Did the Liberals really win?
By Michael de in Bedoyere
THE position created by the Election results is, politically, thoroughly unsatisfactory. From the political point of view, the first need of a State is to have a government which is in a position to govern. Now after many generations of very firm, or at least reasonably firm government. this country, which prides itself on the practical results of a clear-cut twoparty system, finds itself by accident in the awkward position so well known abroad. It possesses no effective government.
The commonsense solution would seem to be a coalition, along the same lines as during the war. We believe this to be far less impracticable than is generally imagined. The real issues between the Parties are far smaller than is made to appear.
The Labour Party's nationalisation programme, for example, is now something more nominal than real. It is a kind of party cry, or obvious rallying point. But in fact the people of the country. even the workers of the country, will not greatly feel one way or the other the consequences of either more or less nationalisation.
On the other hand. the 'I ory party, whatever its paper ideals, ought to be considerably relieved to find that it will not be called upon to redeem a good many extravagant. and fundamentally contradictory, election pledges for more benefits and less taxation, more competition and no unemployment. in a word the Welfare State without tears.
A good nine-tenths of any possible future policy is common ground between the two great Parties simply because that policy will be dictated by the country's economic and financial conditions and by events abroad.
The Sensible Course Will Not Be Adopted RUT it is extremely unlikely that " so sensible a solution will be adopted.
Parties, like men, are ruled by their feelings, rather than their reason. Party pride and a sery mistaken idea of what the vast majority of the sane people of the country think will certainly prevent the Labour Party from working in with the Conservative Party ; while the Conservative Party will feel thai Labour is bound to be the dominant partner in any coalition.
In these circumstances, it is possible that a modus vivendi will be found for a few months by a tacit agreement on the I.abour side te avoid controversial legislation, while the Conservatives will just tolerate a Labour administration shorn of its claws.
In this way, the country's chief business could be transacted, while both sides prepare for a second test of the country's mind. Of its nature, such an arrangement could hardly outlast the spring and summer.
The Second Election THE great question then will he
whether a second Election against an emasculated political background will guarantee a real decision.
Much will depend on the policy of the Liberals who, if they decide only to contest seats where there is little fear of their losing their deposits. will probably concede a good majority of their votes to the Tories. This is likely to result in a small, but sufficient. Conservative majority.
It has been noted that, despite the actual results, the swing of the votes away from Labour has been more marked in the towns than in the country. In London the Tory vote was 57 per cent. higher than in 1945. whereas the Labour vote was only 29 per cent. higher, and a similar proportion obtained in the chief cities and towns. In the country. on the other hand. the proportionate Con servative increase was much smaller.
This insufficiently observed phenomenon shows that the real swing was among the so-called middleclasses (which nowadays move well down the scale of salaries and wages because the raising of the worker standard is also a bringing down of the middle-class section of the community). These classes are mainly to be found in the large and smaller towns. One may also guess that the greater part of the Liberal vote is a middle-class vote, and it will probably be added to the Tory vote, if the Liberals do not again attempt to contest vast numbers of. scats.
The Minorities CERTAINLY, the most striking characteristic of the Election was the elimination of the minority voter.
It is satisfying that the Communist and Fellow Traveller vote has been reduced to a negligible figure. This is the fruit of the behaviour of Soviet Russia. But we should not too greatly count on its persistence. Relatively small changes in Russia's apparent outlook could greatly increase this vote, while we may expect it to increase again if any substantial unemployment returns, as seems inevitable. whichever party is in power. An "extreme Left " vote. whatever title it takes, is always a very variable factor.
The failure of the Liberals to make any impression is most lamentable ; but easily enough understood. The head-on collision between Labour and Tory is really another way of expressing the dominant Liberalism of the country. There has been a tremendous gravitation to the " centre." and one can safely guess that the vast majority of the country is " right " Labour, or " left " Tory — in other words. Liberal, or Centre. In our " Alice in Wonderland " politics we mark the victory of the Liberal or "Centre " attitude by virtually eliminating the Liberal or " Centre ' party.
Did We Behave So Intelligently ?
THERE is an enormous amount of A complacency about our good
electoral manners, the seriousness with which issues have been studied, the weight of the poll, and the like, Is this complacency justified? We do not really think so.
Every really important issue was virtually eliminated from the electoral contest, which from the start was wholly in the hands of the party bosses.
Labour soft-pedalled everything that might he unpopular with the middle-classes, while the Tories made promises, not quite so reckless, perhaps, as did Labour in 1945, but none the less entirely unrealistic in the light of the country's economic position.
No one dared whisper a word about what was going to happen when the Marshall Plan came to an end. No one dared face the question of diminishing exports when the post-war world demand for goods at inflated prices was exhausted. Even the diminishing purchasing power of the pound was forgotten. or, if remembered, used as an antiLabour point without any real suggestion as to how its consequences could be met and overcome. This, in fact, can only be done either by much more work or a reduction in real wages and salaries. A whisper about either would have proved
fatal. On the contrary. we are obviously facing a period when the demand for higher wages and no increase in work is going to rock the whole ship of State.
Perhaps it is inevitable that the contemporary bribing and bonding of the electorate by false promises and silence on the real issues should have been resorted to on a massive scale during these elections.
But surely it is adding insult to our intelligences. quite apart from the injury to our country, to prate about the wonderful British electorate.
Alas, the truth looks rather to be that we have all accepted with a model docility the phoney election imposed upon us. We have all completely played into the hands of the party bosses and behaved exactly as they wanted us to. We have voted in record numbers. thus proving that we have all been taken in. We have eliminated the minority parties, as we were bidden to do. We have given the world the impression that we have most carefully and thoughtfully studied the banal issues which were put before us; found them wise and sufficient; and calmly made up our minds to choose between them with exactly the same seriousness as we would have chosen between issues of life and death.
All that went wrong in the big programme was that by an extraordinary accident the two parties emerged virtually equal.
But of course it is too much to hope for that the British people should seize their chance and demand next time an election in which the truth is spoken and decisions made on the real merits of the real case—even if it means rather worse manners and perhaps a few thick heads being hanged together.
Taken in by the Bluff I N point of fact, if anyone deserves ▪ the credit for the quiet and good
manners of the Election. it is the Labour Government.
In five years of rule, they have ensured (whether by good luck or good management) that practically no one in the country has suffered real distress or privation and therefore had a real and deep grievance— the kind that makes you mad. No doubt, there have been discomforts in plenty and an enormous amount about which to grouse. But people do not get really excited about grouses: they nurse them and mutter about them under their breaths.
In such a situation. and given that complete silence is observed by all on the real issues which are bound to dominate our future when some very hard facts awake us all from our torpor. is it really so very surprising that we have all been model boys, behaved with immense decorum, and exactly done what we were told to do ?
Politically, as we have seen, it has proved a bad election, because by accident we emerge without a real government, when everything was carefully prepared to produce a real government. Morally, it was a had election because no one had the courage to call the political bosses' bluff. but instead fell, hook, line and sinker, for it.
Are we then to be so highly congratulate?
PAPAL. DOCUMENT nNE hopes that readers will care' fully ,study the authorised trans. lation of the new Holy Office decree which affords fresh regulations covering the very varied types of cooperation between Catholics and members of other Communions. Like most Vatican decrees, it is a balanced document which by selection of individual paragraphs of inaccurate translation can be made to bear a variety of meaning in news stories in the ordinary press.
No one can hope to make a useful comment on its significance or to point out very definitely what its consequences are likely to be in practice without giving it a great deal of thought and a most careful examination.