Making a Feast of Stephen
By HENRY FAIRLIE IF our self-nominated progressives wish to find a place for Mr. Stephen Ward in their hagiology, that is their business. I am _interested only that we and they should have no doubt by whom (if by anyone) St. Stephen was martyred. Mr. Ludovic Kennedy and those who have sub- stantially agreed with his book. The Trial of Stephen Ward, seem to me to have got the matter a little 'confused; and, as a result, our _law and society are once again being asked to bear a responsibility which is not theirs.
I did not, last summer, find much that was scandalous or more than mildly surprising in the succession of revelations which were occupying most people's attention; I said so, here and there, in print at the time. On the other hand, I found the atmosphere which surrounded both the parliamentary inquisition and the trial of Mr. Ward odious; I found the trial itself wretched; and I found its sorry culmination almost the only appropriate comment. I would go so far as to say that, given the atmosphere in which it took place; the prosecution of Mr. Ward could only be shaming.
But who—and it is here that I begin to disagree with Mr. Kennedy's dangerously over-simplified thesis—did most to create this atmosphere? I accuse: First. the Labour Party in Parliament. For its
' own political ends, it pursued the so-called security issue. It was perfectly willing that the public should be given its peepshow, and allowed to enjoy the spectacle of other people's degradation.
In his review, on Sunday, of Mr. Kennedy's book, Mr. Cyril Connolly commented that the trial of Mr. Ward would have aroused little interest if it had not, at first, been accompanied by a supposed security scandal. It was this that was responsible for the hysterical atmosphere in which the trial took place, and I do not see that the Labour Party (although it was by no means solely responsible) can be exonerated from its own large share of the blame.
Secondly, the Liberal Party in Parliament. Throughout the summer it abetted the Labour Party in its demand for an inquisition. I remember a conversation which I had, at the time, with a Liberal 'MP in which I suggested that, if the Liberal Party really believed in personal liberty (which has always implied the protection of personal privacy), it would resist all the pressures to introduce the dreadful engines of inquisition into so trifling and personal a matter.
I am not free, of course, to quote his reply; but I feel free to say that his answer bore scant resemblance to the stout common sense of Gladstone when he was asked, as leader of 'the Liberal Party, to condemn Parnell after the O'Shea divorce:
What! because a man is called a leader of a Party, does that constitute him a censor and a judge of faith and morals? I will not accept it. It would make life intolerable. It was—and let us not be small in acknoWledging it—Mr. Macmillan who most nearly represented this civilised attitude: and we ought to remember on our knees what scant respect he has so far been paid for preserving our own self-respect.
Thirdly, the members of the Conservative Party in Parliament who were already gunning for Mr. Macmillan, and who used the whole Profumo issue as a rod with which to beat him.
Fourthly, the press. By this, I do not mean primarily the popular press, if only because I doubt its influence, but some of the 'quality' newspapers and journals. The campaign of The Times—lt Is A Moral Issue'—could only create an atmosphere which would make a fairly pre- sented prosecution case unlikely, an unhampered defence improbable, and a fairly conducted trial difficult. It did not offend, in its own class, alone. None of us, I hope, will ever forget that the Economist twice appeared with a picture of Miss Christine Keeler on its cover. If there was an excuse for that—and Bagehot would have found it hard to discover one—there was an excuse for anything. I cannot help' feeling that those' who came out of last summer with dirty hands were the self-assuredly. pure.
It is this deliberately fostered—bespoke- atmosphere, and the identity and motives of those who fostered it, which Mr. Kennedy appears to me to ignore, thus enabling him to present what amounts to a 'conspiracy' theory of the way in which the institutions of our society oper- ate. This, and this only, is the point at which I criticise his characteristically, compassionate and well-intentioned thesis. But it happens, and it is to this that I wish to direct attention, to be the whole of his thesis.
If I understand his argument correctly, it is that the police were not (and did not need to be) given direct orders to pursue the prosecution of Mr. Ward so earnestly; that the prosecution itself was not (and did not need to be) given orders to turn a prosecution into something near a persecution; that the judge and jury were not (and did not need to be) given orders to return the (in the event) mild verdict which they did: it all happened because the 'establishment' was seeking either to protect or to avenge itself.
There was obviously some journalistic value in the phrase 'the establishment' when it was first so haplessly popularised. But it is an offence against all intelligent discussion that it has be- come an excuse for non-thought and non-action. In less stable societies, the dangers of a 'con- spiracy' theory are obvious enough: society and its institutions are subverted (and people killed) by right- and left-Wing conspiracies against the alleged 'conspiracy' of an existing authority. In a society as stable as ours, a 'conspiracy' theory merely distorts argument and subdues reason.
I admire the instincts which made Mr. Kennedy write his book. But he ignores the fact that the shaming events of last summer, and their unavoidable culmination, followed from a politically determined campaign which made 'security' an issue in our dearly free society. (How could the police be laggard in a case which they were told might involve a major 'security risk'?) We kissed the skirts of McCarthyism last summer—and it was the left which held out the garment.
A Penguin on the Profymo case by Mr. Wayland Young; a novel capitalising on the Profumo case by Mr. Paul Johnson; a first speedy commentary on Mr. Ward's trial by Mr. Ludovic Kennedy: 'progressives,' one notes, all of them. It is time that the hagiology of the left was not so thoughtless and—after all, Mr. Kennedy's last important work was Ten Rillington Place—so necrophile. And also let us remember, however compassionately, that Mr. Stephen Ward killed himself.