LONDON LETTER

Private Memo To George Drew

BEVERLEY BAXTER January 15 1949
LONDON LETTER

Private Memo To George Drew

BEVERLEY BAXTER January 15 1949

Private Memo To George Drew

LONDON LETTER

BEVERLEY BAXTER

SAMUEL BUTLER claimed that there were few things more pleasant than to be just ill enough to stay in bed for a couple of days. He commented on the pleasing activity of others in the house, the rhythm and routine of household tasks, the intervention of the front doorbell, the treadmill of steps upon the stairways, the dwindling day and the coming of dusk . . . and all going on while one stays in bed, reading or writing or dozing in complete detachment from the day’s activities.

Therefore, let me confess that I am writing this letter in bod on a sunny winter morning having canceled all my engagements for a week ahead.

The illness that has brought me low did not steal upon me unawares. Last Sunday 1 was staying at the country house of an effete Englishman who actually has central heating in his home. Usually when you visit an English country house you get a tiny grate tire in a wind-swept lounge, and an even smaller grate fire in the drawing-room where, if you play bridge, the difference in temperature according to where you sit may be as much as 30 degrees. Thus your partner, with her back to the fire, may bid with tropical abandon while you have the outlook cf an Eskimo on an iceberg.

However, the human system, and even Englishmen are human, creates its own resistance movement and, on the whole, we live healthily and uncomfortably through the winter. But, unfortunately, the said human system is caught unawares when an Englishman puts in central heating.

Thus for an entire week end our pores were opened by this unaccustomed heat while we moved and ate and bridged in an atmosphere not unlike that of the Black Hole of Calcutta.

On Monday we set, off for London in a cold spell which must have meant an 80-degree drop from the inferno of the house in which we had been staying. We closed the windows of the car but the drafts stole in and curled around our ankles and crept

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down our necks. When we reached home we were rheumatic, chilblained and congealed. Then, unfortunately, I had to leave immediately for a by-election in the North London seat of Edmonton where our Tory chap had a hopeless fight in a seat which went Socialist in 1945 by a 19,069 majority. However, as the constituency adjoined my own parliamentary division the Conservative Party felt that I should pay a visit and cheer on the unfortunate candidate and his supporters.

I found in Edmonton that both the Socialists and the Tories proclaimed their case from what we call hoardings, but which are known in North America as billboards. The Socialistexhortation was in two sections and printed red:

ASK ASK

YOUR YOUR

DAD MUM

Vote Socialist

No one knows who thought of this brilliant slogan of “Ask your Dad” and “Ask your Mum.” It is popularly attributed to Herbert Morrison and certainly is in keeping with his Cockney humanitarian approach. The idea, of course, is that the young people should ask their parents about the past when wicked industrialists closed their factories so as to create unemployment and thus increase their profits; when foodstuffs were burned, fish thrown back into the sea and the workers could not buy anything!

The Tory candidate also had his display on the hoardings which was printed in blue ink and read :

Socialism

Has

Failed

Vote for Hubbard

Thus wasthe battle joined. According to the exhortations of the rival candidates both Socialism and Conservatism had proved unsatisfactory. Nothing could be fairer than that.

At a street corner I found the Tory candidate complete with rosette and smiling wife, haranguing a few frozen citizens. There was also a movie van which alternated Mickey Mouse with such triumphs of private enterprise as the Queen Elizabeth steaming up the Hudson.

“We’ve got a 50-50 chance,” said Candidate Hubbard to me when the chilled audience had gone.

“We’re going to win,” said Mrs. Hubbard.

As a tribute to the fighting spirit of the Hubbards this was admirable, but as a political forecast it could not be taken seriously. How could any Tory,

even a Churchill, hope to overcome a majority of 19,069?

I looked at the sturdy little Hubbard with his pugnacious chin and his candid eyes. Whenever the Socialists caricature the Conservatives they always show us in silk toppers, black jackets and striped trousers. Apparently we sleep and even breakfast in our toppers rather than let the side down. What is more we were all educated at expensive private schools, we all had wealthy fathers and the only work we ever did was at election time.

Could This Be a Tory?

Then where was Hubbard’s topper. Can it be true that he went to a council school in Edmonton and won a scholarship? Is it a fact that he never had a shilling except that he earned and that he was now the head of a successful firm of accountants in which he was once a junior? Why had the Edmonton Conservative Association chosen this self-made bantam instead of Sir Hillary Buzz-Fuzz, Bart.?

“I’m not joking,” said Hubbard. “I’ve got a 50-50 chance to beat Albu.”

“To beat what?”

“Albu. He’s the Socialist.”

Whereupon I decided that I would make a courtesy call on Mr. Albu. For one thing I was chilled to the marrow and already beginning to feel aches and pains in the head and chest.

There are many differences between the Socialist and Conservative parties, some of them political, others psychological. For one thing, discipline among the Socialists is rigid, whereas with the Tories it is self-imposed and more pliable. The organizing boss of the Socialist Party is a Mr. Morgan Phillips who is not an M.P. Yet he has the power to summon Socialist Members of Parliament to explain their conduct. No parallel to that exists in the Tory Party. Lord Woolton is the Chairman of the Tory Party and is actually an M.P.,beinga memberofthe Upper House, yet he would not even contemplatesummoninganyofus in the Commons to discuss our attitude on some subject.

That would be done by Churchill, or Eden or the Chief Whip - all of them fellow members of the Commons. I do not want to exaggerate the difference between the Tories and the Socialists, but since the latter are a comparatively new organization it is important to note how far they stray from the accepted British model and how closely they embrace a foreign style.

The Ideal Candidate

There is a further difference when it comes to a by-election. The Tory Party headquarters always sends along a list of candidates of whom it approves, but the decision is left to the local Conservative Association which very often chooses a candidate of its own.

The Socialists take a different line. Party Boss Phillips says that a by-

election is HO important that it cannot be left to the locals. A by-election, lost because the candidate is no good, might well begin a landslide that would carry the Government to disaster. Therefore, says the boss, we will appoint the right man from headquarters.

Now the mind of Mr. Morgan Phillips is a straightforward one that st rips every problem of its nonessent ials and comes to a clear, logical decision. And one of the conclusions he has reached is that the proletariat, to use that awful imported word, will vote Socialist anyway—so why bother about them? The thing that matters is the wavering, respectable, middle - class vote. Capture the waverers and the steadfast will look after themselves.

Aristocratic Socialists

Thus when Gravesend had to be fought because the Socialist M.P. Mr. Gary Allighan (who used to work on a Toronto newspaper) was expelled from the House of Commons, the choice fell upon Sir Richard Acland. He had been a Liberal but had seen the light. He inherited great lands and was a baronet known to hold sincere Christian principles. A perfect type to represent Labor!

And Sir Richard romped it. The Socialists voted Socialist and so did the waverers who were delighted to find that the Left Wing was really respectable. The Tory was sunk without trace.

A few months later came the byelection in the South London borough of North Croydon. In 1945 the Tory held it by only 600 votes and now he had resigned. “We should put in a national figure,” said the Tories at Westminster, “somebody with a big name. We can’t have another Gravesend.”

Their anxiety was further increased when Morgan Phillips announced that the Labor candidate would be the distinguished and aristocratic Hon. Harold Nicolson,ex-diplomat, brilliant author and son of Lord Carnock. Nicolson was bound to make an immense snob appeal to the suburban voters. Both the Tories and t he Socialists were certain of that.

Then upspoke Mr. Fred Harris,a poor Croydon lad bred and born, with just enough schooling to comply with the law. Although only in his 30's, Mr. Harris was a big employer in Croydon and his workers found him straight and generous. What is more, Mr. Harris owned race horses and always tipped them to his workers when he thought they would win.

Further than that, Mr. Harris was an Empire man and had started up food businesses in Africa. Also he was a local councilor. The local Conservative Association wanted him to fight the by-election and he thought the association was quite right. Head-

quarters were not so sure. To break the deadlock Mr. Churchill asked Harris to come and see him: “We talked

straight to each other,” said the selfmade Tory Harris about his hour interview with the Tory descendant of the great Duke of Marlborough.

“You’re our man,” said Churchill.

Croydon will never forget that election. Thousands of Harris placards with his photo were distributed on the understanding that none was to be shown until the signal was given. Socialist placards were appearing in the main streets and the side streets but not a sign of Tory life. Then suddenly the Harris placards appeared all at once. It had the effect of a thousandbomber raid as far as coverage was concerned.

Harris and his wife canvassed every street while bands of his supporters heckled poor Harold Nicolson until the Socialists were red in the face as well as in policy.

On the eve of the poll Churchill did a tour of North Croydon in an open car with local boy Harris beside him. When the votes were counted Harris was in by a majority of 11,664, Harold Nicolson was on his way back to Mayfair and the Liberal candidate Air Vice-Marshal “Pathfinder” Bennett had lost his deposit.

Morgan Phillips and the Socialists chiefs went in to a huddle. Something had gone radically wrong. Why had the floating vote gravitated to Mr. Self-Made Harris rather than to the Honorable Harold Nicolson or even to the gallant Air Vice-Marshal? If one could not count on the snobbery of suburbia where was one?

Socialist From Cambridge

Then with the winter came the Edmonton by-election caused by the tragic death of the sitting Socialist member who was drowned while trying to save two children. Of course with a majority of 19,069 the seat was absolutely safe but they did not want any substantial reduction in the majority. So what kind of a man would they impose this time upon the local association? Aristocrats and intellectuals were out-of-fashion after North Croydon. It was reported, probably falsely, that someone suggested to Mr. Phillips that they ought to have a workingman candidate, but that Mr. Phillips was quite all right after using smelling salts.

They chose instead Mr. Austen Albu whose knowledge of Edmonton was even less than that of John Gilpin who, as you may remember, galloped there on his famous ride. And now that we have arrived at his by-election headquarters let us see if he is in and whether he will talk.

I must say that his praetorian guard showed something less than enthusiasm

when I revealed my purpose. In fact they could not understand why a Tory M.P. should pay a call on a Socialist candidate in the midst of an election. Therefore they explained that Mr. Albu was busy, that he had to go out right away, and that it was impossible to see him. Little did they realize that in my youth I sold pianos to people in Northern Ontario who did not want to buy pianos.

So I was received by Mr. Albu. He was quite charming, good-looking, welldressed, in his middle 30’s, educated at Cambridge and an expert in management. The interview was so pleasant that it would be a model for the Big Four Conferences over Berlin.

In fact I was so pleased with him that I went to the Evening Standard and, in a cold and draughty room, wrote a description of the whole affair and tried to prove how much better M.P. the suave, imported carpetbagger Albu would be than the tough local lad who only understood Edmonton’s problems and not how to manage men. I also regretted the Cockney humor which had already christened the Socialist “My Babu” after the disastrous favorite for last year’s Derby.

Having done my last good deed for the day I then went home with a magnificent temperature although it was nothing to the temperature of Mr. Albu when he read my courteous and friendly article. The things he said about me from the public platform would be hard to take even.if one was in good health.

Voting day . . . Saturday ... At one in the morning the result came through. Hubbard the local boy had crashed the 19,069 majority down toa miserable 3,327. He had been right all the time. If Churchill had done an eve-of-the-poll tour, as in North Croydon, Hubbard would probably have won the seat.

And now if the editor of Maclean’s will allow me I shall end with a private note to George Drew. The rest of you can turn over the pages and read something more interesting.

“Dear George:

The significant thing about North Croydon and Edmonton was that both the Tories were tough fellows who had made their own way and who believed in a system of society that allows talent and ability to rise. They did not offer any watered-down Socialism or middleof-the-road compromises. They were individualists and they hittheSocialists with everything they had.

That’s all, George. As a British M.P. I’m not allowed to have any Canadian politics so I can’t wish you luck. But don’t forget North Croydon and Edmonton.

Your fellow Commonwealther, (O God! O Montreal!)

Beverley Baxter, if