I T must be a long time since the people of this country have taken so poor a view of its political leaders and representatives, irrespective of party.
The recent Rochdale byelection simply confirmed the popular judgment that the present Government has no conception as to how to deal constructively with either foreign or home affairs; that the Labour Party, even in opposition, is not worth turning to; and that the Liberals, who speak with divided voices according to local electoral chances, are temporarily convenient for registering the protesting votes of those who would otherwise abstain.
Yet this popular verdict is not altogether fair to the individuals who lead the parties and frame their policies, nor to the members of parliament who automatically follow their leaders. These people are probably no worse — and in conscientiousness and sense of public duty probably better—than most of our political leaders in the past.
The truth is surely that our world today is up against problems that arc far more difficult to deal with than any in the past —problems which simply cannot be elTectively handled within our contemporary constitutional machinery and conventions.
AS regards foreign affairs this is so obvious that it scarcely needs underlining. For better or for worse, there exists in the world today an ever more widespread demand for independence and social equality on the part of those who for generations have been content to remain second-class citizens of the world either under colonial domination or in a kind of remote nominal independence, in effect subject to Western financial and economic power.
This great emotional urge is obviously ahead of social and political education by democratic Western standards. Simply to bow to it and to encourage it seems like inviting future disasters as much for the people concerned as for ourselves. Yet we have example after example of the futility of trying to resist it or the stages of its progressive evolution.
This great demand, moreover, is occurring within a world tragically divided between the one half which respects the basic rights of the individual person and the other half which . sees in human beings mere counters to be best used for the establishment over as wide an area as possible of materialistic power and progress, autocratically governed and planned. This division means that the struggle is rather like a fight between two men, one of whom can use his fists and the other only his voice.
To make things far worse, the advent of nuclear power,
while, we may hope and pray. eliminating a third world war, also eliminates any effective referee or final sanction in the use of force, diplomatic pressures, false propaganda, anything, in fact, except such open warfare as could entail a real risk of the retaliating use of nuclear weapons.
In domestic affairs within democratic countries, politicians today have to face a different set of problems, less dangerous in their possible outcome, but hardly less puzzling.
Here the world struggle for power, rights, political and social equalities, on behalf of less politically and sociallyevolved peoples, is converted to party, class, and sectional struggles for ever larger shares of national wealth.
The result of this situation, whether internationally or nationally, is that political leaders can never, as it were, sit back in order to judge what is the right policy in itself, can never have the opportunity of exercising their imaginations in order to think again and see if they can find better ways and means of tackling the great problems of the day. They are bound by the narrow conditions of the power they posess.
A T the present time, it seems, A-A. it is the ordinary people —and very often the younger people — who are the first to see the muddle and danger into which the politicians have necessarily drifted.
They are beginning to see, for example, the absurdity of the situation into which the nuclear armament race has landed us—an absurdity best demonstrated by the recently declared British policy that the country's defence rests on our readiness in certain circumstances to be the first to use nuclear weapons. This, despite the fact that every man and woman in the country knows that we shall never nationally thus commit suicide.
They are beginning to see the utter blindness of French politicians in supposing that they can prevent full North African independence, thus wasting their efforts in resistance when they should be preparing a constructive understanding between complementary powers, while there is yet time.
Soon they will begin to see that the economic and technical development of this country, on which our future existence depends, cannot remain at the mercy of permanently squabbling parties governed by one real aim only, namely the winning of the next election.
The truth is that international affairs and domestic politics are in the hands of political children at a time when a new world can only be built by cooperation between men of vision, understanding and ability who believe that what is right and what is just and what is possible are prior to what will score a point or win an election.