Mkhael de la Bedoyere
ONE thing is certain : if the political stalemate in this country is to be broken effectively and at an early date, it will be done by the political party which
has the courage to forget politics for a time
Political parties and political structures are necessary things, just as are the walls and outer structure of a house, together with the scaffolding needed to build and keep them in repair.
In this country since the war a great deal has been done through polities to redesign and repair that Structure, and though the game of party politics demands that one gang should do the actual work, while the other criticises as hard as it can, everyone knows that had political fortunes been reversed there would have been no startling changes in the nature and quality of the work. What we call the Welfare State had to come because it was the only answer to a popular sense of equity in an old country like ours, whose days of pioneering and capitalist ex ploiting are over. Moreover, the country's post-war economy made all kinds of controls for fair distribution and production priorities absolutely imperative.
For . better or for worse, all this essential political work has been done. and substantially it cannot be reversed. The fact that the Labour Party was called to undertake it made, for the most part. only accidental differences, though a wiser and more centralised point of view would have called for an earlier halt to the policy of nationalisation and an earlier inquiry into the design and administration of the nationalisation put into operation.
Now is the time for concentrating on something other than polities. It is the time for organising, furnishing and equipping the national structure which during the last five years has been politically overhauled and not without considerable success.
We say that this is not primarily a political job because it depends, not on political divisions, conceptions and generalisations. but on expert examination. brilliant ideas and, above all, the willingness to experiment and act on the results of experiments, without party prejudice.
pRANKLY, this is not an easy thing for the Labour Party to do. Its job for live years has been conceived so much in terms of a reformist political programme that, both psychologically and from the point of view of " its own commitments and electoral appeals, it would be extremely hard for it to make a definite halt and approach its work from an entirely new angle. In particular it would he difficult for it to call in question some of its ideas or to give the appearance of any reversal of the trends for which it has been responsible. The very success of the job done makes such a change all the harder. But the last elections have made it amply clear that the issues put to the country were largely academic and far more concerned with the past than with the future. Labour at least realised the need for moderation and slowing down if it was to appeal to the electorate generally; the Conservatives were so nervous of appearing as critics of the good that had been accomplished that they, too, felt obliged to concentrate on promising that the past would not be undone by them. It was hardly surprising in these circumstances if the country voted fifty-fifty about attitudes at bottom so vaguely defined and apparently so little divided.
TODAY we need a Common agreement not to look back, but to look forward-not for a coalition, but for party enterprise; and we need not doubt that in a future election the people will make up their minds decisively enough if they have something to choose between.
It is quite evident when we survey the country's productive work as a whole that it is largely unsatisfactory. The nationalised indus
tries are not faring well. Lord Hyndley has just given the gravest warning about coal produetion. Absenteeism remains more than twice as high as before the war. Yet the world is prepared to buy thirty to forty millions more tons of coal from us than we can at present offer. Indeed, if we cannot increase our exports. we may permanently lose the markets still available to us.
It is quite fantastic that so little should he done about this disastrous state of affairs just where our potential industrial strength is highest. It is not a question of reversing nationalisation which the miners want and all the country accepted once and for all. But is is a question of forgetting political prejudices and thoroughly inquiring into the condition of the industry and its workers so that it may do its full job. The railways are a tougher nut to crack, but it is useless to remain sunk in the rut of making losses and then raising charges. The costs of essential transport must be integrated into the country's whole economy in a way that pays the country as a whole. Nor need we concentrate solely on the nationalised industries. There is as much, or more, to investigate in free enterprise to make it more efficient. more up to date. cheaper arid with smaller profit margins at the different stages of production and distribution.
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are not suggesting that the present Government is wholly neglectful of these vital matters. But it approaches them shackled by political conceptions which look very much as though as much had been squeezed out of them as ever can be squeezed.
On the other hand. we listen in vain for a rousing call and signs of real seriousness in facing the problems of our industry from the Conservatives.
At the moment these seem wholly concentrated on " opposing" and trying to bargain for a few extra seats with the Liberals. This is old stuff-playing at the real business for which the country and the people look.
If the Conservatives are to win another election by a decisive margin, they have little time to lose in calling the people-and convincing the people-that while they respect and accept the country's general structure as it has been rebuilt during the last five years they are for the moment far more interested to finding the ways and means of bringing the country into the top gear of productivity, whatever the political cost and sacrifice.
We are in the last months now of American aid and art export market which is still largely open to us for the creating of lasting trade relations.
And if the Conservatives arc so stuck in the mud as not to be able to seize their chance, then Labour must have the greater courage of turning its back on its own past and experimenting in terms of the future. If neither party does this, Dot only will the political stalemate endure, but it will sink the country.
Shaweross and Spain
A SIMILAR dead-weight of past political prejudice helps
to bedevil international politics.
For some years we have taken the trouble to read many of the articles that appear in the Press about the conditions of life in Spain and Portugal. With very few exceptions, these articles reveal a state of affairs which, while in most ways not to our own political taste, are, to say the least, reasonably satisfactory by fundamental tests of popular content, law and order, and social and economic progress. (Where serious criticisms are made, they usually come from investigators who have little historic sense and compare what they see with a vague possible ideal rather than with the past of the countries in question.) The most recent article along these lines appeared in last Sunday's Observer and was about Portugal. No one reading that in part critical article could suppose that Portugal today was anything hut a moral equal (though different) from any other Western country.
Yet the other day when a Catholic member of the U.N. Association asked the speaker, Sir
Hartley Shawcross, whether he was of the opinion that Spain should be admitted to U.N.O. and if not why not, Sir Hartley answered that he was not, " because Spain had a system of government which was not a democratic conception."
The Attorney-General at least realised that his answer was so fatuous that he had to add that he was aware that there was "an answer to that," but he thought enlarging on the theme would do more harm than good.
This is simply pitiful from the chief political law-officer of a great
country; but it is typical. When prejudice and cowardice raise their heads all the time in the questions which matter in international politics, can we be surprised at the state of the world