Maclean's London Correspondent, himself a Conservative MP seeking re-election to the House of Commons on Feb. 23.
LONDON (By Cable)—Three months before the British general election in 1945 the editor of Maclean’s cabled a request that I should predict what was likely to happen. My article appeared in the April 15 issue under the heading “Will Britain Swing Left?” My conclusions as published
1. The tide just now is running heavily against the Tories.
2. Fortunately or unfortunately—it is a matter of outlook—Churchill is leader of the Tory party and, although innocent of any of the mud of Munich or the reproach of insufficient armaments, a vote for Churchill is a vote for the old gang; a vote for Churchill ("the Socialists will say) is a vote for the world that was and not for the world to be.
3. It is not impossible that the Tory decline will develop into a rout and that the Socialists will emerge clear victors for the first time in their history.
4. My reason tells me that there will be a Tory debacle; my instinct urges me to remember that the Socialists are hopeless tacticians and may blunder at the 11th hour.
Reason was right. The Socialists did not bungle and they swept to power with the irresistible force of a river that has overflown its banks.
While it is always gratifying to see one’s prophecies come true (in this case the gratification was not an unmixed joy) it was highly embarrassing when in the very midst of the 1945 election the Socialists reproduced my Maclean’s article here in pamphlet form.
Two years before the last U. S. presidential election I prophesied to editorial chiefs of the New York Times, with whom I was lunching, that Truman would be re-elected.
Finally, in the North Hammersmith by-election in Britain, I told Tory chief Lord Woolton that the Conservative candidate would lose by 1,500 votes. Actually it was 1,600.
Therefore I come before you with some small credit as a prophet and therefore with some misgivings about going once too often to the well.
I admit at once that it is nothing like as easy to forecast the general election on February 23 as it was the election of July 1945. There were at least five crucial moments in the life of the present Socialist Government when it would probably have been defeated if an election could have been forced.
The shocking mismanagement of electricity and coal, which brought about economic disaster in the first winter, was one of the gross miscalculations of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Dalton,
which resulted in Britain having to suspend conversion of sterling credits into dollars.
The second, the Lynskey corruption tribunal which brought about the resignation of a minister, might also have defeated the Government.
The sudden devaluation of the pound also shook the nation to its foundation.
Then there was the prolonged dock strike in which the Government showed both timidity and stupidity.
Had an election come on during either of these last two periods I am certain the Socialists would have gone down to defeat. Instead of which they are now going to the country with workers fully employed, with exports but not earnings rising, with the welfare state functioning fairly well, with inflation held within bounds, with trade unions obligingly suppressing any demand for increased wages, with dividends frozen, with subsidies keeping food prices down, and pretty good relations within the Commonwealth and with the Western Powers.
In other words the Socialists hold a good hand. No wonder they decided on a February election instead of hazarding a delay until June.
As a rule political situations are dominated by personalities. The public understands personalities
better than problems and the vote goes more often to the man than the policy. No one can doubt that in the last three Commonwealth elections the personalities of Louis St. Laurent, Australia’s R. G. Menzies, and New Zealand’s S. G. Holland played a great part.
It is a paradox that practically none of our Socialist ministers could be accurately described as popular. Prime Minister Atlee is respectad for his integrity, his modesty, and his respectability. He never whines. He never assumes the role of a tired titan forced to lift the world up with his two hands. He never dramatizes himself nor descends to vulgarity when attacking his opponents. Attlee is a man who invites neither cheers nor jeers. The fact that the great Churchill has failed to knock him out adds to the respect of the people who like to see a little bantam hold his own against a big bruiser.
Herbert Morrison is likeable and clever but just a bit too clever. He thinks quickly and the British don’t believe quick thinking and sincerity go together. He is the party boss, and if anything happened to Attlee then Morrison would be in the running for successorship. It is his own fault that he is regarded as a trickster first and a statesman second.
Ernie Bevin is weighed down by two things—his failure ever to achieve a real success in foreign affairs and the condition of his heart, which is cause for constant anxiety. Where once he thundered in the House of Commons he now reads his speeches with a dull monotony that almost empties the place. Politics is a cruel game and the spectators demand the players shall be physically fit.
From Falstaff to the lean apothecary . . . from Bevin to Cripps. The British don’t know what to
make of this thin ascetic descendant of Yeoman England. They respect him but when he turns up among the people they feel rather like a party of Scots visited by a temperance lecturer on Burns Night.
A lot of Britons squirmed when one Sunday night in January Sir Stafford preached a sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is true Cripps belongs to the Christian brotherhood, and I do not doubt his complete sincerity. He has been known to harangue two political audiences on a Sunday afternoon and then preach in the pulpit in the evening. But does a politician preach in a great cathedral on the eve of an election? Is this not a case of rendering tribute to God and Caesar at the same moment? A lot of people squirmed uncomfortably over the incident. The Chancellor had come up against that implacable English law of what is and isn’t done.
No Idols On The Left
CRIPPS. however, could never be popular. His smile is too icy, his virtue too evident, his austerity too bleak. Not even the most alcoholic banquet audience could send him off with “For he’s a jolly good fellow.” Yet there is a deep respect for his selflessness and for the endless hours in which he labors for the state. After all, the French chose a Corsican to lead them, the Germans followed an Austrian, and the Irish put their trust in a SpanishAmerican. So, if the occasion arises, it might well be that Cripps would become Socialist prime minister because of his very lack of popular English qualities.
Finally there is that exuberant swashbuckling and able fellow Aneurin Bevan. I have known Aneurin personally for a quarter of a century and
we remain friends, although politically we would cheerfully cut each other’s throat. The left wing of the Labor Party follows him with wild enthusiasm as if he were some new modern Danton. They do not realize that actually he is a Victorian leftover giving a first-rate imitation of Lloyd George in middle age.
Bevan hates the rich collectively, but not individually. He refuses to wear formal clothes, even at Buckingham Palace, but he can tell the vintage of a champagne by tasting it. His foolish angry outbursts in which he denounced Conservatives as lower than vermin and declared the British Press to be the most prostituted in the world indicate a cerebral condition which he should watch. On the other hand it makes him a natural leader of the extreme Left.
Bevan’s hour will come if the Socialists are defeated. If they win he may find himself just one more man of destiny who never got higher than the steps of the throne.
There are no other senior Socialist ministers who matter. Which leads me to the conclusion that the Socialists are going into the fight without a single leader who is in any way an idol of the people. Actually, there are ministers like poor Strachey, the Minister of Food, who are genuinely if unfairly disliked. Nor is the Minister of Labor, little George Isaacs, likely to be asked to address any rallies of working men during the election.
The Conservatives are more fortunate. In Churchill and Eden we have two men who are greatly loved and admired. Additionally we have Lord Woolton who is gratefully remembered for the way he fed the nation during the war.
It is true that
Admitting that British Labor holds a strong hand, Baxter predicts a victory for Churchill because, among many other things, the housewives are sick of Socialism
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