POLITICAL COMMENTARY HUGH REAY
The Liberal party survives for reasons which by themselves give the party no claim to be considered a national party. It binds no region to the centre, it is not responsible for integrating any group or class into our democracy. It does not represent the survival of any single idea or objective, national or local. It has only rarely succeeded in penetrating our two-party system, and then more by the coincidence of offering possibilities to some group in our community to use it for an expression of their particular protest, rather than because the policies of the Liberal party are in sympathy with a national need. It is dependent in Parliament on a few distant communities. These communities, threatened by the modern world, perhaps supported in their right to maintain their own identity by echoes from the past of national independence, act quite logically, if impotently, when they refuse to accept the choice before them between the agents of political power in the modern world. Yet the Liberal party, as it has a right to do, ignores these facts, and making use of its own nominal continuity puts up the façade of a national party. Is this facade hollow?
The Liberal party has the opportunity to fill this gap between its pretensions and the reasons for its survival with its policies. It is not enough that these policies should simply be different quantitatively or in their combination from those of the two major parties. The Liberal party needs to make use of its own freedom to select policies which are based on clear thinking and a sensitivity to the demands of the age and it needs to take risks for the sake of those policies. The great characteristic of Grimond, I think, was such an integrity. His personality alone was an assurance that the Liberals could contribute in Parliament a quality that has almost died in our day among politicians. Under his leadership it was always possible to believe that the Liberals might discover a new direction or risk their survival for the sake of a policy. But the party s integrity today is at least less conspicuous. In the field of taxation, for example, the Liberals in 1970 were putting out as two of their principal demands that the system should be simplified and its disincentive features removed. Yet when the next year a Budget was introduced which for the first time put these two objectives before all others, the Liberals found their way to vote against it on second reading. It would not be exactly correct to say that the Liberal party has no direction. But instead of linking its future to the future of its policies, it seems to pick its way forward by a careful, but politically meaningless, avoidance of identification with either of the major parties.
There is one policy area in which the Liberals have attempted to promote the image of their distinctive identity, and that is in the area where Britain uses her claim to a moral responsibilty towards the world in the same manner in which she used it in the nineteenth century to support her imperial activities. Such an approach today has involved us in endless promises, in immigration, aid, Rhodesia, in all matters connected with the Commonwealth, which the major parties are painfully learning it is no longer our national function to make. The Liberals, spared the need to learn the lesson, can indeed boast they have been truer to the past. But that is not the road to the regeneration of a national party.
The residual past appears again in the Liberal party in the House of Lords. There are some twenty-two peers who attend regularly. Of these the majority are hereditary peers, and many of these have traditional connections with the Liberal party. Lord Henley comes from a background of the Liberal Temperance League, Lords Amulree and Amherst have traditional family Liberal connections, Lord Thurso is the son of Sir Archibald Sinclair, and Lord Meston enjoys an eponymous relationship with a banqueting room in the National Liberal Club. It is a further peculiarity that of these twenty two peers eleven went to Eton. Moreover, of the eight males who are either life peers or peers of first creation — that is to say chosen in the House of Lords by the Liberal party itself — three went to Eton. The compromise which membership of the Liberal party represents seems to be made more typically from the right than from the left.
The Liberal benches include some talent. They are led by Lord Byers. Vital, politically experienced, and solid under attack, he would make an excellent minister. He eagerly co-operates in all moves of reform or procedural improvement in the House of Lords. He therefore ignores the weak ambivalence of his own party on the subject. He is an excellent speaker, brief, urgent, perhaps a bit superficial. But if anything the superficiality probably denotes the greater interest he has in his possibilities as a director of that interesting international company, RTZ. His political talents are hardly employed in his present position. The recently ennobled Lady Seear, a teaching economist, is an experienced and outstanding speaker, ready to undermine the clichés of her party, or indeed of any other party. Lord Gladwyn, still extremely handsome at seventy-one, has the weight of his public career behind him. Lord Foot is unique in that the traditions behind him are apparently those of the left rather than the right. Lords Wade, Beaumont and ,Rea have each held the annual presidency. Lord Beaumont, a rich man, has all but saved the party finances before now. But because Liberals have a tendency to discuss how the House of Lords should be reconstituted in order to fit it into their own federal schemes for the UK, the peers are not allowed to have the feeling that they are basically supported by their party. This may explain why they don't enjoy attending joint meetings with MPs.
As it is a British upper-class tradition to respect everyone's facade, it is not surprising that the facade of the LiLberals is accepted at face value in the House of Lords. They are treated as a party of equal importance to the other two, invited to share in the regulation of business and procedure, and given the possibility of a party speaker at the start of each debate.
Sixty years ago, the Liberal party was a party of government, aggressive, dynamic and adaptable. Today, those Liberals of Liberal parentage, in choosing nominal continuity, have not made the more existential choice between the aggressions of socialism and the traditions of conservatism. Similarly, those who have joined the party have again made a compromise for emotional reasons, preferring the protest of detachment to an identification with one side or the other in the political struggle. To protest in this manner it is simply enough to continue calling yourself a Liberal. But this is a static position. The Liberal peers, like all other Liberals, need policies to provide their direction. It is not clear they have them.
Lord Reay, an ancestral and Old Etonian peer himself, resigned from the Liberal party this week, to sit on the cross benches. He writes regularly on the House of Lords in The Spectator.
The wage negotiating season is with us again. There should be a special day to mark it, like the start of grouse shooting or the end of winter.
Purists among us like to argue over the exact point at which one round of wage negotiations ends and the next begins.
Some would say that the 8i per cent the nation's industrial civil servants got for themselves in July marked the final stage of the 1970-71 season, others that it opened up 1971-2. No final arbitration is possible. The wage round is indeed cir cular, and circles have no beginning or end.
The start of the season is more a matter of mood than precise timing. Between Easter and August, conferences decide what rough pay targets unions should aim for. Then there is a lull around the bar gaining table for a month or so while union leaders, like other solid citizens, go on holiday. Meanwhile, their research officers muster such arguments as they can in support of their memberships ambitions. Ruskin College in Oxford in creasingly lends a helping hand, conjuring up more complicated, if not necessarily more convincing, arguments than can be managed by hard-pressed researchers, who are preoccupied at that time of year thinking up something more or less intelligent, or at any rate plausible, for their bosses to say to the TUC's September Congress.
Once Congress is out of the way the ground is cleared for action. In the last couple of years the opening shots have • been fired by three quarters of a million local government workers. They are the people on whose behalf you had the dust bin strike two years ago and the sewage crisis last year, We don't know what they have up their sleeves for this year, though strongly suspect they have nothing at all. You don't get into three consecutive dustups if you value your union's reputation, not to mention its bank balance.
But this year the local government men are a shade slower off the mark. They made such a fuss last year that they couldn't get a settlement until several weeks after it was due. So now, honourably observing a twelve-month truce, they are a bit behindhand. It is the miners' turn to ring up the curtain. The poor old miners. Spare a thought for them, please. For the first dozen years after the :war the entire country huffed
and roare:tr, because they didn't produce enough co0. I distinctly remember myself
being blue'with cold through the winter of P47 and feeling none too kindly about the boys underground, childishly supposing that it must be quite warm down there. But since the middle-'fifties nobody has wanted to know them any more. Oil, gas, atomic power — this was the painless, modern, hygienic way of keeping warm. What did we want coal for? We forgot about the beastly substance, We turned our backs on the men who did the appalling work of hacking it from the coalface and getting it to the surface. Their pay fell behind. For the first time in a century there were fewer than 400,000 men in the industry. Pits closed. Communities disappeared. The only time we remembered to remember them was when they were so disobliging as to fail to provide us with adequate supplies of smokeless fuels. The idle fellows.
They have had enough of all that. The tide has turned. Oil is getting a touch expensive. Atomic power is not as cheap and easy as we thought. Besides, the country keeps gobbling up more and more power.
The miners have smelled the atmosphere. Lord Robens has gone. Mr Derek Ezra, his successor, is untested in battle. The union has elected the militant Mr Lawwrence Daly as its General Secretary and the not-so-militant Mr Joe Gormley as its President. But Mr Gormley will want to prove his mettle too. And they have changed their rules so that it no longer needs a two-thirds majority for an all-out strike, only 55 per cent.
In short, the miners are spoiling for a fight. And behind them come dozens of others — the men from the power stations, the gasworks, the reservoirs, the civil service, the buses, the newspapers, Old Uncle Tom Cobley, you and me too, no doubt, and three million engineering workers as the major set-piece struggle of the season.
It is as usual hopeless trying to predict how the struggle will shape up. With most people having seen a 10 per cent rise in prices since their last deal was made, there is naturally a good head of steam behind the coming set of claims, and never mind Ivw, much the last lot of pay increases contributed to the later round of price rises. But on the other hand, a good many unions spent so much cash the last time around that they haven't got much to spare this time. Our biggest union, the Transport Workers, has struck some noticeably easy-going attitudes since the Ford strike at the beginning of the year, while our second biggest union, the Engineers, has spent so much on little strikes recently that it hasn't got much left for its big confrontation with the engineering employers. So militancy exhausts itself and the big money can no longer be put behind the big mouth.
Somewhere, even now, someone is planning the strike that will shock us all. Last year is was the postmen. Who would have believed that those friendly chaps who bring the bills and ask after the family at Christmas would have stuck it out for eight weeks? But they did. And who can blame them? For all of us like to stand up now and then to assert our identity, to let it be known that we matter, too. It doesn't pay, but it's worth it all the same.
After the miners — who? Thursday, September 9: The Cabinet agreed to recall Parliament for a two-day debate on Northern Ireland later in the month, while following his deportation from the US, IRA leader, Joe Cahill, was detained in Dublin, but later released through lack of incriminating evidence. Lord Goodman left for yet more Rhodesian talks and Lord Snowdon was fined E20 for careless driving when ramming the car of a persistent photographer.
Friday, September 10: Our man in Uruguay, Geoffrey Jackson, was released after eight months imprisonment by the Tupamaros. The Bank of England announced the removal of lending restrictions, raising hopes of easier borrowing and improved interest rates. Mr Faulkner attacked Harold Wilson at a Stormont dinner, Joe Cahill made a rousing 'free Ireland' peech to provisionals in Dublin and Edward Heath forecast substantial economic growth at a Glasgow business luncheon. Over million Indians and refugees were reported marooned by flood waters near Calcutta.
Saturday, September 11: Ousted Russian PM, Nikita Kruschev, died of a heart attack in Moscow, but was not to be honoured by a Kremlin burial. Jack Lynch finally agreed to tripartite talks with Messrs Heath and Faulkner. Israel broke the 13-month old ceasefire when shooting down an Arab plane over the Canal, Geoffrey Jackson returned hometo a knighthood and Lester Piggott won his sixth St Leger.
Sunday, September 12: Brian Faulkner on British television and Bernadette Devlin at an explosive anti-interment rally, both attacked Jack Lynch thus reducing the likelihood of a successful summit, but Irish primate Cardinal Conway, condemned IRA violence. Mr Wilson flew to Moscow and Sir Alec Douglas-Home to Cairo, while in London, a radio ham enabled police to helplessly eavesdrop the successful progress of a El million (?) bank raid Monday, September 13: In America forty were found dead when police stormed Attica Prison to release hostages held by rebellious convicts. A date was set for the NI tripartite talks, but right wing MP, Desmond Boa], resigned from the Unionist, party because of them. Ten people died in a 200 vehicle pile-up on the fogbound M6, British Rail's new chairman, Richard Marsh started work faced with a E17m deficit and the poet, Yevtushenke spoke at Mr Kruschev's funeral.
Tuesday, September 14: In Ulster, two soldiers died and several were seriously injured, while another Unionist MP, John McQuade, resigned from the Party. A Government White Paper revealed a new twopensions-on-retirement scheme and police launched a spy probe along the South Coast. In America a row developed over who killed the ten hostages in the Attica jail bloodbath, the Lockheed's loan agreement was signed assuring Tristar's future and U Thant announced his 'firm and categorical ' decision to retire as UN Secretary General.
Wednesday, September 15: Brian Faulkner signed internment orders on 219 _of those detained last month and announced the expansion of the Ulster Defence Regiment. In Reading a man was charged with the rape and attempted murder of bunny, Antonia Drabczyk. One of last week's haul of Renaissance paintings was recovered near the Venice Lido and Prince Charles joined the Navy.