THE MEN WHO WILL MAKE OR BREAK ONE-PARTY RULE IN BRITAIN
The Conservatives have governed the U. K. for ten years, and many experts think they will govern for the next twenty. Why are the Tories of the 1960s apparently a self-perpetuating party, and who are the men who'll try — against long odds — to break Macmillan's hold? A report from Maclean's overseas editor
LESLIE F. HANNON
TED LEATHER, the Toronto-born MP for Somerset North, recently told his Conservative constituency association he was prepared to stay in the House of Commons until he was sixty. He is now forty-two. He won the seat from Labor more than ten years ago. Although his majority increased by more than fifty percent at the last general election in 1959, Leather doesn’t think it's going to be all that simple. Even so, his plan to carry on for another twenty years illustrates accurately enough the present state and mood of politics in Britain.
Since the autumn of 1951, the Tories have been in power under Churchill. Eden and Macmillan—already the longest reign of any British political party this century. They currently hold a majority of slightly over a hundred and their present mandate runs until 1964. After that?
As things stand now', it seems almost impossible that they could be thrown out before the end of this decade. In fact, some objective observers—4ike Harvard's Professor Samuel Beer —are beginning to debate the possibilities of Britain's entering an era of one-party rule.
Only the Labor party stands a chance of stopping the Conservatives from eclipsing the Canadian Liberal party’s record of twenty-two years in office. But Labor, after ten years in opposition, is in a sorry state. Riven and splintered on basic policies—including notably defense and further state controls—and exhausted and floundering after factional fights, the party at mid-year seemed quite incapable of governing. British Liberals, heartened just now by municipal-council gains and greater support in some by-elections, attracted only 5.9 percent of the popular vote at the last general election. They are a lively, talented, but inconsequential minority.
The ordinary Briton seems to take all this very calmly indeed. He hasn’t got really mad at anything since Suez, and then he was mad mostly because the sick and wavering Eden didn’t give Nasser a bloody nose. To repeat
(with apologies) an overworked slogan, Mr. Average Man has “never had it so good” and he wants things to stay that way.
The news that Britain's trade deficit was a thumping billion pounds last year doesn’t filter down to the pubs. The recent increase in the direct cost of the National Health Service (from fourteen cents to twenty-eight cents for each drug prescription) did cut slightly into spending money, but working men are well aware that today’s average wage in manufacturing of $42 a week is well up on, say, the 1950 figure. (Actually, it's just over 100 percent higher.) Even the removal of surtax on incomes of up to $14,000 in the last budget — an unabashed Tory move to give more incentive to the boss —didn’t seem to anger the workers deeply.
IN PARLIAMENT, IT’S TORY VERSUS TORY
A crowd of off-duty railwaymen in a pub close to Paddington didn’t show any choler when asked about the appointment of Dr. Richard Beeching, an executive of Imperial Chemical Industries, as the new rail czar at the unheard-of salary of $70,000 (his predecessor got $28,000). “Wish I had half his luck,”
was one comment. “He only gets a fraction of that after tax,” said another man. who added grimly, “and he’ll earn every penny of it.”
The core of the whole matter is that unemployment in Britain is 1.5 percent of the working force. Deposits in the “people’s bank” (Post Office Savings, Premium Bonds, etc.) stand at a record seven billion dollars. When Harold Macmillan says “1 do not remember any period in my lifetime when the economy has been so sound and the prosperity of our people so widely spread ... do you want to go ahead on the lines which are succeeding so well?” The answer comes back, "Yes, please, sir.”
One of the major curiosities of the current political scene is that the telling opposition to the Conservatives has for months been most strongly expressed by Conservatives. A Canadian reporter, remembering the steady partisan wrangling of Ottawa, must adjust to the sight and sound of true-blue Tories lambasting the government for promising fifty million dollars of public money to the Cunard company for a new liner to replace the Queen Mary, and other matters of equal weight. Sir John VaughanMorgan observed of the Cunard deal: “The
Russians launch a man into space and the British launch a white elephant upon the ocean.” (Labor leaders didn’t oppose the bill.) Then, too. Lord Salisbury accuses the government of selling British African colonists down the river. Sir Cyril Black, who heads the Moral Law Defense Association, thunders that the Tories encourage vice by not banning nude shows in clubs and theatres. Lord Hinchingbrooke accuses Macmillan of failing the Commonwealth in the South African crisis “through ineptitude, lack of foresight, lack of planning and lack of energy.” Sixty-nine Conservatives actually voted against their government on the issue of corporal punishment for certain offenses (they’re for it, but Home Secretary R. A. Butler isn’t).
Another home-made rod for the government’s broad back is the ten-year-old Bow Group. This ginger team of young Tories—in the House and out—prods and goads the party hierarchy without let. It recently attacked the government's decision to abandon conscription in peacetime, and scared the party by advocating that parents should pay to send children to state schools.
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A favorite party game: picking the next PM
Certainly Labor members — some of them, at any rate — fought against the granting of an atom-sub base to the United States in Holy Loch. Others, and notably Harold Wilson, whacked hard on the budget issues, on stagnation in the export drive, and on the increased NHS charges. But these attacks on admittedly important issues just don't seem to draw solid response from the electorate. The observer, studying the fact that 12,200,000 Britons voted Labor in 1959, wonders where the devil these millions are today.
Here’s how some of the speculation on the parties’ fortunes runs.
It’s a popular indoor sport here to think up superlatives, or epithets, for Harold Macmillan. “Supermac” is the old standby of his admirers—the thousands, even millions, in and out of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations who believe that, practically singlehanded, he keeps the party in power and its splinter groups in check. “Yurimac” is the latest label—this from those who note, either in admiration or irritation, his lordly orbiting far above the earthlings moiling on both sides of the House. Rebellious Tory backbenchers have recently called him "the Ditherer” and “Little Englander”—the last a sneer at his keenly co-operative line with the United States. “Mac the Knife” was in vogue last year. Flattery and calumny leave Macmillan unmoved—that’s “Mac the Unflappable.” Twice a week he deals briefly with the earthlings at Question lime, then stalks of! to run the country. Tory headquarters men cheerfully admit that half the time they haven’t got the faintest idea what he’s up to.
An even livelier indoor sport is trying to guess who Macmillan’s successor will be—assuming, that is, the man is mortal. The prime minister is 67. He has given no hint of retirement. Even so, London’s dozens of political correspondents never tire of shuffling the Tory face cards for a new king.
Since the first half of the nineteenth century, when there were six Conservative prime ministers in their forties, no Conservative under 50 has assumed the prime ministry. In the same period, the oldest man to take office was 69. Therefore the timing of Macmillan’s eventual handover of power would seem to define the field. Another factor is that the Conservatives are. well, conservative — dark horses can be counted out. If Macmillan died today, the consensus is that R. A. Butler would succeed him.
At 58, Butler is both the faithful party workhorse and the keeper of the Conservative conscience. He carries a staggering load: Home Secretary, leader of the House of Commons, chairman of the party organization and, in Macmillan’s frequent absences overseas, acting prime minister. Some of the political pundits hint privately that “Rab has it coming to him” as part of a gentleman’s agreement with Macmillan dating from 1957. It will be recalled by a few, perhaps, that the choice of Macmillan that year over Butler, following Eden’s failure, was widely attributed to Churchill’s intervention. Sir Winston was 80 when he handed over to
Eden; if Macmillan set that ripe age as his own goal, Butler’s chance would be slim indeed—he’d be 71.
Iain Macleod. now in the hot seat as Colonial Secretary, has long been supposed to be in training for the top post. His luck has been to inherit the wind of change that Macmillan blew into Africa. Currently, an observer gets the distinct impression that Yurimac and the elders of the party are standing by watching, safely out of range, as Macleod juggles the hot potatoes personified by Jomo Kenyatta and Sir Roy Welensky. Macleod is not yet 48—he has a couple of years to go before he’d be a likely choice as PM, assuming the age tradition is honored. He has an almost fanatical following among ihc 150,000 Young Conservatives, but, at best, he can be rated as having a fair chance of being the next leader but one.
Duncan Sandys, now 53, is one of the jacks often shuffled in and out of the Tory pack. A boy wonder—he entered the cabinet at 36—he is currently Secretary for Commonwealth Relations. He seems to have made few friends of late years and. at close quarters, his personality is not winning. Enoch Powell, the tough-minded Minister of Health who is also a published poet, and Reginald Maudling, the intellectual economist who is President of the Board of Trade, might be termed Men to Watch. They're 49 and 44 respectively.
There’s another name, though, that seems to jump out from the pack—that of John Selwyn Brooke Lloyd. Most political experts discount his chances. When pressed for reasons, they say he hasn't a flair for leadership, that he’s only a good No. 2 man. and so on. But consider his career, at 57: president of the Cambridge Union. Queen’s Counsel, artillery brigadier, Minister of Supply. Minister of Defense. Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer. He led the U. K. delegation at seven sessions of the UN General Assembly, at NATO, SLATO and Baghdad Pact meetings, and went with Macmillan on his historic trip to Moscow in 1959. His first budget last April, with its tax cuts on higher salaries, was greeted by the bulk of the party with huzzahs. He presented it with both assurance and confidence, and from the gallery looked every inch a No. I man.
His only blooper came at the end when he allowed himself to be led into a plea for the man earning $300 a week . . . "Unless he has private means, he has the greatest difficulty in providing for the education of his family, and to save.” He got only as far as the word "difficulty” before derisive Opposition shouts rocked the House. He found the courage, though, to repeat his words above the din and add. defiantly. "And that is the fact of life." Selwyn Lloyd may never be loved, but one suspects there's little romance in the choice of a prime minister.
Lor a good long while yet. the biggest question in British domestic politics must remain: can Labor really put its own house in order and start the rebuilding that’s essential before it can offer the country sound alternative government? At this writing. Harold Wilson was telling Midlands audiences that the movement was sick to death of quarreling. "It is giving a clear directive to all of us to get together on a com monsense and responsible policy which will unite the party and give a lead to the country.”
A second, and allied, question is: if Labor does bring it off. can Hugh Gaitskell still lead the party?
It is impractical to define in detail the divisions—they are not mere quarrels— that have rent the Left, even in the past two years. Hundreds of thousands of words have been written, for instance, on the most public of the controversies— where does Labor stand on defense?— and the public still hasn’t got a clear picture. Hours of talking with the factions give one a sympathetic grasp of the struggle of conscience involved, but the frustrating fog remains.
At the risk of over-simplification, the problem could be stated: (I) keep the bomb; (2) let's have half a bomb: (3) ban the bomb. When last year’s Labor conference voted for No. 3, Gaitskell. with most of the parliamentary Labor party behind him, said he would "fight, fight and fight again” rather than submit to the unilateralist policy. This put him at odds with the young intellectuals on the Left, with some of the biggest unions in the country and with the chairman of the
party, R. H. S. Crossman. who now favors No. 2. Tories hugged themselves with delight at the spectacle of the generally unpugnacious Gaitskell slugging it out with his own party; the Labor supporters at the grass roots were angry and dismayed.
This summer, desperate efforts are being made to paper over the cracks and a compromise—based on the baffling No. 2 line—seems likely to win conference support. This would be hailed as a victory for unity—with Gaitskell presumably committed to opposing nuclear bases in Britain. Which is another way of saying “as long as we don’t actually see the missiles, it’s okay.”
Obscured by the dust of the defense row. an even deeper chasm splits the party—the Clause Four wrangle. This is the clause of the party constitution, written in 1918. that commits Labor to a policy of nationalization. Again, the issue is never stated clear and whole but. baldly. the more radical members of the party would pick up the ball where Attlee dropped it in 1951 and take over major industries like chemicals, oil, machine tools, shipping. They'd also renationalize steel, which the Tories have partly unloaded.
Although Gaitskell. on the platform, makes obeisance to the doctrine—he goes no further than suggesting bringing it “up to date”—he is certainly aware that this is not the right year, or perhaps decade, to be scaring the prosperous populace with dogma. In 1945, Britons were game for anything; in 1961, they’ve gone back to stolid complacency, putting their extra shillings into unit trusts (the British phrase for investors' syndicates) rather than dreaming of a brave new world. Can Gaitskell cool this socialist fervor, based on holy writ, and still lead a socialist party?
The Labor party has dumped only one leader in its history—George Lansbury in 1935. If Gaitskell should fall — and he's a whole lot tougher than his sobriquet of “Gaiters” would suggest—who would replace him? Chances are that thcre’d be a dog-eat-dog melee. There’s no Nye Bevan standing head and shoulders out of the ruck today. Deputy leader George Brown, a 47-year-old former union organizer, is practically Gaitskell’s shadow and echo — in public, anyway. James Callaghan and Denis Healey, both also in their forties, arc definite comers, though still some steps from the throne. Dick Crossman. brilliant but erratic, lacks appeal as parliamentary leader, according to veteran Labor journalists.
An inquirer gets the same know-ing reaction when he checks the chances of Harold Wilson, yet — on the basis of a year’s study — it is Wilson w'ho catches the imagination. At 45. he’s had sixteen years in the House and is best remembered overseas as President of the Board of Trade in the last Labor administration. A council schoolboy who fought his way through to an Oxford fellowship, he is patently the most forceful critic of the Conservatives. His acid wit is already legendary, and he can use either the rapier or the cleaver. He once taunted Macmillan about practising nepotism that would “bring a blush to the cheek of a Borgia pope."
As all hopeful minorities must, the Liberal party here fires off a 24-gun salute to mark every apparent increase of popular support. Thus, in early summer, they were cock-a-hoop because in borough-council elections, they contested 794 seats and w'on 112—a net gain of 86. In the same series of town-hall votes, by the w'av, the Tories had a net gain of 140. A Liberal cannonade in the spring celebrated increased support in a few' parliamentary by-elections—in one case, an increase of twenty percent in Liberal votes.
Foreign correspondents, bored with articles about Supermac, have been sending home so many stories about a Liberal revival that overseas readers might be getting the thing a bit out of perspective. The Liberals were last voted into power in 1910 under Asquith. 1 hat year, they had 275 seats in the House. After the war, the number dropped to 161; in 1929. to 59; in 1945. to 25; in 1950. to 9. and in 1951. to 6. where it has remained.
Certainly, after four years of lively leadership by Jo Grimond. the party has perked up. The handsome 48-year-old Orkney Islander and Balliol scholar has a following among youth that a rock V roll singer could envy. The party stakes its chances, principally, on the mystique of individualism. Policy statements often have that high-flying emptiness that is the hallmark of expensive public relations handouts. The party opposes state control of industry, for instance, and also
capitalist monopoly—it’s for “co-ownership.”
In one aspect, at least, the Liberals can match the big outfits—the knives are flashing inside the party. Manuela Sykes, prospective Liberal candidate for Ipswich. accuses the party leadership of dumping Liberal principles in the hunger for more votes. Quoting the old saw that a radical is someone whose nose bleeds when someone else’s nose is punched. Miss Sykes suggests it applies with equal force to Liberals w'ho won’t stick their own necks out.
WITH THE LIFE of the present parliament nearly half spent, analysts for all three parties are examining every straw' in the wind and gingerly recording every beat in the country's political pulse. With marvellous dexterity, all parties find some cheer in all the local-body votes. Labor, for instance, which lost 223 seats in the borough elections, congratulated itself for holding on to a quarter of the large gains it made in similar elections in 1958.
Ehe Conservatives seem to be on guard, particularly, against the almost inevitable complacency that goes with a string of large majorities. The slaughter of the Canadian Liberals in 1957 is w'ell remembered in Smith Square, the Tory headquarters. George Christ, in an editorial in the Tory party paper, warned recently. “Continuance in office can breed complacency and flabbiness. Parties can lose their impetus, their zeal for evolving new ideas. Then the country decides it's time for a change. . . .” But the Conservatives point to the youth of their MPs as insurance against complacency. They have sixty members forty and under: Labor, on the other hand, has only twelve. At the opposite end of the scale, thirty Laborites arc in their seventies, but only six Tories.
Labor refuses to be stampeded. When they are concerned with wider topics than the party's internal guerrilla warfare. spokesmen open the well-thumbed record book and relate the solemn truth that if they had won only 1.500,000 more votes in 1959 they’d be in power today. That was the Tory majority — and it translates into a shade under 5.6 percent of the electorate or. more importantly, into 100 seats. The pendulum swings, they say. and what goes up must come down.
But perhaps there is a new factor changing the chemistry of British politics -—the evolution of a less class-conscious society. Even the most hidebound reactionary or the most embittered radical w'ould surely admit that education for the masses has improved immeasurably in the last tw'enty years. One telling symbol: seventy-five percent of all undergraduates at Oxford are now supported in some manner by the state. Longer and better education is breaking down traditional beliefs of the “I knows me place" variety. Incomes of the mass have increased just as dramatically; the disappearance of inherited and ineradicable poverty in one generation has demolished the concept that one class is born rich, another poor. The bid by trading banks for the accounts of workingmen is just one result — the simple act of waiting a cheque has been a status symbol here since the Bank of England was founded in 1694.
Time and continued prosperity will probably make the terms “working class" and “upper class” largely meaningless. A Labor politician w'ho based his future on the simple assumption that "the workers could never desert the workers' party” would seal his doom. And any Tory who convinces himself that "the chaps" will always do the right thing would make exactly the same mistake, it