Page 4, 21st December 1973

21st December 1973
Page 4
Page 4, 21st December 1973 — PAUL JOHNSON
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PAUL JOHNSON

Heath devalued

It seems to me a hit too late in the day for Mr. Heath to appeal for national unity. He should have thought of this line of approach when he first took office in 1970. But in those days, of course, he had quite different ideas. He held that all previous governments,. Tory as well as Labour, had made a fundamental mistake in operating "consensus politics". The search for the consensus, he argued, had led to a fatal blurring of the issues, endless succession of wishy-washy half measures.

Ile, by contrast, would run a straightforward, right-wing, abrasive businessman's government. There would be big rewards, in the shape of high profits and huge tax cuts. The economy would he controlled by the free play of marked forces — nothing else. The Industrial Relations Bill would curb the power of the unions. And if the workers did-not-like-it, they could lump it.

Nothing now remains of this rosy, rich man's vision of a perfect Tory world, where the money men were to rule, and the workers to know their place. Gradually, one by one, every single plank in Heath's platform has been wrenched up and thrown into the furnace. The last to go has been his famous boom — the first upsurge in the British economy since the war which would not fall a victim to the usual "stop-go" cycle. That has gone too, in the most spectacular and dismal fashion.

But although Heath has turned through an angle of 180 degrees on every aspect of economic policy, he himself remains in control of the government. Now this seems to me illogical and dangerous. A certain amount of flexibility is absolutely necessary for a politician. Ministers must he allowed honourably to change their minds from time to time. But Heath's somersaults and U-turns arc becoming ridiculous, and threaten to discredit the political system. if a Prime Minister spolicy is, and is publicly seen to be, a totat failure — and that is the only word for Mr. Heath's — then the proper and manly course is for him to resign. Or to put it another way: if a Prime Minister is forced by events to adopt apolicy diametrically opposed to the one he has always advocated, then his duty is to hand over to those who have supported the new policy all along.

There is a further objection to Mr. Heath remaining in Downing Street. In a national crisis, when the head of the government must he able to persuade all sections of the community to pull together, he is the last man to make such an appeal. He is by temperament and conviction wholly unsuited to the role of a conciliator. He is a divisive factor in British politics, and indeed even in his own party. Moreover, in the eyes of the British working class, Mr. Heath is a man with a record. He is identified both with the anti-trades union legislation, and with the "Selsdon Man" policy of class selfishness, with the ethics of the free-for-all and the morals of the stock exchange casino.

It may be that this image of Mr. Heath is not entirely just. If so, -he has only himself to blame. There is a certain sneering condescension in his voice when he refers to the ordinary working people of this country which suggests to many that he regards them as an inferior species. I don't think this tone is accidental: I believe it reflects his inner convictions.

At all events, Mr. Heath has now, as it were, been outdated by events. The play in which he was the principal actor has been howled off the stage, and a new one is taking its place. It requires a new cast. or at any rate a change of star.

If Mr. Whitelaw were to take over the leadershop of the Tory Party, and form a new government to carry us through the period of emergency, I think it is possible that he would be able to win the co-operation of organised labour. So long as Mr. Heath remains in charge, this possibility is remote.

We are going to have a fairly grim Christmas anyway. Mr. Heath could lighten our gloom a little by making us a Christmas present of his resignation.




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