Enoch Powell's Pipe-Dream
By IAN GILMOUR,•11IP
`WELL' said Baldwin, 'I am opposed to Socialism, but I have always endeavoured to make the Conservative Party face left in its anti-Socialism.' Enoch Powell now wants it to turn about and in its anti-Socialism face right. The Conservative Party, he tells us, must stand for capitalism or nothing. If it does not stand for capitalism, it has no relevance to modern Britain. Leaving aside difficulties of definition— capitalism, like feudalism, or for that matter Socialism, means and has meant different things to different people at different times and in different places—that the Conservative Party should suddenly be faced with such a stark choice is unexpected.
In the nineteenth century the capitalist party was the Liberal Party. The Tories were on the whole opposed to the rule of the uncontrolled forces of the market and were generally sceptical of fantasies about the nature of economic man. Between the wars the party was led by Stanley Baldwin, who thought that Socialism and capi-
`–talism were like the North and South Poles- . they didn't really exist—and by Neville Cham- berlain. who once described himself as a Socialist. Admittedly, when the party returned to power after the war it moved a considerable way to a freer system, yet a bonfire of controls had already been lit by Harold Wilson. And, as Mr. Powell's alter ego complained in his Times articles, the Process was not rigorously or consistently com- pleted. The mixed economy was left mixed. For the Conservative Party which refused to espouse capitalism when she was at her classical and en- ticing best, to fall in love with her in 1964 would be sheer necrophilia: The historical objections to Mr. Powell, how- ever, are less serious than the economic and Political ones. 'The tenet,' we are told, 'which most sharply differentiates [the Conservative Party] from [Labour] if valid at all brooks no compromise with its opposite.' This tenet is the belief, on the one hand, that the man in Whitehall does not, know best, so that decisions must be made by competition and private choice, and, on the other, that the man in Whitehall does know best, so that the methods and consequence of capitalism must be utterly rejected. Now if Mr. Powell were right about this, it would follow that every single democratic party in the Western world was wrong. Without exception they be ileve that a compromise can and should be worked out between free enterprise and State control.
But there are not only practical difficulties; Powell's apparent logical consistency is not '„,eal. He erects an antithesis between the man in days and the man in business. But in these ,,als of pervasive pressure groups it is often ",,nocult to know who is influencing whom, and the man in Whitehall and the man in Wolver-
Pton may have a good deal more in common manani either of them has with Mr. Powell.
r.Then, placed beside the collective abstraction of capitalism is the abstraction of the economic inessman. Mr. Powell's businessman, like the epuse"°Mic man of the classical economists, is moved purely by economic motives. Should he e thinking of building a factory, his choice of Lsite is guided solely by his estimate of where alt e, is likely to make most money, and not at the such factors as unthinking habit, „.e ,Public interest, or personal convenience: the
"tsn to be near the cultural attractions or the fleshpots of London, and any other such sinful thoughts, are banished from his mind by his natural economic virtue. Even if as a result of the managerial revolution he himself has little or nothing to gain from the company increasing its profits, he still behaves as if he did.
The chief theoretic fallacy is to say that once equals always and that some equals all. 'Once admit,' he argues, 'that the gentleman in White- hall knows when to interfere, i.e., when he knows best, and you have admitted that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best tout court, which is Socialism.' Why this should be so, he does not explain, If you admit that in some cases the man from Whitehall knows better than the market, it plainly does not necessarily mean that he always knows better. One form of decision does not necessarily exclude the other, any more than the fact that Enoch Powell makes excellent speeches precludes him from writing brilliant articles.
If the man in Whitehall notes the obvious fact that some regions are congested and that.others are running down and are short of modern in- dustry, it is perfectly logical for him to offer tax inducements to industry in general to ex- pand in the latter regions and not the former, without specifying which particular companies in which particular industries should go there. He usually has no means of knowing which firms have most reason for being tempted by the tax inducements, any more than the businessman, in the absence of any knowledge of what other firms are going to do in the various regions, has any means of knowing which region will be the most profitable sanctuary for migration.
Mr. Powell is possibly on stronger ground in deploring nation-wide wage agreements because they restrict labour mobility. Yet wage rates usually have only a tenuous connection with actual earnings, and there is often a considerable differential between the earnings of men in pros- perous regions and those of men in similar industries but in backward regions. And it is not exactly self-evident that Britain would have bene- fited from a greatly increased emigration from Scotland and the North-East to London and the Midlands. Mr. Powell's remark that many Scots seemed to 'have grumbled and grizzled and moped themselves into a state of immobility, in which they sit unhopefully but grimly waiting,' is uncomfortably reminiscent of the gaffe made ten years ago by Mr. Eisenhower's Secretary of Defence in Detroit. Discussing unemployment, Mr. Charles Wilson said, 'I've always liked bird dogs better than kennel-fed dogs myself. You know, one who'll get out and hunt for food rather than sit on his fanny and yell.' And Mr.
Powell's economic doctrines—though not his social ones—could perhaps be summed up by the famous misquotation of the same American gentleman before a Senate committee: 'What's good for General Motors is good for the country.'
Even in America, the land of capitalism, and even in the Republican Party, with which Mr.
Powell seems to have much in common, the distinction between government decision and the forces of the market was nowhere near as clear- cut as he advocates in Britain. In America differences in the level of State taxes have aided great expansion of industry in the South to the benefit of that region and of America as a whole. In England, there being no States and
no regions, this has to be done by the central government. Again, the destination of govern- ment contracts and works on which a large segment of American industry depends is decided not only by market forcei.but also by the politi- cal leverage exerted by individual Congressmen and Senators.
The mechanism of ceinpeliti\e enterprise, the market, is Mr. Powell's Supreme Being, a deity on whom profane Whitehall hands must in no circumstances be laid But in the twentieth cen- tury the 'market' often does not exist. And when it does not exist it is surely not necessary for A Conservative to invent it. Even when it does exist, why should it not be given a helping hand?
There is nothing illogical in the belief that in many circumstances and in the right conditions the mechanism of compp;itive enterprise, properly guided, best conduces to human happiness. The unparalleled prosperity of the Western world since the war is strong evidence for such a belief, which is a natural one for a Conservative to hold. The illogicality is in those who believe that that mechanism conduces best to human happiness even when i' has broken down or when it does not exist After all. the owner of a Rolls-Royce car may fairly believe that he is the possessor of the fincs• type of car engine in the world. But even Ro:ls-Royees, I take it, occa- sionally break down. and if they do. presumably their owners do not eschew the attentions of a mechanic. Similarly if a region has d-cayed, and the price mechanism. like the rest of the region, is not working properly. what is wrong with • bringing in a mechanic to do some tinkering, so that the whole organism may be set working again?
Enoch Powell appears to suffer from the delu- sion, almost universal among Socialists, that there is something spec:fically Socialist and anti- Conservative about planning. In fact, planning was not part of early Socialism. and the idea of a planned economy never occurred to either of the first two Labour Governaients. The idea cer- tainly occurred to the post-war Labour Govern- ment, but the achievement evaded it.
At least during the second half of that Govern- ment we did not have a planned economy, only a controlled one We had controls without plan- ning, an unfortunate combination. The move towards freedom in the early Fifties was a re- action, not against the planned economy, but against planless controls, and the emphasis on planning during the last three years, so lamented in The Times articles; is neither a disavowal of Conservatism nor an adoption of Socialism.
The political implications of Mr. Powell's summons to the Conservative Party to man the capitalist barricades are, if anything, even more alarming. The call to have all economic decisions made by the play of the market, which might be freely translated as big businessmen, does not on the face of it seem a compelling election slogan. To set up a bogey for your opponents to decry is not the most sophisticated form of electioneering. Labour has long suffered from having the label 'Socialism' hung round its neck; for the Con- servatives to respond by hanging 'Capitalism' round their necks would be to carry party chivalry uncommonly far.
The Conservative Party has almost never been a. reactionary party that has stuck to rigid prin- ciples and doctrines—which is one of the main reasons why this country has had a happier politi- cal history than any other. It is also the main
reason why the party during the last eighty years has usually been in power. It is the only right- wing party that has managed to do this, and it has done so only by not being right-wing.
Enoch Powell is right, no doubt, in supposing that the Tory Party will have to do some new thinking whether in power or in opposition. If the Government loses the election, and Mr. Wilson is able to drop Socialism either openly or with Science for a tombstone, the Conservative Party will be back in the predicament it was in during the 1880s, with neither a popular cause to defend nor an unpopular one to attack. Gladstone came to the rescue then by handing it the issue of Ireland. Harold Wilson might do the same. Yet in any event the Tories will continue to face left not right. They are not above pinch- ing other people's clothes. But the Liberal apparel of a hundred years ago will not tempt them. Their political transvestism is always 'with it.'