Gangway for a Warhorse
Editor's Note—Three months before the British elections of 1945, Mr. Baxter, a Conservative M.P., forecast a Labor victory in a widely quoted Maclean's article. Now he tells why he thinks Winston Churchill will again be Prime Minister.
CLEMENT ATTLEE is looking for a modest, house in the country. No doubt he will find one, and acquire it, before these words appear in print.
What is unusual about that? I am not quite sure. But it is, nevertheless, worth a moment's speculation.
Mr. Attlee already has a town house in a quaint little street which hardly gets started before it comes to a stop. It is called Downing Street and he lives at No. 10.
He also has a beautiful country mansion called “Chequers," with hot and cold water, beautiful gardens, costly furniture and a full staff of indoor and outdoor servants. This, however, is not his own. It was given to the nation by Lord Lee of Fareham for the use of whoever happens to be Prime Minister. I believe there is a sum of £15 to cover a Prime Minister’s out-of-pocket expenses for each week end that he spends there.
Then why should Mr. Attlee be looking for a country house at this moment? His friends say that he is getting on in years—he was 66 on Jan. 3—and that he wants a place to which he can ultimatefy retire, perhaps in seven or eight years.
Now all this is plausible and possible, but if we apply the technique of the late Mr. Sherlock Holmes we must ask: “Why is Mr. Attlee acquiring a house now, with prices at their highest, instead of waiting until the building program achieves its target and prices begin to drop?”
With some diffidence and all respect I venture the explanation that Mr. Attlee believes that a new tenant, a Mr. Churchill, will be coming to No. 10 Downing Street within a year or so and that he, Mr. Attlee, wants some place in which to store himself, his family and his furniture. It may be that he is unduly apprehensive and that this Mr. Churchill may not turn up at No. 10. It is obvious, however, that the Prime Minister does not deny the possibility.
The Parliamentary Ring
AFTER 13 years in Parliament I have come to JTJL the conclusion that there is a definite affinity between politics and boxing. After a general election the two parties (the Liberals merely hold the sponge) enter the ring at Westminster for a longdrawn-out title fight. The winner at the polls is the holder of the title while the other is the challenger.
Battling Churchill is in top form, ready to belt Champ Attlee off his throne. And he’ll do it next election, Baxter predicts
Both are in splendid condition after the electoral bout, although the challenger has a half-closed eye and is rather red about the ribs. As the fight has to go the distance neither tries for a knockout in the early rounds. They are studying each other’s defense, watching for an opening, noting if there is some vulnerable spot which the other seems overinclined to protect. The fans yawn and even clap derisively. “Why don’t you kiss and make up?” “Dear old pals” and other such taunts are flung at the gladiators.
The fighters are not unduly distressed by the anvil chorus. They know that there will be plenty of slug and blood before the contest ends and that the fans will then, in their excitement, forget about the mildness of the opening phase.
Round after round, round after round . . . the boxers are not even breathing heavily . . . then something happens ! The challenger crosses a quick right to the champion’s chin and the fans sit up. The champion smiles disdainfully and even dances about the ring to indicate that the blow has been of no consequence. Yet the challenger has seen a sudden look of apprehension in his adversary’s eye.
“That’s his weak spot,” whisper the seconds during the interval. “Just keep playing the Maiden’s Prayer on that glass chin of his.”
Round after round . . . The champion is skilful and strong but those rights keep getting through to his chin. He is full of fight but his mind is worried. He tries for a knockout, misses, and gets a right on the chin in return. The experts exchange glances with each other. The champion’s body is still strong but the reflexes are becoming slower. Where once his mind and fists were in instantaneous unity, now there is a split second of delay. Desperately the champion tries to clear his wits from the fog that is settling over them. Ouch! The challenger has hit him in the solar plexus just for a change.
Full of anger, the champion rouses himself and goes in for the kill, but somehow everything goes wrong. The challenger’s brain is quickened by success and he outwits his opponent at every turn. “I just can’t do anything right,” the champion mumbles with swollen lips to his despondent seconds. “He won’t last long now,” observe the fans with the philosophical detachment of those who are on the right side of the ropes.
FORGIVE me for sustaining a metaphor so long, but in essence it is exactly what has happened in British politics since 1945. Shrewd observers were confident that Britain was in for 15 years of Socialist Government. “By that time,” they said, “an entirely different kind of Conservative Party will have emerged, and it will be the turn of Socialism to go into the wilderness in search of its soul.”
The Labor Party came to Westminster in 1945 in a spirit of exultation. A people’s government would lead the people. The older socialists, looking back on the long, long trail, were moved to deep emotion. The younger ones were full of ardor, eager to create a new heaven on the old earth.
As for Churchill, he was out-of-date! Yes, of course, he was terrific in the war but then he always loved war. He’s something between an Elizabethan and an early Victorian, out-of-date as the dodo. We’ve got to have streamlined government now and men with streamlined minds. Churchill belongs across the road in Westminster Abbey, not here.
Thus chanted the new young Socialists flushed with victory and justly proud at finding the fate of the nation placed in their hands.
Outnumbered two to one, we of the Conservative Opposition did our best but we had been decimated in the election and, after so many years of office, we had almost forgotten how to oppose. There were
murmurings against Churchill’s leadership on the ground that his attendance in the House was intermittent, that he was concerned with writing his memoirs and that he belonged to history rather than to the Conservative Party. Churchill was conscious of this when he went to America to make his Fulton speech and did consider his possible withdrawal from active leadership.
Let me make it clear that there was never any intention either on the part of his critics or himself that he should resign the titular leadership. The Conservative Party, like Gaul, is divided into three parts—the Tory Opposition in the House of Lords led by the Marquis of Salisbury, the Tory Opposition in the Commons led by Mr. Churchill and the Conservative Central Office presided over by Ix>rd Woolton. The idea was that Winston Churchill should become the generalissimo with someone else taking over the command in the House of Commons.
Winter Takes a Hand
I CAN now reveal that a number of ex-Ministers met during Churchill’s absence in the United States and told Anthony Eden that none of them would dispute his leadership in the Commons if Churchill nominated him. Most of us, therefore, believed that this was what would happen.
But things did not work out that way. Eden was appointed deputy leader but the old warrior did not remove himself to the stratosphere. Personally I regretted Mr. Churchill’s decision at the time because I felt that he should more and more remove himself from partisan politics and speak as an elder statesman with the authority that only he can command.
In the meantime, the Socialists were steadfastly carrying through their nationalization schemes, and were duly aided and abetted by capitalist America with a loan. Ernie Bevin was a popular Foreign Secretary and could command the support of the Tories as well as most of his own party; Stafford Cripps was tackling trade problems with immense energy; Dr. Hugh Dalton was conducting finance with confidence and flamboyance; Herbert Morrison was keeping things in order on the home front, and there was much less industrial unrest than after the first World War.
In addition Mr. Attlee was showing courage, even though his judgment was questioned, in giving India and Burma their independence. Each byelection showed that the Government was retaining the confidence of the country. It is true, and only to be expected, that their by-election vote would fall below the 1945 level, but to this day the Government has not lost a single seat that it won in the general election. No wonder the Socialists laughed at us across the floor of the House. The Tories were going to wander in the wilderness for a long, long time.
The first blow to the chin was the bitterly cold winter of 1946-47, which caused a fuel breakdown and precipitated a minor economic crisis. Emanuel Shinwell, the Fuel Minister, was transferred to the War Office, a strange form of punishment. But he was chairman of the party and it would have been awkward to have dismissed him.
The next blow was in the following summer when Dr. Dalton miscalculated the drain from converting foreign sterling balances into dollars—which was one of the terms of the American loan. He had to stop the conversion and throw himself on the mercy of Washington. But he was not to last long. In the autumn he foolishly and innocently revealed the secrets of his auxiliary budget to a political journalist and had to resign. Let me assure you that there was absolutely no question of corruption.
By that time the Government was breathing heavily and was in some distress, but “Iron Man” Cripps stepped into the breach and became financial as well as economic dictator. His power
was enormous, his integrity complete. He rallied the confidence of the country and was so wise in his speeches that even the Tories left him alone.
But he could not control his colleagues. Mr. A. V. Alexander, the Minister of Defense, demanded conscription with 18 months training for every able-bodied male. The Conservative Party backed him, but a powerful section of the Socialists insisted that he should reduce the period of training to one year. Foolishly and timidly Alexander agreed, whereupon Mr. Churchill knocked him all around the ring until he was only saved by the gong.
All this time the foreign situation was deteriorating. Ernie Bevin was tired, stubborn and discouraged. He could produce no solution of the Palestine problem, and his relations with Russia were at a deadlock. I do not underrate his difficulties nor doubt his sturdy patriotism, but politics demand success of those in authority and Bevin could not command it.
The country became puzzled and distrustful.
More and more it began to listen for the voice that
rallied the people in the war. Churchill was in the
ascendant again and when he made a speech it was
considered of more
Continued on page 41
Gangway for a Warhorse
Continued, from page 13
importance than any government utterance.
Then came Cripps’ first full budget in the spring of 1948. Determined to curb inflation he asked, but really demanded, that there should be no further increase in wages or the distribution of profits. Further than that he penalized the thrifty by making a capital levy on invested income.
This was more than a political move, it was a challenge to human nature. In a perfect world you might persuade athletes to run just as hard for sweat as for sweets, but not in an imperfect world. He had taken away incentive both to management and workers. He had also injured the national savings movement. Worse than that he had, by his heavy direct and indirect
taxation, given another stimulus to the British weakness for gambling.
However, the Marshall plan once more brought confidence to the Government and the country. Also, in fairness, industry was working well and the gap between exports and imports was beginning to narrow. Cripps predicted that solvency was not far off.
So up went the Socialist barometer again. A little later the Conservative Party held its annual summer conference at Llandudno. Churchill did not turn up until the last day. He had a tremendous reception from the Tory delegates who felt that at last they were to hear the true Conservative policy from their immortal leader.
But Churchill, the historian and man of destiny, was not thinking on party lines. The world is his parish and he was speaking to the world. In substance it was a demand that we should have a showdown with Russia and
force a settlement of outstanding differences while we had the advantage of the atomic bomb.
The Tories were chilled and then resentful. He could have made that speech anywhere to any audience, so why choose the party conference? The Socialists were jubilant. Now they could brand Churchill as a warmonger and scare the electorate. Once again the mutterings against his leadership started among the Tories at Westminster. Churchill was conscious of it but did not seem unduly worried.
Finally, there came the Truman election result and the Socialists nearly lit bonfires in the street. Glory hallelujah ! The whole world was going Left. It is true that the corruption tribunal had begun its enquiries and a by-election in the North London borough of Edmonton was about to take place, but the Socialists were not worried about that. The Socialist majority in 1945 was over 19,000 and, besides, it was a working-class district. Just one more by-election victory, just one more nail in the Conservative coffin . . .
As you know, the Edmonton result was sensational. The huge 19,000 majority went crashing down to 3,000. One last push and the Tories could have won it. The Government rocked on its heels and fell back against the ropes.
The whole political scene had been transformed. Churchill leaped to the attack, not on cheap party points, but on broad fundamental issues. He had never spoken better, he had never been more completely in command of his mental and physical energy. The Tories behind him forgot their grumblings and shouted encouragement. The Socialists sat hack and did not dare to interrupt him. Once more he was speaking for the nation and, when it came to foreign affairs, he was speaking for western civilization.
It was in the foreign affairs debate that Churchill supplied a moment of intense drama. He had been accused of wanting war with Russia, he had been accused of helping to cause the breach with Russia, he had been accused of deliberately dividing the world into two hostile camps.
A Message to Stalin
Pausing in his speech he reached for a page among his papers and held it in his hand. “On April the 29th, 1945,” he said slowly, “I poured out my heart to one whom I called ‘My dear friend Stalin.’ ”
The House became tense. With that swiftness of perception that marks the British Parliament there was a recognition on all sides that we were experiencing a great moment in history. Something was about to be revealed that might profoundly alter the trend of events.
“I wrote to Stalin,” said Churchill, “in these terms:
“There is not much comfort in looking into a future where you and the countries you dominate are lined up on one side, and the English-speaking nations and their associates and Dominions are on the other. It is quite obvious that their quarrel would tear the world to pieces, and that all of us leading men on either side who had anything to do with that would be shamed before history. Even to embark on a long period of suspicion, of abuse and counterabuse, and of opposing policies, would be a disaster hampering the great development of world prosperity for the masses which will be attained only by our trinity.
1 hope there is no word or phrase in this outpouring of my heart to you, Mr. Stalin, which unwittingly gives offense
to you. If there is, let me know. But do not, I beg of you, my friend, underrate the divergencies which are opening about matters which you may think are small, but which are symbolic of the way in which the English-speaking democracies look at life.”
His voice came to an end. He was so deeply moved that he waited before he could trust his voice, holding the House quiet and motionless with his upraised hand.
“I believed that this trinity,” he said, “would have opened a golden age to mankind.”
Then the river burst its banks. Cheers upon cheers swept the Chamber, and there were unashamed tears as well. This man of greatness and simplicity had seen the gathering storm which would follow the war with Germany and he had tried to deflect the lightning. T think most of us that day, regardless of party, felt that we were in the presence of an immortal.
Mr. Churchill is now enjoying one of his periodic booms. When he entered the Commons on his 74th birthday, looking like a mischievous cherub, the whole House cheered him.
Afterward in the smoke room a few of us had a chat with Churchill and I
must say that he looked literally in the pink. It reminded us of the time that some woman said he looked like her baby. “Madam,” said Churchill, “put a cigar in any baby’s mouth and he will look like me.”
A few weeks ago the newspapers published photographs of him on horseback attending a hunt. There he was with a hat which was something between a Victorian political relic and a gamekeeper’s headpiece—and he was smoking a cigar! I suspect that his purpose was not so much to risk his neck over fences as to show his disapproval of a private Socialist members’ bill to do away with fox hunting because of its cruelty.
Perhaps the illness of King George makes the British people turn toward the man who, next to the King, seems to represent the permanency of Britain’s destiny. At any rate, whatever the cause, Churchill has entered into his 75th year in good health and high spirit, asking only one thing—to take the burden of the world once more upon his shoulders.
What will happen at the next General Election?
The hard core of the Socialist vote will not change. Neither will the hard
core of the Conservative vote. The bewildered and disheartened Liberal vote will be divided among the three parties, and I doubt if more than a dozen Liberal M.P.’s will be returned.
This is an election that will be decided by the floating vote of two or three millions. My prediction is that it will go largely to Churchill and the Conservatives who will be returned with a majority of about 40.
Mr. Churchill has no illusions about the nature of his task if he is called back to office. In 1940 he faced the situation and made the nation face it as well with stark realism. Now nearly nine years later and being nine years older he knows that the difficulties will
be almost as great and that the chances of glory will not exist.
History tells him that successful war leaders recalled to power in the disillusionment of peace shed their popularity and are even stoned like the Duke of Wellington. Nor will he be able to finish his history of the war unless he relies on others to do most of the work, which would affront his artistic conscience. Yet he will accept office in the deep and sincere belief that, more than any other man, he can restore the unity and dignity of Britain.
“I hope that we shall be equal to the task,” he said to a few of us the other day, “for it will be a heavy one.” ★