Bad Manners Means Bad Polities
By Michael de la fledoyere
ONE of the more unfortunate
features of the administration which has been in office these last five years has been the bad manners of a few of its leading spokesmen.
This may seem a small and pardonable matter—especially in the inevitably rough field of politics. But it is not. for bad manners are always a sign of a lack of control and balance in the person who resorts to them or in the cause for which that person speaks.
But let us first explain what we mean. In every department of social life some kind of conventions exist. Often they arc rough conventions, the existence of which is taken for granted and therefore not resented. The foul language of soldiers together, or even of boys in schools, may be unfortunate. but it is a convention signifying anything but the real meaning of the language. In politics there is a tradition of hard hitting. and it may indeed be that with the spread of greater urbanity in modern British politics we have clorastsomething of value to demo c5But this hard hitting is within a convention affecting both the circumstances and the character of the blow given and received. When such conventions are rudely broken in order to indulge a new emotion sou ate likely to get something that spells real vulgarity. real had manners.
Take Mr. Bevan's famous " vermin " speech. Here you get a Minister of the Crown, suddenly. and out of I arliament, indulging a personal spite against a vast section of the electorate because it stands for something he personally loathes and dots not understand. This In every way was breaking the conventions in order that Mr. Bevan should get something purely personal off his chest. Except that in both cases the consequences were unfortunate for both speakers, Mr. Bevan' s outburst was wholly different in character and taste front Mr. Churchill's hard hitting at the Gestapo mentality of
the Socialist in power. But there would have been an exact parallel if Mr. Churchill had spoken of the " dirty, lousy poor." When we put it this way, we can see at once the real quality of Mr. Bevan's remark.
Mr. Shinwell and the Lord Mayor's Dinner LAsr week. Mr. Shinwell (who shares with Mr. Bevan the weakness of not being able to control himself) referred to the Lord Mayor's Dinner and the reception alleged to have been given there to the Prime Minister's speech. Here again we move away from the political arena proper to a time-honoured social function at which Mr. Shinwell was a guest. At that function it is customary for the First Minister of the Crown to make a political speech. As such it is seasonabk to eXpeCt that the reactiOn, while always courteous. should have a certain political flavour. It cannot be doubted that the majority of the Lord Mayor's guests would be political opponents of the present Prime Minister, Therefore there could he nothing unnatural about a certain undercurrent of opposition feeling, easy to discern by the fewer guests who think differently. What is there to be surprised
about in this? Particularly when the Prime Minister himself does not possess that lightness of touch or felicity of phrase which could have carried off the situation.
But heavy-footed. tactless. injured Mr. Shinwell must come out in public with a purely personal attack on the quality of the guests who on that occasion were honoured by the Prime Minister and the City of London.
Again. all the aonventions were broken, and the country is again treated by a Minister of the Crown to a piece of thoroughly bad manners.
A Bad Democratic Outlook
IF the matter could be left at the stage of bad manners, one could
attach little importance to it. But unfortunately. as we have said, bad manners always indicate something had in the person who indulges them and, in so far as he is representative of much greater things than himself. in those greater things.
What expresses itself in such example is clear and it is not reassuring. It represents a "class" attack carried out of the realm of democratic politics on to the personal plane: Mr. Bevan or Mr. Shinwell. as individual men, versus Tom, Dick and Harry (if they come within their spile) as individual men. And because any personal vendetta of the kind can only end logically with an attempt on one side or the other literally " to shut the other's mouth," this attitude in a responsible politician within the democratic system inevitably cuts across the only possible democratic solution to political eontroverty, namely the verdict of a free people. free from the start to judge for themselves.
Bad manners here are an alarming indication of a bad democratic outlook, They reveal the underlying wish. not for an impartial judgment on issues at stake, but to "shut the mouth " of the personally and individually hated opposition. This means the end of democracy.
The Labour party proclaims itself democratic. and indeed uses its democratic claim as the great answer to those who would accuse it of leading to the tyranny of Communism. We have not the smallest doubt that this claim is genuine. and that the great majority of our Socialists desire to be genuine democrats.
Unfortunately, however, there exists an undercurrent of personal temper and vindictiveness that can express itself on occasions such as the ones we have describes' which,
if allowed to grow, means death for democracy and freedom.
National Unity ? nNE must reluctantly face the fact that while it takes men like Mr. Bevan and Mr. Shinwell to betray in these ways the full force of this undercurrent, something of an analogous feeling runs pretty wide withimthe Party. For example, there is a demand today, and within limits a wellfounded demand. for national units in the face of the economi.: crisis. In the sense that we must all pull together to make the best of things, if we are not all going to hang separately, this is obvious. But when any sort of serious Opposition criticism, DT any " middle-class person" or "capitalist " grumbling about the mess the country has been landed in, is almost instinctively read as an attack on the national unity, we are approaching the denial of democratic liberties.
The parallel with Dunkirk fails in at least one important respect. The country then had a coalition government, representing a united country. If the same kind of unity is now needed. the present Government can always seek to form a similar representative government of all parties. Perhaps the Tories will not like that. All the better then; the Government will have profited by making its offer, and any responsibility for refusal will fall on the Opposition.
BISHOP BECK'S LETTER
MGR. Beck, the Coadjutor
Bishop of Brentwood, has now contributed an important letter to the Times correspondence which began with a friendly, if muddled, article on " Catholicism ythis letter the Bishop uses very Today. inn words about the utter impossibility of any approach to " Reunion " along the favourite nonCatholic line of looking for some doctrinal compromise on the Church's part. It is always kinder in the long run to lay down the C,atholic position in this matter in words that admit of no misunderstanding of the implications of Catholic doctrine, even though such words may disguise for some the real love and charity for our sep; arated brethren which underlines our motives. The Bishop's words should, however. be read in conjunction with what Dom Columba Cary-Elwes. of Ampleforth, had to say a day later on what that love and charity also involve for the fully Christian mind. But Bishop Beck, in the same letter also writes somewhat coolly about the prospects of that very different matter, namely Christian co-operation in social, economic and international matters, and he argues from his own considerable experience that " united Christian action goes off at half-cock."
This has certainly been the case in the past, but one wonders how far it need be the case, and whether indeed the lack of success is caused by a mistaken approach to the problem rather than by some inherent difficulty.
The Approach of Christian Action IF any attempt is made to agree in committee about what exactly can come within the scope of united Christian action, and especially if one tries to list defined subjectmatters and points, the plan will almost certainly come to grief, or result in going off "at half-cock." The reason is simple. The differences between Catholics and others do not really consist of certain defined " safe " and certain defined "unsafe " areas. The unity of the Catholic faith and mind permeates everything which a Catholic does in the name of Christianity. It all finds its place in one pattern and it is all motivated by one supreme supernatural end which is the spread of Christ's Kingdom as the Catholic understands it. Therefore. when we dig deep enough there can be no wholly' common ground between ourselves and other Christians.
But of course as a matter of practical life there is a great deal of common ground, in that Christians. and even others of good will. will constently find themselves defending the same things and working to establish the same improvements in the face of others' condemnation or neglect of such ideals.
Thus to take a peculiarly difficult I subject, that of divorce and birthcontrol. Here there arc vital moral differences to be faced. Yet it remains true. by and large. among all Christians that divorce and the indiscriminate spread of birth prevention are tremendous perils to any good society. Hence even if there can be no complete agreement about means, there can be a fruitful cornmoo action towards the underlying ends, namely the defence of the family and the establishment of the social and economic conditions needed for proper family life, for example in housing.
F.videnily there are very many subjects which are far less controversial among different Christian bodies than this one, and where, therefore, there will in practice be much less danger of failure. But to achieve results it will he necessary to take the common goodwill and sense of united purpose for granted, instead of seeking to define it a priori. Allowing fully tor Ca,holic teaching, it would surely be a travesty of the ideal of Christianity, if we could find no greater sense of kinship between men who profess a Christian idealism, and indeed have often been baptised into the Church, than between ourselves and the wholly indifferent, the secularists, the opponents.
Granted this, then we can surely agree to work together in country, towns and villages, meeting questions and difficulties as they arise and on their merits in terms of action in face of an indifferent or hostile vstarld.