Now that the dust of battle has settled after so strange a General Election, there is a welcome opportunity to recall a famous dictum of President Roosevelt. "To us there has come a time, in the midst of swift happenings," he declared in the early 1940's, "to pause for a moment and to take stock ; to recall what our place in history has been, what it is today, and what it may be . .
This is surely not too grandiose a context within which to try to fit the perspective of the incoming Government and the composition of the new House of Commons. The verdict that we are confronted with an "unsatisfactory result" may well prove to be the biggest of many myths that have been given such wide airing during the last week. For, while everyone agrees on the need — which existed just as strongly before the
election for some degree of national solidarity in face of crisis, the strong preponderance of one party over another in Parliament, in terms purely of seats, would have been the last thing to fulfil such a need.
It could easily turn out on the other hand that sensible minority Government could provide the ideal framework, during a limited period, for reconciliatory policy and moderate legislation. It is thus all the more disturbing to have seen so many signs during the immediate post-election period of lingering part bias and residuary sectional self-interest.
There was, for example, the Liberal leader's embarrassing attempt on television to get Mr. James Callaghan to confirm or deny an obviously irresponsible "report" that the then Shadow Cabinet had greeted with "ribald laughter" the Liberal proposal for some sort of three-party united front. If Mr. Thorpe showed .too prickly a personal reaction to swiftly-moving events, it may well be that certain Labour politicians were over-anxious to resume office, Then there has been criticism of the leaders of the two main parties, though both have acted in honourable and exemplary fashion. No realistic observer expected the new Prime Minister to make a "power-sharing" suggestion in the immediate aftermath of the poll. And no seasoned political commentator could possibly find fault with the former Prime Minister's attempt to construct some sort of Tory-based coalition before finally feeling compelled to resign.
One nagging fear remains, and this relates to the inevitably unrepresentative character of the new House of Commons. An article in the Catholic Herald lust before the election, far from having any party-political overtones, was concerned with just this problem. It spoke of the possibility of a virtual stalemate between the two big parties with the Liberals, though receiving some five million votes, having proportionately little to show for them in Parliament.
This turned out to be an uncannily accurate forecast; and the conclusion drawn from it, was that the voting Christian had a greater duty than ever to examine on merit each politician as an individual and each separate issue as a matter of principle. Such a duty seems to be more pressing than ever now that the election trauma is beginning to subside.