THE MINISTERIAL CHANGES Time For " National" Government Over
Facing General Election With Three-Point Programme
By Michael De La Bedoyere
EVERY so often in the life of a Government, supported by
an unbreakable majority in Parliament. there is a re shuffle of major offices. Death and health, inheritance
of peerages, the course of events, especially in the international field, and the experience of the unsuitability of certain men to certain posts or the promotion of others for services rendered make these changes inevitable. But a strongly entrenched administration rarely realises that these necessities arc its best opportunities of doing for itself what weaker governments are forced to do by Parliament or the country, namely, to take stock of its position and to ask itself bluntly whether its work and its personnel still deserve the country's approval?
A CHEQUERED HISTORY
The history of the present administration has certainly been eventful. At the last General Election in 1935, when the country for the second time returned an overwhelming majority for the National Government, Mr. Baldwin was Prime Minister, having succeeded Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, five months earlier. The first important change was not long in corning. Exactly a month later, the Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, resigned because of the storm of indignation which greeted his attempt to compromise with the pure teaching of the League over the ltaloAbyssinian war. The net result of the National Government's dropping Of its foreign pilot was the complete conquest of Abyssinia and two years of violent unrest in Europe that might at any moment have led to war between the " democracies" and the " totalitarians." Messrs. Eden, the new Foreign Secretary, and Baldwin proved too weak either to carry the League policy through or to drop it.
Eighteen months later (May, 1937) the Prime Minister resigned for reasons of health and was succeeded by Mr. Neville Chamberlain. Nine months after the full meaning of the change of premiership was disclosed by the resignation of Mr. Eden. The resignation this week of the Air Minister in response to public impatience with the progress of aerial re-armament completes
for the time being the process of change. Within the next eighteen months the administration will be more concerned with the prospects of a General Election than with its own internal history.
LAST GENERAL ELECTION
The lesson of these changes is that the present National Government has survived a revolution in its foreign policy and that its domestic policy, except in so far as it is subservient to foreign policy, has been throughout a matter of complete unimportance.
The last General Ulection was fought on an avowedly votecatching basis. For thp sake of a majority the responsible leaders gave way to popular clamour on every point. "We seek a world peace through the Leagiie of Nations," broadcast Mr. Baldwin. " There has not, there is not., and there will be no .question of huge armaments or materially increased forces," he also stated. " Whatever the outward appearances may be. the League will close this year fundamentally stronger than it was at its begins fling." promised Mr. Eden. And needless to say every section of the community was promised better conditions and better wages. Only the warning voice of a Lord Hailsham expressed something like the truth as the Cabinet knew it to be: " For nay Part," he said, " I will never be a member of a Government which is ready, under the pretence of protecting peace to bring about a war between England and a great Power in Europe." It was a tragedy that the Anglo-French proposals about Abyssinia should have had to be made while the sound of these General
Elections had scarcely had time to disperse. But Mr. Baldwin, at least, knew that they were far more in accordance with the real responsibilities of a British Government whose main duty was to keep the peace in Europe than with the election cries. The only possible conclusion is that the Government evaded its duty and shirked its responsibility.
BACK TO PARTY POLITICS
The full force of this cowardice has fallen on to the shoulders of Mr. Chamberlain who has been faced with the problem of protecting the peace, of which Lord Hailsham spoke in 1935, after two years of unparalleled anxiety due to the splitting of
Europe into two armed camps. Mr. Eden and the present League have been dropped altogether (we are talking of facts, not of polite official statements) and an Air Minister is dropped at the request of all parties, loudest of all the Labour party, for not proving sufficiently efficient in breaking Mr. Baldwin's 1935 pledge: "There will be no question of huge armaments or materially increased forces." After this sorry talc of drift and bewilderment the real question today is whether Mr. Chamberlain and his colleagues have the wisdom and courage to plan ahead, irrespective of the ebb and flow of popular feeling, and to trust the British public on General Election day to confirm their power in return for evidence of work done. Considerable confusion has resulted from the immense majorities obtained at the last two General Elections. The first was a genuine expression of popular feeling in a moment of real crisis, and its significance is that any courageous government can count on the country's support when prospects really look black. The second was a disaster, for it was obtained through false and unreal promises in the belief that a National Government was essential for the country at any price. In actual fact a pure Conservative Government was returned on a National ticket and then rendered impotent by its pledges. The Parliamentary game in this country has its rules, and the rules are strict government by party (or coalition on clear terms) with each party, fit to govern, taking its chance. The fact that each party has to govern provides it with its sense of responsibility and its will to tackle the common problem according to its tried views. A National Government may be necessary in and for an emergency, but its continuation under false pretences inevitably leads to its own internal weakness under a captivating disguise of strength and to a degree of irresponsibility on the part of the Opposition that is a real menace to the whole country and to the world. Mr. Chamberlain is slowly restoring will-power and policy to his Government by dropping the National pretence, but the irresponsibility of Labour has never before been equalled in this country's history.
ARMAMENTS; TRADE; SOCIAL REFORM
The Prime Minister has now to prepare for a General Election. A huge majority is neither required nor desirable but, in view of the pass which the Opposition has reached, a working majority, which will nevertheless give reasonable hopes of a constructive Labour opposition and ultimate government, most certainly is.
In these eighteen months the Government must show itself able to tackle three outstanding questions. While maintaining its good work of restoring a reasonably peaceful atmosphere through hi-lateral agreements, it must begin the work of limiting the al-Ms-race, especially in the air. There is no sense in speeding up the manufacture of aeroplanes to attain any sort of parity with other Powers who can increase their air-forces as rapidly or even more. rapidly. We are ruining ourselves to no purpose. Only the conclusion of a Four-Power Pact on a basis of complete mutual trust arfd without bringing up the alleged offences of the past can bring the first step towards the ultimate solution of this problem of national life and death. Courage and statesmanship on the part of Britain today can achieve this Pact within the next two years. Only around it can any reconstruction of the League of Nations be attempted. Next, a constructive and courageous financial, industrial and agricultural policy must be thought out and put into execution with the main aim of re-balancing the country's foreign trade. The opportunity of dealing with this during the recent boom has been missed. but the problem cannot be shirked if we are not to drift again to a first-class financial crisis and consequent universal distress. This is by far the hardest of the tasks before the Government, as indeed has been shown by its refusal hitherto
to do anything whatsoever about it Success depends upon refusing to be blackmailed by the votes of different classes and interests at the next Election. Lastly the Government must set off the unpopularity of the second task by bold social reforms based upon the maintenance of the integrity and decent living of the family, whether among the employed in this or that industry or among the unemployed. This is indeed a full programme, but Britain has been
governed for eight years by the same people. if courageous statesmanship has to be crammed into the last two years it is solely because it has been scandalously neglected for six.