All in the hands of three men
That most merry of monarchs Edward VII once remarked, 'We are all socialists now'.
If, indeed, he had swapped his crown for a cloth cap and the more nubile members of the English stage for the sterner delights of Beatrice Webb, he could hardly have presented a more curious spectacle than that of Conservative ministers standing at the Dispatch Box explaining the nationalising of sections of Rolls-Royce.
So the fashion has been to speak—as did Mr Wedgwood Berm—of the demise of Rolls-Royce as one of the gravest industrial blows to the nation since the war. It has, of course, been a sad affair. But a more significant event this week could be Mr Edward Heath's speech on Friday to the Parliamentary Council of the European Movement. For, as one of the most fervent supporters of entry to the Market said on Monday, 'If he wavers we are lost'. The long-term effects of that would be much greater than the collapse of Rolls.
No one who treads the corridors of Westminster to earn an honest copper can be in much doubt that a wave of uncertainty has gone through the pro-EEC group. On Fri- day they hope the PM will make a re-affirma- tion of belief in the project that will inspire the faithful, reassure the doubters, and perhaps even lure back a few backsliders.
If the terminology seems a little theological the reader must understand that the issue of the Common Market excites the emotions of hard-liners on both sides with a fervour that goes beyond politics. A highly intelligent pro-European said recently that it was an act of faith, just like taking sides in a war. On the other hand opponents, such as Mr Powell, clearly see the rivers of Britain flowing with Beaujolais and, in their attempt to keep the village greens undefiled. find allies among stern left-wingers whom we all thought wanted the workers of the world to unite.
Perhaps the sensible thing to do is to present the facts from both sides of the House and see what conclusions may be drawn about the future course of events. On the Labour side Mr John Silkin's motion, stating that entry on the terms so far en- visaged is against the interests of Britain, now has more than 120 signatures and looks likely to attract the support of slightly more than half the Parliamentary Labour party. A figure of around 150 opposed to entry at well-nigh any price is one widely accepted.
Around fifty Labour members arc equally strongly committed to entry and would defy the Whips to say so. That -leaves more than 80, many of whom are shadow ministers or party loyalists (the two are not necessarily synonymous), who will do whatever they are told. The interesting question of course is: by whom? For the Labour party is also com- mitted to holding a one-day conference on the question of entry when the terms are known. Nobody seems in much doubt that the conference will firmly oppose entry.
A victory on a free vote in the Parliamen- tary Labour party also seems a foregone conclusion for anti-marketeers. So the un- committed will have to show un- characteristic fortitude, if they are to oppose a special party conference, the Parliamentary
party and, most daunting of all, the wrath of their local constituency parties.
Then there is the curious business of Mr Benn's referendum. One often sees Mr Benn as a kind of electronic Baden-Powell but, even at his most credulous, he surely does not imagine that meaningful answers could be obtained from such a project. (One need only consider the relative results of a referendum on capital punishment before the Ruth Ellis execution and after the Moors murder trial to see why.) On the Conservative side there are pro- bably as many as forty who will oppose en- try at all costs. The question of those who would vote for entry at all costs simply does not rise. Of great significance, however, from the Conservative viewpoint is the way it has become known that the Cabinet is not committed to entry but is in the same posi-
tion as the humbler MPS in the Commons
itself. They await the terms that are offered before making up their minds. That is a recipe for peace in the meantime, and is quite different from a committment in ad- vance which could only be nullified by
disastrous terms. The battle in the Cabinet could be almost as fierce as that which will take place in the Commons if the Pm decides to go ahead.
Supporters of entry still believe that the day can be won if Mr Heath shows resolu- tion and mounts a public relations campaign.
Then they see uncommitted Labour MPS come over, and traditional Tory loyalty
stiffen the government support, so that a ma- jority, acceptable in Europe, will be ob- tained. They also realise that even by a crude counting of heads, with none of the above factors operating, the majority would not be large enough.
In fact, such is the balance of the rival forces that the momentuous decision on Common Market entry will probably rest in the hands of three men. Politicians are at times given to unbraiding journalists for personalising issues which should be a solemn question of policies. In fact policies and personalities are usually so interlocked that they can hardly be separated. Clearly this is the case at present. The first man of destiny—the phrase would appeal—is Mr Harold Wilson.
It is simply inconceivable, on past form, that Huyton Man would bravely step to the
head of a minority of his party, whose patron saint is Mr Roy Jenkins. and lead them on a European crusade. The opportunities this would afford Mr Callaghan have already been discussed in these pages. One must not, however, forget the jolly rubicund figure of Mr Denis Healey. In a stirring speech during the recent debate on the EEC in Parliament, he showed his class by roughly handling Mr Powell. He also showed his prudence by not giving a glimpse of what terms he would find acceptable. Mr Wilson, should he show a nasty little streak of European altruism, could find Mr Healey on the other side disputing the succession with Mr Callaghan.
In fact the European zealots contain a ma- jority of Mr Wilson's bitterest opponents in the Labour party. Some are now prepared to speak of their leader as having the statesman's outlook because he was once Prime Minister. Yet Mr Wilson will almost certainly dash their hopes. The precedents of former PMS who thought they could manage without their party—Lloyd George and ,Ramsay MacDonald—are too dreadful to contemplate.
That being so the choice before Mr Heath, who is obviously the second decisive figure, is much easier. One would have to go back to Mr Gladstone and Home Rule to find a Prime Minister who would put his party to the sword for statesmanlike purposes. Despite visionary words, the final choice for the PM will probably be made after sounding out the main figures in the Cabinet and a chat with Mr Francis Pym the Chief Whip. As a former Chief Whip himself the Pm will not need much telling and he certainly will not put his fate in the hands of Mr Wilson.
Any lingering doubts Mr Heath may harbour will be firmly squashed by the presence of the third decisive figure—John Enoch Powell. The thought of the Prophet Enoch stumping the country and his cam- paign culminating in a triumphant ap- pearance at the Tory conference is one that gives the very pussy cats in the Central Office the shingles. When last he decided to be truly truculent on the race issue at the 1968 Tory conference he split the assembly in full view of the television cameras. That 'verray parfit gentil knight' Sir Alec Douglas-Home had to be popped up on the platform, at the very instant the Prophet arrived at the rostrum, to make everyone stand up and cheer in what at least seemed blessed unity. Short of ex- huming Disraeli it is a little difficult to sec what the brilliant impresarios in Central Office can do this year at Brighton if Mr Powell arrives wrapped in his prophetic mantle.
Mr Roy Jenkins once remarked, 'The big- gest threat of Enoch Powell to the Labour party is not over race. It is on the Common Market'. But not only to the Labour party. Without Mr Powell's intervention, on the above analysis, the chances of the marketeers forcing a decision through Parliament seem slim. With Mr Powell in the fray they are negligible.