ABOUT six months ago I predicted that nothing could prevent a heavy socialist defeat when the next British election took place. There were a number of letters from Canada which implied I was imagining a vain thing and suggested that prejudice had been allowed to influence my judgment. With that humility which governs all my actions I accepted the reproofs without retort.
However, I have decided that even a prophet should be allowed to trim the lamp with which he illuminates the dark spaces of the mind. I do not go back on my belief that the Conservatives will win the next election but it is necessary to admit that things have gone better for the socialists than anyone could foresee. The corollary is, of course, that things have not gone well for the Conservatives.
Oddly enough the resignation of Aneurin Bevan and his two ministerial colleagues, Wilson and Freeman, has strengthened instead of weakening the Government’s situation, although that is not what Mr. Bevan intended. He thought, like Louis XV, “après moi le déluge!” That a government could survive his resignation seemed incredible.
But Bevan forgot the fierce loyalty which exists in the Labor movement. The trade unions may not like everything that Mr. Attlee’s administration does but they speak of “our government” in the possessive sense and they mean it. Nor does their support end with this combination of loyalty and sentimentalism. They supply most of the funds for the socialist party.
This money is raised in what the Tories regard as a wrongful method. There is a political levy on every
trade unionist to pay so much a week toward the political funds. The amount is very small for the individual but in total becomes very large. The individual trade unionist need not pay the levy but he can only be excused from doing so by “contracting out.” This has always been a matter of bitter controversy. After the 1926 general strike, when the National Government brought in the famous Trades Dispute Act, it was ruled that a trade unionist could “contract in” to pay the political levy but did not have to contract out. This resulted in the political fund sinking to a very low level.
But when the socialists swept to power in 1945 they repealed the Trades Dispute Act so that once more the individual had to pay the levy automatically unless indicating his intention otherwise. I have always considered this to be indefensible. That a conservative or liberal worker should have to pay toward the socialist campaign fund on risk of persecution or discrimination by disclosing his politics seems the very negation of individual rights.
However, there is no question but that the trade-union movement is traditionally loyal to the socialist party and is ready to work and pay for it when the election comes. And that feeling has been intensified by the resignation of Bevan. The cry of “close the ranks” is always a powerful one.
This does not end the benign influence which Bevan’s action has had upon the trade - union movement. There are certain unions which are far to the Left of Mr. Attlee and now that Bevan is no longer a minister he can give full expression to their yearnings for virtual confiscation of all means Continued on page 32
Continued from page 4
of production and distribution. Thus, when the election comes, the Government will be able to make this twopronged attack upon the voters:
1. If you want a mild sensible government which admits that Socialism and private enterprise can exist side by side then trust Mr. Attlee and Mr. Morrison and vote Socialist.
2. If you want the rich squeezed until the pips squeak, and the ownership of everything made over to the workers, put your trust in Aneurin Bevan and vote Socialist.
No wonder that shrewd little Cockney strategist, Herbert Morrison, sits back and smiles. On the slightest pretext he will break into that popular ditty:
Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day;
I have a wonderful feeling, Everything’s coming our way.
Let me at once say that there was no trickery in the Bevan resignation. Attlee was tired of his blusterings and threats and called his bluff. It is just a caprice of politics that the resignation of three ministers should have strengthened the socialist appeal instead of bringing down the Government.
But Morrison and Attlee believe their*best trump card is not Bevan but Winston Churchill. That must seem paradoxical to you who view the British scene from across the waste of waters, but truth is truth whether you examine it through a microscope or a telescope.
There is little gratitude in politics and, in fairness to the socialists, it must be recognized that Churchill deliberately chose to revert to party politics after his wartime leadership of an all-party coalition. Therefore he would be the last to complain when his opponents hit hard. He himself punches with all his weight and tries to “hit them where it hurts.”
Would Winnie Go To War?
The constant charge which the socialists make against him is that of being a warmonger, and that in his mind he sees himself as the reincarnation of his ancestor, the great Duke of Marlborough, who led his troops to victory after victory across the battlefields of Europe. They point out on every platform that it was Winston who planned the disastrous campaign of the Dardanelles in the first war and that in 1919 he sent troops against Russia to try and overthrow the Bolshevik revolution. They ignore the fact that Churchill did everything possible to prevent the Hitler war by trying to rouse the sluggish British people to their danger and their unpreparedness. He only took over the leadership of the nation when disaster was in full flood, and he led the nation to ultimate victory in a war for which he had no tithe of responsibility. Nor do his political opponents recall that probably no other politician did more than Churchill over the years to bring in and fight for measures of social reform. However, it is not only in Britain that political parties ignore the virtues of their adversaries and concentrate upon their failings. Even St. Laurent and Drew do not shower each other with bouquets.
The trouble with the socialist campaign against Churchill is that the charges are hypothetical and therefore cannot be refuted by fact. For example they say that if Churchill had been prime minister instead of Attlee he would have supported MacArthur in
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a full-out war against China. How does one meet such a charge since it is a mere supposition?
The socialist case does not end there. They say that if Churchill had been in power these last six years we would have been at war with Russia. The fact that Churchill in his famous Fulton speech laid the foundation stone of the Atlantic Pact which is now the strongest insurance against Russia going to war is not mentioned. But I do not deny that many socialists believe what they are saying is true. If you repeat often enough “Today is Monday” you will probably come to believe it even if it is Tuesday.
An Enigma In Eden
I have dwelt at some length on this because it undoubtedly played an important part in the difficult and even embarrassing situation which confronted the Tories when the Persians told the British to get out.
As soon as it was evident that the Persians meant what they said, Anthony Eden, as deputy leader of the Opposition, assured Foreign Secretary Morrison that the Conservatives would back him in any measures, no matter how strong, which he considered necessary to safeguard British lives and property. The Conservatives cheered loudly and Morrison thanked Eden. But the socialist backbenchers frowned.
A few days later Attlee and Morrison agreed that while the Persian crisiá remained unsolved there should be secret meetings between Attlee, Morrison, Churchill and Eden when all the facts in possession of the Government would be disclosed. I must confess that this came as something of a shock to a good many of us on the Opposition benches.
From the moment that the two Conservative leaders were in confidential contact with the Government we could expect no further leadership on the Persian issue because Churchill and Eden would be open to the charge of revealing confidences or basing their speeches upon facts disclosed to them in secret. In these circumstances it was inevitable that the Tories would become restive, and they did.
Eden’s attitude was hard to understand. Beyond a perfunctory parliamentary question every couple of days—“Has the Foreign Secretary any statement to make on the Persian situation?”—he seemed to disappear and take little further interest in the normal debates. Rumors spread that he did not agree with Winston’s “sweet reasonableness” and wanted a firmer policy.
I must now explain that while the Conservative Party is a minority in the Commons it is in a big majority in the Lords where Lord Salisbury is the party leader. Churchill is, of course, the leader of the whole party but Salisbury is his chief lieutenant in the Upper House. Therefore it came as a shock when Salisbury told the peers he was not satisfied with the Government’s timid handling of the Persians, and called for stronger measures.
Nor was this the only shock. Lord Camrose’s influential Daily Telegraph, which has always backed Churchill in fair weather or foul, came out in strong
support of Salisbury and even advocated the sending of troops.
Here then was a political sensation of unpredictable potentialities. Was Salisbury deliberately inviting a break with Churchill, and, if so, where did Eden stand? Again it is necessary to recall that when Eden was foreign secretary in the Chamberlain Government, Salisbury was his under-secretary, and that when Eden resigned Salisbury went into the wilderness with him. Politically and personally they are the closest possible friends.
Three Strikes—and Out?
Churchill’s champions, and there are many such in the party, said he had shown his greatness by deliberately putting country before party in choosing to assist the Government. His critics, and there are many such in the party, said he was trying to live down the charge of “warmonger,” which was becoming a real danger to the Tory chances in the next election. Fortunately I am in no position to say which, if any, of these points of view was right—although I have my own ideas.
I have drawn this picture to show you that if there is an election this autumn the socialists, although split by the Bevan resignation, will make a united two-pronged appeal to the electorate, whereas the Tories, who have had no open split within their ranks, will present a confused front.
In the history of British politics there is probably no example of any party leader finding himself in such a paradoxical situation as Winston Churchill. He is the most loved and popular man in the country yet has never been returned as prime minister by the country. He succeeded to that position in 1940 on the resignation of Neville Chamberlain without an election. In 1945 and 1950 when he went to the country he was rejected.
Will he face the possibility of a third rejection? Every instinct of his nature will urge him to fight and damn the consequences but he has his place in history to consider. If there is a third defeat then it could only be followed by his resignation. Nothing will ever dim his glory as a war leader but the epilogue of a triple defeat on the civilian front would be a poor climax to his mighty story.
Anything may happen before these words appear in Maclean’s but, as a contemporary historian, I set down the facts as they exist at the moment, remembering that today is the parent of tomorrow. The tide may turn swiftly and alter everything but just now the socialist chances are stronger than seemed possible in the gloom and despondency of last winter, iç
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