11 MARCH 1966, Page 11


Life with the Lions

By JOHN WELLS TT now seems generally establkhed in this 'country that elections should be likened in the

public mind to race meetings, and it is possible

to see the advantages of the image 611-- the heightened sense of excitement, the thunder of

hooves, flying turf and so forth. It also justifies to reasonable minds the existence of pundits and commentators. But this week, with the opinion polls showing a Labour lead climbing more or

less steadily to thirteen points in the Express on Monday morning, it suddenly seemed that a more appropriate image of the Conservative predica- ment was that of Early Christians, patiently waiting before an apathetic audience to be devoured by ravening Socialist beasts.

What is sometimes forgotten about these con- tests is that trainers frequently had to poke the lions up the rump with red-hot irons to stimulate feelings of rage and resentment, and even the victims were encouraged to wave their arms about in an attempt to draw the animals' attention to their pathetic and defenceless state. And faced with a yawning and resentful electorate, it 'has been left to the press to fulfil both these functions in the past week.

Their task has not been an easy one. There have been distractions. Hardly had Pinky and Perky danced out of the limelight on Wednesday than the Great Napkin Farce burst upon us,- leaving audience, lions and victims gasping in amazement. The lions, it is true, did try eventu- ally to turn the situation to their advantage, but neither Roy Jenkins's dynamic intervention nor the Prime Minister's 'interest' got very much space and the matter finally fizzled out on the back page of the Sketch. Councillor Parsons of Kingston claimed that the decision to send the wretched child back to its mother had been entirely his: the Home Secretary had merely rung him up afterwards to thank him. For all the harshness of the juvenile court's decision and the ludicrous obstinacy of the mother, it does seem remarkable that even relatively serious papers should have caught the story like some kind of feverish plague, bursting out in headlines normally reserved for war, pestilence and tbe assassination of heads of state---`SHE'S FREE" &r example in the Evening News—and a rash of stories, front-page photographs and comment in the way that they did. Still, they were congratu- lated by the Speaker of the House of Commons on their efforts in the cause of justice, and for sweating news editors and weary reporters that must have made the whole thing worth while.

Attempting among other things to bring the public's attention back to the lions in the arena, by this time yawning, blinking and licking their lips. Mr. Cyril Stein, chairman of Ladbroke's, gave a lunch for the press at the Savoy on Thurs- day, drawing their attention to the massive funds already invested and looking forward to even more massive funds before March 31. It did, however, emerge from the reports of those present that Ladbrokes were not necessarily in favour of the win they were predicting—they even took the opportunity of expressing their reservations about the wisdom of Labour's proposed tax on betting —and Peter Chambers writing in the Express made the point that heavy betting on the Socialtgs 'does not reveal electoral opinion—all it shows is how a lot of people who want to win money are placing their bets.' Until Sunday the only encouraging sound from the embattled martyrs was Mr. Quintin Hogg calling the Leading Lion 'King Harold the Less' and expressing the wish that he would lose 'the battle of the hustings.' He had, he said, a 'schem- ing little face.' The Guardian, always fond of humorous banter, devoted a column to this, but otherwise it did not appear to alarm the lions excessively, and they continued to yawn. But we had to wait till Sunday for the full volume of Conservative singing to rise to a climax.

Uncertain whether it was better to defend themselves against the dangers forecast by the opinion polls or to attack in the inspiration of the Tory Manifesto, the Sunday Times became strangely discordant. 'Edward Heath can't afford any nonsense about scientifically phasing his campaign,' wrote J. Margach on page 4, 'or staggering his assault on the Wilson citadel so that he reaches his peak in the final week."Mr. Heath and his fellow tacticians are already making sure that the Tory challenge does not reach its climax too early,' added David Leitch on the same page, commenting on the Tory leader's quiet start. In an attempt to counter the black magic wrought by the opinion polls, the Sunday Times also snatched up its seaweed and lucky charms, commissioning a group of pollsters called Marplan Ltd. to look into Falmouth and Cam- borne, who decided that among a class of voters described as 'very certain' to vote the Conserva- tives had overtaken Labour and were now leading by 4.4 per cent.

Finally, fulfilling the role of the Early Christians instructed to make despairing gestures in the hope of luring on the lions. Henry Brandon pro- duced- some interesting mixed metaphors in his piece 'How Sterling came in out of the Cold.' Straitjackets were thrown to drowning men, and others fought to defend the Plimsoll line. Coming at this time, it could only embarrass Conserva- tives with memories of their last days in power. However, rumours have it that the present Government made vigorous attempts to stop Part Two appearing next week, so things may well balance out.

Meanwhile the lions, fed with their Manifesto in rather larger helpings thanks to the intelligent release date, getting a lead in almost all Tues- day's papers, continue to roar, and we wait for next week's gripping instalment.

In conclusion, those who noticed The Times's rugged use of the word 'serviette' in their second leader on Saturday, may have been surprised at the gentility of the Daily Express, who used 'table napkin' throughout. Perhaps the appointment of Jocelyn Stevens, the debonair proprietor of Queen magazine, as assistant to Max Aitken at Christmas has finally borne fruit.