By Norman St. John-Stevas WITH the announcement by Sir Alec Douglas Home that the general election is to take place on October 15 the election campaign is on in real earnest. I look forward to a vigorous, hard hitting. exhilarating struggle with the minimum emphasis on personalities and the maximum on policies.
A British general election is a grand inquest on the state of the nation and thanks largely to television we have an electorate better informed on politics than at any other time in our history.
As I e rite, the two opposition manifestoes. Labour and Liberal, have been published, and this week I want to devote my column to them. At first sight the Labour manifesto doesn't look too bad. A convulsive effort has clearly been made to rid Labour of its dreary cloth cap image and identify the Party with the scientific and technological revolution which is already upon us.
Naiiimalisation has been cut to the minimum--only the unfortunate steel industry is to be offered up on the altar of the left wing molochs—and road haulage has apparently been, reprieved. There are lavish promises about improving our social services and raising the quality of life in Britain: there are high-sounding phrases about developing Britai n's role in world affairs.
That is the credit side, hut it is far outeeighed by the items on the debit side of the balance sheet.
First, it surely is a major strategic error to paint a picture of Britain which makes Se izzles wick look like the celestial city? To depict the nation as flabby. lazy and backward may he all right for a pulpit orator with a fixed tenure., but how will the people themselves, whose votes Labour must obtain, respond to this highly insulting picture?
Factually, it is a gross exaggeration and electorally I believe It will prove a major mistake. The heart and spirit or our people are sound, and I prophesy that they will react strongly against Labour's picture of a rabble of moral decedents struggling for material advancement with no care for their friends or neighbours.
When one gets down to the concrete proposals in the mani • festo and reflects on them the fine phrases begin to sound pretty hollow. First of all there is Europe. The whole vital and corn plicated question of our relationship ssith the Continent is dismissed in a single parenthetical sentence. So much for the realities of international brotherhood!
If we cannot get closer to those who share a common culture what hope is there for any effective form of internationalism? One of the most hopeful projects for European co-operation is the mixed manned nuclear force: Labour simply dismisses it. Where then does this leave Britain since at the same time Labour is intent on giving up our nuclear arm?
The result of these crazy policies would be total isolation for the nation in a world which is grov. ing ever more rapidly together.
Turning to the home scene the condemnation must be as sharp. Labour says Britain must he modernised, but when it comes clown to actual proposals that ootild affect trade union interests, a totally different view is taken. The manifesto, for example, declares it will bring the Beeching plan for the railways to a complete halt, but transport is precisely one of the vital spheres where strong if unpopular action must be taken if Britain is to become more competitive.
Or take the Labour proposals on land and housing. A land corporation is to be set up which VI ill take over all land as it comes forward for development, This means compulsory purchase by the State at prices the State will fix. Who on earth is going to bring land forward for development with such a threat? The inevitable effect ssilI be to dry up the supply of building land and slow down the whole house programme.
Compulsory purchase is not the answer: every order will he hit_ terly resisted and the only sure result o ill be a lawyer's paradise where litigation will flourish and fees rise. Or take rent restriction. Everyone knows this has distorted the 'housing . market and prevented private houses being made available to rent. Labour proposes to restore the e hole antiquated system.
By comparison. the Liberal manifesto is a refreshing document. Liberals have many of the right ideas, hut the brutal fact is that they have no chance of putting them directly into practice. Even the Liberals now admit that they have no chance of forming a government but they want 'to play a decisive role in the next parliament.
In practice this would mean a minority Conservative or Labour government kept in office by Liberal support. Of all possible results of the election this would be the worst. The British people instinctively knous this and that is why they will I believe decide between the two major parties.
Thee general election of 1964 is a two horse race and so it should be.