one recent Saturday he decided that he must declare his position. He made a speech, in Leeds, which disposed of any lingering doubts about his future, and ended the prevailing suspicion that he hoped to form a national party with Churchill.

He accused the Tories of having won the 1935 election on a lie, of having refused to arm the nation, of trying to buy off Hitler and of leading the nation to the brink of disaster. What is more, he declared that the present Government was never a one-man show and that Churchill, good as he has been, was never more than one of the team. He took the Socialist Party to his arms and swore that he would be true to its creed and its discipline until death did them part.

Many observers see in this speech an open bid for the Labor leadership, and it has created immense excitement. He certainly has the personality to lead the Left to victory, but there is one factor against it. Every Napoleon has his Fouché, whom he forgets to shoot, and Ernie Bevin has Herbert Morrison, the Cockney son of a London policeman and now His Majesty’s principal Secretary of State for Home Affairs.

Herbert Morrison is the ablest politician in the entire British Left. He is a first-class parliamentarian, a fighting and compelling speaker, an able administrator and possessed of the shrewdness of a monkey. He can advise anyone but himself. It is when he whispers in his own ear (admittedly a difficult feat) that he commits blunders. His pugnacity is always leading him into trouble. Thus in the last war, although only possessing one eye, he made himself into a conscientious objector. It was sheer obstinate stupidity on his part, for in this war he has shown that his conscience is not troubled at all.

This mulish quality, this instinct of going against the current, caused him to do all sorts of foolish things when he was the big boss of the London County Council. With Hitler sharpening his knife in full view of his prospective victims, Morrison stopped the L.C.C. grant to the cadet movement, refused the use of L.C.C. school grounds to Territorials for drill purposes, banned the reading of an Empire message in the schools on Empire Day, and would not allow school children to attend the air pageant at Hendon.

To put the kindliest construction on all this, it was just plumb daft. Some may prefer a more sinister interpretation, but I am in a benign mood today and will content myself by saying that this was a case where a clever man Continued on page 49

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played the fool and brought contempt upon himself as a citizen. He has atoned for much by his pugnacious and fearless contribution to the war effort, and I for one no longer doubt his patriotism.

But every Fouché has his Napoleon, and Morrison has a Bevin who is determined that Herbert will never be Emperor. Bevin dislikes Morrison, and the dislike is heartily reciprocated.

Bevin stopped Morrison becoming the Secretary of the Party after Arthur Henderson’s death. He stopped him becoming Party Treasurer a year ago. Bevin will erect barricades to prevent his Fouché ever reaching Versailles. When they write to each other as Ministers it is: “Dear Mr. lyiorrison” and “Dear Mr. Bevin.” Nothing could more clearly indicate the depth of the feud between them.

Which brings us to Sir Stafford Cripps, the 100-to-l outsider for thç leadership stakes.

The Socialists have readmitted Sir Stafford into Paradise after hurling him into outer darkness. His crime was twofold—he openly advocated Socialism before the war, and in a wartime by-election his local association backed an independent against the Government candidate, who was a Tory.

These are bloody crimes indeed. Sir Stafford’s advocacy of immediate and complete socialization of everything was as embarrassing as when M. Litvinoff, at the first Disarmament Conference after the last war, moved a resolution “that we all disarm.” Both Cripps and Litvinoff were severely censured for such buffoonery.

Cripps is a political innocent to

whom nothing is difficult. His brother, Major Cripps, recently left this country to take up permanent residence in South Africa because he could not endure the thought of living in an England planned to suit his brother.

But Stafford Cripps has a brilliant mind, he can speak and he has style. Besides, was he not Ambassador to Russia when she entered the war on our side? It is true that Hitler attacked Russia, but since we cannot give credit to him, why not give it to Cripps?

Sir Stafford is a kind man, a religious man and a generous man. He is a good churchman, a good husband and has been a good Minister of Aircraft Production. Unfortunately he is a second-rate politician, as he showed when Churchill made him leader of the House of Commons.

But if Clement Attlee is dropped because he has no glamour, and

if Morrison and Bevin obstruct each other so that neither can get through the doorway,

then

Sir Stafford might have a chance to be the next Labor leader.

That is the extraordinary position of the Left in Britain today, and it is small wonder that the experts throw up their hands when they try to forecast the result of the election which will soon be upon us. In desperation they take their slates and pencils and write down these items in a vain attempt to reach a logical conclusion:

(1) A large number of people would like to see the Tories defeated but want Churchill returned to power. Yet every vote for Churchill is a vote for the Tories.

(,2) A large number of people would like to see the Socialists victorious but not Mr. Attlee, because they just cannot see him sitting down at the

postwar table with Joe Stalin and the U. S. president. Yet every vote for the Socialists is a vote for Attlee.

(3) The Sinclairite Liberals will support the Socialists in the Commons, but the National Liberals will support the Tories. Therefore a vote for a Liberal means exactly nothing.

(4) The Communists are urging all their members to support Socialist candidates, while the Socialists will have nothing to do with the Communists, whom they regard as political untouchables.

(5) Most of the Independents will declare their faith in Churchill and their opposition to the Tories. This is item (1) over again.

(6) The people are tired of controls, but they do not want prices or rents to rise. “Controls must go,” say the Tories. “Controls must stay,” say the Socialists. Which way is the citizen to vote?

I cannot give you the answer to this jigsaw puzzle. All I can do is to reaffirm my conviction that the country would go moderate Left if the Socialist Party would not stand in the way. In other words, if the Socialists try to oppose Churchill with Attlee, instead of with Bevin or Morrison, or even Cripps, then an immense number of people will vote for the man who led the nation to victory.

This would mean that though the Tories will lose a lot of seats they will escape the disaster which threatened them two months ago. There is a tide in the affairs of Parties as well as of men, but the Socialists must take it at the flood if they hope to be led on to fortune—and at the moment they are not doing it.