IS NATIONAL UNITY POSSIBLE?
By Michael de la Bedoyere
1 N the adjoining column last week it was stated that the actual electoral decision was relatively unimportant unless there was a near-deadlock. In fact, the
country has been spared a tech nical near-deadlock, but the size of the Conservative working majority is so small as to deprive the Government of the moral authority and prestige which it so badly needs if it is to tackle successfully the arduous and necessarily unpopular work which lies before it. The position, from this point of view, is all the worse in that Labour actually polled mores votes than the Tories.
The old political tradition of this country recognised a decisive difference between the division of actual votes cast for the different parties and the return of the elected members of the parties.
That was because there was a general recognition that the first duty of a democracy was to have effective leadership and government, A long term view was taken of the representative character of the government. It was expected that over the years the succeeding governments would faithfully ex press the weight of choice of the electors; but the short term neces sity was always for a firm government wielding sufficient moral authority. Small voting changes meant large changes in the cornposition of Parliament.
This was a typically British practical compromise; but it was made possible because the differences between the great parties were relatively small and the sense of unity in the country correspondingly strong.
It seems clear that those days are past; but it is far from suffi ciently clear to the country that the passing of those days has created a problem for British democracy of extreme gravity.
UP till now, the gravity of the.
problem has been accidentally masked. Up till the war a Conservative or so-culled National Government—the increasing use of the phrase was already indicating the underlying sense of the problem—gave the appearance of continuity from the past, despite the replacement of the Liberal party by the Labour party. During the war the exceptional character of the emergency enabled a real National government to be established, and the experience of all parties working in harmony for five years softened the effect of the subsequent Labour victory. Moreover, after so many years of Conservative leadership and given especially the desire for innovation and fresh ideas after the war, the country acquiesced without difficulty in a Labour administration which had a large Parliamentary majority but nevertheless did not enjoy the electoral support of half the voters.
Even in 1950 the real problem was still masked, first, because Labour was again returned, even though by a majority considered to be less than a working majority, and, second, because everyone consequently expected a fresh trial of strength within months, if not weeks. And Labour under the conscientious leadership of Mr. Attlee recognised the consequences of the near dead-heat, and moderated its social programme.
And now, to everyone's astonishment, the electorate has voted again in a way as near mathematical exactitude as is possible among human beings over eighteen Months of the inevitable changes of human life. But the
very small difference recorded has created the decisive political change from a government of the Left to a government of the Right. It is hard therefore how we can escape having to face fairly and squarely the very grave demo. critic problem which has been so long indicated hut which is now likely to create enormous difficulty in the future.
THE plain fact is that the coun try is divided into two nations each filled with increasing mistrust of the other, despite the fact that the actual differences of constructive policy between the larger sections of each of the nations is not so very'great. But this is partly due to a shirking of the real difficulties on both sides. The difference between them is social and theoretical. But when we remember that people feel socially and theoretically a good deal more intensely than they feel about day to day practical policies as such, we shall realise the gravity of the position. And to make matters much worse, the country is facing a deteriorating situation, economically especially, which calls for strong and costing decisions which must greatly inflame social and ideological feelings.
In this Election, despite the general realisation of crisis and despite all the efforts made to sway votes, only I or 2 in 100 were actually moved to change their party allegiance, and even this figure. may be an exaggeration as the small change may have been largely due to the dividing of the Liberal vote. If anything. the vote seems to indicate a digging in of heels on both sides, with both party votes up. and the Conservatives profiting more from the disappearance or weakening of the Liberal vote.
And if we take the mass of votes among the organised industrial workers and their wives, together with a portion of the agricultural workers' votes, we shall arrive pretty near the Labour total. •
The Catholic answer
CATHOLICS will be the first to notice that this social and theoretic division between "labour" with more or less socialist aspirations and "C-a pita l" supported by all who feel directly dependent on a society which rewards free enterprise, initiative, the luck of the game, good inheritance and so on cuts clean across Christian teaching and especially Christian social theory. These are based on cooperation between all sections of society for the common good which is the realisation of the proper status and dignity of each and every willing citizen, and in particular on cooperation between "labour " and " capital."
This does not mean that in Christian teaching there is no room for practical differences of view which may be expressed in party allegiances. But such differ ences will not spring from social stratifications and fundamental differences of outlook, but from different traditions, the weighting in one way or the other of priorities for desirable changes, and most of all from genuine differences of judgment as to the best way of dealing with actual situations which confront governments and peoples.
Oddly enough, we are not as a people so far removed from living something of this Christian ideal. Most Labour people are moderate, Most Conservatives are progressive, We do not carry our political differences into private life. Probably at bottom most of us want much the same. But we have had thrust upon us from outside this social split in our public lives, and we seem to find it harder and harder to react against it. Yet so long as it endures, and, in enduring, hardens, we are gravely endangering our whole democratic future, for it means either that the party in power will fear to act as the needs of the country demand, or it will take the bit in its teeth and act in defiance of the serried ranks against it with possibly revolutionary consequences one day.
ANOTHER line of solution is is the American one. In America a practical and utilitarian quality in the people has caused them to fight out their social problem in the commonsense way of a struggle between labour and capital for the highest possible share for each out of the national production. They have little patience with the British and European idea that a political and social stand can reap higher dividends and higher wages. They accord to economics and money the priority they deserve if the real aim is to get a better share of wealth. But this view is only really attractive in a country where wealth does increase rapidly and consequently always offer an attractive prize to both resourceful " capital " and hard working " labour."
In Britain's economic situation where wealth only increases slowly, it seems to many more sensible to light socially and politically for an ever greater share of the static or diminishing cake that is to be divided.
BUT whatever may be said of the hopes of finding solutions to our country's problem by the Christian or the American way, the truth that must be realised and accepted is that we cannot expect to maintain our democratic and parliamentary traditions along the present lines. This becomes all the more obvious when we realise how artificial the present political division in the country is and yet how very deep-seated.
As individual men and women most of us are ready to come to terms, to compromise, to put the national good before party or person. But in our political personalities, we find ourselves divided into two equal nations which only in wartime can count on national unity.
The country's present situation is not one of war, but our future stands hardly less precariously than in wartime if a government cannot count on the support of the whole people in taking the unpopular measures that are necessary for increasing produc tion and decreasing consumption.
.ft may be, of course, that the Labour split will drive a proportion of present Labour votes to Conservatives in another election, though this is not a possibility to count on. It may be that powerful influences in the Labour party will make government by a small Tory majority impossible for long—a course of policy on which the people would then have to judge again.
But meanwhile the country needs strong government with mass popular support. If it does not get it, the consequences must he disastrous — disastrous to Britain as a great Power with an enormous population to feed at a high standard of living, disastrous to the future of British democracy and all democracy, and disastrous to the whole free world in its defence against the challenge of Communist totalitarianism.
There is the test which today challenges every man and woman, and not least the Catholic, and other Christians, in the Opposition.
AT the end of the 14th century
there are three artists, in particular, who carry our eye over from the evening of the Giottoinfluenced period to the daybreak of the High Renaissance. These were Antonio Veneziano, Spinello Aretino and Gherado Stamina. Veneziano did some rather confused, but highly ornamental frescoes of the life of St. Raineri in the Campo Santo at Pisa. The design is strone, and in their realism of detail they go back directly to Giotto. Colour in Veneziano's work is of great subtlety. Vasari says he practised as a doctor as well as a painter, and in his chemical research he made his own pigments as well as his own physic. Other historians suggest that because he never touched his frescoes after they had dried, his colours were better preserved than others ofthe same period which had been gone over after drying. Veneziano's observations of nature were close, and his feeling for the human aspects of life strong. In the St. Raineri series there are numerous naturalistic details done with loving care.
For instance, the figu-re of the angler sitting fishing. the two fowls hanging from a mill, the devil depicted in the form of a domestic cat, the ship tossed realistically. by the waves, the table laid so meticulously for a meal—all these things. including the feeling for accurately-recorded architecture. foreshadow Uccello and Masolino and Masaccio, who were
to carry the observation of perspective and of the human figure far beyond the imagination of Vence. iano's time.
In the fresco of the return of St. Raineri, shown here: the saint is seen embarking (left), then setting sail in a turbulent sea with God the Father directing the mariners, later landing where he performs a miracle of separating wine from water (centre), and finally enjoying the hospitality of the Canons of Pisa (right). The picture, packed with incident, is also packed with architecture. The whole effect is a delightful pattern most pleasing to the eye. but not perhaps deeply spiritual.
Pictures in Church 62.