LONDON LETTER

Shawcross: is he Labor’s dark horse?

BEVERLEY BAXTER April 27 1957
LONDON LETTER

Shawcross: is he Labor’s dark horse?

BEVERLEY BAXTER April 27 1957

Shawcross: is he Labor’s dark horse?

LONDON LETTER

BEVERLEY BAXTER

Mr. Harold Macmillan has one

advantage over his immediate predecessors—his face does not reveal his thoughts. Eden would flush with anger, or his eyes would light up with the joy of battle; Churchill’s chin would protrude when he was attacked, although a look of benevolence would appear after he had floored his antagonist.

But by contrast Macmillan cn'Û ters the chamber with a light step

;i and a languid expression as if to

¡I say that politics were much too

II serious to be taken seriously.

Therefore neither his supporters nor his opponents have been able II to read his thoughts during the

last few weeks as one by-election II after another reveals that the tide is running heavily against the govII ernment.

| Eden’s personal general-election

| majority at Warwick and Leam-

|; ington was 13,466, but in the by-

I election caused by his resignation

Í: the Tory majority there fell to

¡Í 2,157. The Tory pundits have tried

II to convince themselves that the

If voters at Warwick and Leaming-

II ton resented the critical attitude

If that many of his parliamentary as-

| sociates adopted toward Eden. It

f| was also said that Eden’s hold on

II his constituency was so personal

HI that his supporters had no heart

II for another man. But it surely

II takes more than that to explain

an 1 1,309 drop in the majority.

On the same day there was a by-election at Bristol West. And what happened there? The Tory majority fell from 22,001 to 14,162. To add to the bad news, the Conservatives actually lost North Lewisham when a Tory majority of 3,236 was turned into a 1,110 minority.

No wonder Hugh Gaitskell smiles as he takes his place on the Opposition front bench and gazes at the overburdened prime minister, and no wonder Nye Bevan looks out of the corner of his eye at Gaitskell as if to say, “You still have to deal with me, my boy.”

But the internal problems of the socialist hierarchy do not end there. The debonair Sir Hartley Shawcross, who was attorney general in the socialist government, has just announced that he is retiring from the bar, where his average yearly earnings must have been well over fifty thousand pounds. Instead he has accepted an advisory post with the giant Shell Oil Company, where he will probably be paid a paltry twentyfive thousand pounds a year. He will, however, still keep his seat in parliament.

Why should this announcement spread alarm and despondency in the breasts continued on page 79

IF BEVAN UPSET GAITSKELL WOULD SHAWCROSS BE PM?

Gaitskell might lead Labor into power but lose the premiership in a battle with Bevan, says Baxter, with Shawcross leading Labor into liberal ways.

London Letter continued from page 10

Commons seldom sees Shawcross.

“You might make a speech for the novelty,“ cracked Bevan

of Gaitskell and Bevan? The answer is simple. Sir Hartley is ambitious and although he has treated the House of Commons with an airy indifference he still rttains his membership in that august institution. Then is he going to be content to give advice to an oil combine and disappear from public view? Is that superb voice of his to be heard only in the confines of the board room?

Some of you may recall my account of the 1955 annual dinner of the Saints and Sinners Club where Shawcross made oiuel fun of Bevan, who was present, and Bevan in return attacked him for his nonattendance at the House of Commons. “You ought to come and see the old place some time.” said Bevan. “You might even make a speech there just for the novelty of it.”

It is a fact that none of us in parliament has ever seen one of our number treat the House with such apparent contempt as Sir Hartley has shown. Only on the rarest occasions does he even turn up to vote. Yet here is the paradox: many shrewd observers of the political scene believe that Sir Hartley’s retirement from the law and his new association with Shell Oil are preliminary steps to his Teturn to the House and his ultimate leadership of the Labor Party.

What does it matter if the Shell combine pays him twenty-five thousand pounds or more a year? It will be taken from him in taxation. The truth is that, like most great barristers, Shawcross is a superb actor and he is possessed of a personality and a voice that would place him on a level with Olivier and Gielgud. Therefore he must be in a place to make himself heard.

Even socialists need rewards

And since we are dealing with a man of paradox I must set down in all sincerity that, in spite of his prodigious success in a capitalist society, he is a sincere socialist. Yet his sincerity does not override his political judgment. His sympathy with the underprivileged sections of society does not blind him to the fact that no great nation can survive merely by building council houses at a cheap rent, supplying a state health service and taxing the earners of wealth out of existence.

Like Macmillan, he believes that there must be incentive and reward for the winners and he would openly admit that he himself has done extremely well out of the capitalist system.

Therefore I predict that after he has settled down with his oil colleagues he will renew his contact with the House of Commons by taking his place on the Opposition front bench. Further than that, I predict that he will not concentrate merely on those debates in which the legal mind excels, but will invade the broad area of trade as well as colonial and foreign affairs.

Tactically his situation is highly favorable because of the open rivalry between Gaitskell and Bevan. It is true that Gaitskell is the elected leader of the Labor Party, but he lacks warmth and glamour—the very qualities that Bevan possesses in abundance. In fact, it was Bevan who publicly referred to Gaitskell as a desiccated adding machine.

Also we must remember that it was not only in the Conservative ranks that there were political Suez casualties.

Gaitskell made the mistake of fiercely attacking Eden day after day while our forces were in action in the Middle East. Not intentionally, he heartened Britain's enemies and spread dismay among our friends.

When Eden, sun-tanned but pitifully thin, returned from his respite in Jamaica. Gaitskell tried to recover lost ground by welcoming him with a friendly, noncontroversial speech. But it was too late. GaitskelTs only hope of ever

being prime minister would be if a sudden general election now were sprung upon the nation and the socialists were victorious.

Even then the situation of the socialist leadership would be a problem that

might well embarrass the Queen as well as the party. It was bad enough when she had to consult not only Lord Salisbury, the Tory leader in the House of Lords, but Sir Winston Churchill as well when Eden resigned.

What would Her Majesty do if the socialists forced an election and won it? She would send for Gaitskcll as leader of the party and he would then undertake to form a government. But if Bevan and a number of prominent socialists refused to serve under Gaitskcll, which might well be the case, the Queen would probably summon Lord Attlee as leader of the party in the upper house and ask his advice. But what a dilemma Attlee would face!

The feud between Gaitskcll and Bevan is all the fiercer because it is not fought in the open. Whichever of the two was asked by the Queen to form a government would have to spend most of his time watching for sudden attacks from behind.

Therefore I can see wise old Attlee pointing out these things to Her Majesty and suggesting that a compromise should be reached by asking Sir Hartley Shawcross to form a government. It would not be the first time in political history that the rivalry of two potential leaders

has permitted the middle man to seize the sceptre of power.

If events were to take such a course Sir Hartley would be an almost automatic choice because there is no other socialist who could unite the party behind him. In fact, that may be the reason why Shawcross has taken no part in parliamentary life since the socialists were defeated in 1951.

Still looking into the future, I would venture the prediction that if the ambitious and able Shawcross becomes the compromise socialist prime minister, at the expense of Bevan and Gaitskcll, he will endeavor to change the name and character of his party to "Liberal-Socialist.” Thus he would enable frightened old ladies to vote against the Tories without losing their respectability by voting pure socialist.

But if all this should come about what would Premier Shawcross do with Bevan as the man who openly ridiculed Shawcross two years ago at the annual dinner of the Saints and Sinners Club? The answer is simple. He would offer Bevan the Foreign Office and start him on his travels. That would be a wise choice, first because Nye would be a good foreign secretary, and second because he would have no time to intrigue

against his leader if such an unworthy idea entered his mind. I am aware that my standing as a prophet has been somewhat reduced by my forecast that Eden would overcome his enemies and reign triumphant at No. 10 Downing Street. Nor was the situation made easier for me by the fact that Sir Anthony had already resigned when the London Letter appeared. Therefore in what I have written about Sir Hartley Shawcross I do not claim that it is anything more than an “appreciation of the situation.” In fact it is quite possible that Peter Thorneycroft’s budget will bear such succulent fruit that a grateful public will put us Tories back to power again at the next election. Nevertheless, I suggest that we should keep our eye on Shawcross, that richtoned dreamer with the pensive smile whose retirement from the law may well be a first step toward a fateful political career. When in one man we find such a unity of voice and mind and appearance it is a mistake to think that he will be content to dwell in the antechambers of commerce. My guess is that he is just taking a breather before he starts his climb to the political heights. -fc