BEVERLEY BAXTER'S LONDON LETTER

What Chance a Coalition?

December 1 1947
BEVERLEY BAXTER'S LONDON LETTER

What Chance a Coalition?

December 1 1947

What Chance a Coalition?

BEVERLEY BAXTER'S LONDON LETTER

YESTERDAY I drove down to Lord Beaverbrook’s country house to say good-by to him before he sailed on the Queen Elizabeth en route to New Brunswick. To my delight there were a dozen young Canadians there from the University of New Brunswick who had won Beaverbrook Scholarships and are to attend London University for a year.

There was something reassuring anil encouraging in the very fact that they were there, that in this singularly cockeyed world there are young people equipping themselves for the unknown future. If was almost like the arrival of fresh troops in the front line.

They praised the lovely countryside, the winding friendly roads, the cottages guarded by neat little hedges, the sloping meadows and the towering trees. “I am afraid this place is going to get into my blood,” said one of them.

These are not easy days for Britain and the British. Every day comes news of fresh massacres in India as the British Raj gives way to its successors. Every day there is some new horror in Palestine. Every day there are new restrictions on human liberty as the Socialist Government grapples with the rising threat of national bankruptcy. Every day Russia heaps scorn upon us and every day the U. S. A. gives us good advice.

And all the time the English revolution is going on, altering the habits, the psychology and the activities of the people. The private motorcar will soon disappear from the streets, our letters to America are to be censored in case we are sending pound notes out of the country, workers in nonessential industries are to he “encouraged” to ot her industries which will assist the export drive.

As in the war, visitors reach us from foreign parts and tell us that foreigners say of the British: They can take it”—but with a different meaning from 1940. They are referring to food parcels and loans. They tell us that we are queue-minded, that we ought to rebel and send the Socialists packing, that we should insist upon going abroad if we feel like it. The only thing they do not tell us is how to bridge the gap between our imports and exports. In short, «John Bull who was once the ruler of the world, is now like a dummy in a circus tent where you can win a cigar if you hit him on the head with a coconut. The proudest boast of the ancient

Romans was “Civis Romanus Sum.” One does not hear in this country today the ringing declaration, “I am a British citizen.”

And having painted this disturbing picture let me now make a personal confession. Last winter I journeyed to North America and felt the exhilarating tonic of the glittering Babylon of New York, and made contact with many cities where prosperity was heaped on prosperity and the pace of life was like a five-furlong race.

Yet, at the end of the seven weeks, I wanted to come hack to England. I wanted to return to the country which is conducting one of the greatest social experiments of all time, to a people that tries to distinguish between the material and the spiritual, and to men who talk in terms of the centuries.

Confounding the Unexpected

THE Englishman is never ready for any crisis.

To his astonishment he finds that drought is something that comes in the summer. Last winter lie was caught out by the weather being bitterly cold. No wonder the Scot up north tears his hair and wonders why he was cast upon an island with such feckless folk.

But if the Englishman is feckless he is the greatest improviser that ever lived. I can recall vividly a November week end in 1940 when I went to the seaside with Major Theodore Roosevelt (the son of the great Teddy) who fought in our Army in 1914 and had come over to fight with us again. That day Hitler had loosed the magnetic mine and ships in Britain’s home waters were being blown up at an alarming rate. It was a cold, cloudy, windy day and the yellowish sea was whipped to a malignant fury as if its hunger for more and more ships could not be appeased.

Forty-eight hours later 1 went from the Ministry of Aircraft Production to see an airplane with superimposed gigantic horseshoe wings that held concentrated magnetic force. Out it went to skim the waters and explode the mines lurking beneath the surface. Then came the even swifter adjustment attached to the ships’ keels. In four days the threat of the magnetic mine was over. Yet the German High Command, on the advice of their best scientists,

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believed there was no antidote to it.

i do not excuse the Englishman for always being taken by surprise, but you have to give him full marks for the way he confronts and confounds the unexpected.

So in the realm of politics he is improvising today. He wants to see how far the State can control the lives of the people before human liberty is endangered and individual initiative is crushed. Further than that he wants to find out if Socialism is an actual, workable policy or whether it is, as its opponents say, a mere halfway creed which must eventually degenerate into Communism.

Can you imagine in any other country a government being overtaken by an economic crisis, cutting down food, stopping private motoring, taxing the people at the war level, holding up the building of houses, directing labor — and winning two by-elections at the same time? Today the British public respects the Socialist Government because it is not afraid to bring in unpopular measures. The ordinary voter is not at all satisfied that the Socialists did everything they could to prevent the crisis and some day be will demand an accounting. But when the storm is at its height he puts his trust in the captain n the bridge, providing the captain will give firm orders.

Growing Influence

But the economic crisis is not everything although it is a lot. The fact remains that it is the nature of the political plant known as Communism to thrive in had weather. Discouragement, exasperation and despair are as much a tonic to Communism as sunshine' is to more normal growths. And J regret to have to admit that although the Communist Party is not expanding in numbers it is growing sharply in influence.

One night recently I wont; to a by-election in West. Islington which adjoins my constituency of Wood Green. The Labor candidate was holding a meeting in a schoolhouse and it could not have been more decorous if it, bad been a church wedding between the curate and the vicar’s daughter.

When at; one moment during one speech a Tory in the audience said “Oh” there was a shocked surprise. The lord chairman rose to his feet and said: “I hope we are not going to have any childishness here.” I almost felt.

like throwing the Tory out for misbehaving in such a twilight of respectability.

Then I went down to the Tory meeting where I was due to speak after Peter Thorneycroft. The place was packed and the noise was like the zoo before feeding time. Youngish men with brazen voices were yelling and gesticulating with one determination— that no coherent argument could be made by the speaker. They7 were members of the Communist Party who had no candidate of their own but. had declared support for the Socialist. Last night just before midnight the result of the election was made known and the Communists sang “The Red Flag” outside the Islington Town Hall. They felt they had dictated the tactics, they7 had broken up the Tory meetings, and so far as they were concerned, they were the winners.

The same thing is happening in the Trade Unions. There is no saner human being in the world than the ordinary British Trade Union official who has risen by service to bis mates. But now we have shop stewards—and the Communists have captured them. They even succeeded in getting a Communist, Arthur Horner, elected to the head of the mighty Miners’ Union. Small in number but rich in spleen the Communist trouble makers exploit. every7 grievance, ridicule the Monarchy, spread class hatred and foment unofficial strikes.

There is not the smallest doubt that Attlee, Bevin and Cripps detest, the Communists and all their works, yet they are the unwilling beneficiaries to the Communist estate. And here, in my opinion, is the inherent danger in Socialism, a danger which is not less because Socialism sincerely tries to better the condit ion of the poor and t he workers.

The Communists believe that Socialism can he nothing more than a respect -able, well-meaning halfway house to totalitarianism. Socialism is class conscious despite its intellectuals and even aristocrats. From class consciousness to class hatred is a thin line to cross and when you reach class hatred the doors of Communism or Fascism, are wide open with “Welcome” on the mat.

It is my sincere belief that Attlee, Morrison, Bevin and Cripps are beginning to realize this. They are discovering that nationalization of industries gives the workers a sense of security without giving them the incentive of reward or the driving force of fear. They are also learning that centralized control is a brake upon personal initiative and a slowing of the wheel. The teacup theories of the Fabians and Bloomsbury idealists have failed to withstand the impact of reality.

But since 1 am writing this with (-very7 desire to be objective I must now record that the country, which is alert, to the difficulties and the disappointments surrounding the Government, is not: ready to turn the clock back and return to unrestricted free enterprise under the Conservatives. That is why in 20 by-elections since the general election the Tories have not wrested one seat which was held by the Socialists in 1945. It is true that the Government vote shows a decline and the Tory7 vote an increase but that is no more than the normal trend after a big sweep.

Yet many of us feel that there is no choice for Britain between a return to free enterprise (which would have to he enlightened and modernized with a full sense of responsibility toward the community7) or to degeneration from the dim, well-meaning dictatorship of Socialism to absolute totalitarianism.

In other words we feel there are only two systems that can work — capitalism and totalitarianism.

It is never easy to see the distant scene, but when the next general election takes place it would be very unlikely that any party would he returned with a working majority. I am basing that on the rater of decline in the Socialist vote in the by-elections which, if maintained, would lose them 100 seats. On the other hand I cannot see a big swing over to the Tories by the workers who have a tenacious loyalty to the Government which they regard as their own.

A stalemate would then offer the opportunity of a centre movement, or group or coalition which might take the name of The United Britain Party, or, better still, the United Empire Party. There would probably be a breakaway by Aneurin Bevan and his 40 extremist followers and there might he a similar breakaway of die-hard Tories. Beyond this 1 cannot even conjecture, but I can assure you that there are prominent men in all parties who are thinking along these lines.

Truly we live in exciting times and 1 have a profound faith that out of the muddle in Britain there will emerge new ideas and perhaps a new philosophy, for this strange little Island is still the laboratory of civilization. it