MR. CLYNES THE COURTIER -
IN his prefatory note, Mr. J. R. Clynes does me the honour of referring in the following manner to my review of Volume I of his Memoirs : " A reviewer who failed to give his readers
an idea of what the book was about stated that I had written a mixture of narrative and propaganda." I hasten to repair
any omission. Volume I of Mr. Clynes' Memoirs " was about " the career, the opinions and the impressions of Mr. Clynes. So, not unnaturally, is Volume II.
But no more than in Volume I does Mr. Clynes seem concerned to write history. His opinions are constantly masquerading as fact, and, for many statements, their only foundation is the imagination of the author. Perhaps Mr. Clynes has not fully grasped the poisible_ consequences of what he has done. He has been an extremely conspicuous Labour leader, having had, from time to time, very close , and loyal contacts with the Crown. Let .us imagine that twenty years hence someone of keen political curiosity looks up his Memoirs. Very likely, scenting drama, he will turn at once to the description of, the Abdication Crisis, and be arrested by the phrase " hectic debates," which Mr. Clynes alleges preceded the Abdication. Impelled by this colourful expression, he will turn to the bound volume of Hansard in search of a further stimulus. But he will look in vain. Although the event is less than a year old, Mr. Clynes has already forgotten that there was no debate until after the King had publicly declared his intention to abdicate, and that then there followed the merest skeleton of a discussion.
What I have quoted is not a solitary fragment of inaccuracy. Unfortunately, this book is as thick with mistakes of fact as was its predecessor, and many of the incidents " it is about " happened almost the other day. Could not Mr. Clynes find a competent and conscientious reader of proofs ? He quotes himself as saying in the House ai the beginning of 1924: " If we are not- careful about anything else which appears in the Speech from the Throne, we ought to be careful about facts." These criticisms must be briefly borne out, if only to sub- stantiate the warning. " Wait and see " is attributed to Asquith as a guiding principle and not, as Mr. Clynes should know it was actually uttered, as a threat. He states that one of the difficulties with which Labour. had to contend when they entered. their second term of office amid " the worst political mess that this country had ever known " was " unprecedented unemployment." When . Labour entered office in the summer of 1929 unemployment was lower than it had been for years, while the number of. those employed.. stood at a figure which was then a high record. There follow complaints about the Tory criticisms of the Govern- ment's failure to carry out its election pledges, one of which I seem to remember was an " unqualified pledge " to reduce unemployment to a minimum. By the time of the crisis of August, 1931, unemployment had been nearly tripled.
Mr. Clynes attributes the comparative activity of industry today to rearmament. He must surely know that the great recovery began in 1933 before our rearmament programme was either proposed or set in motion. He states that that rearmament is a cause and not a consequence of the present. scale of armaments in Germany ! He also says that the Staff talks between England and France preceded as well as followed Germany's denunciation of Locarno. He actually seems to assign 1933 as the date for Mussolini's assault upon Ethiopia. He describes what are generally admitted to have been the outstanding endeavours of Mr. Eden to concert action against Italy as " our Government representatives wrangling at Geneva." He tells us of the movements of our troops and battleships and the nearness of war in 1935: he then says that the League was " emasculated, mainly by Britain's timidity." Here and there he has very hard things to say of France : but he conveniently forgets how the Laval Gcivern- ment turned and twisted. He must have seen and heard Sir Samuel Hoare making his speech of resignation, but he says that he broke down in the course of it. Sir Samuel's tears were held in check until his speech was over and he had wished his successor luck.
The 1935 election is described as " a triumph for Labour." Never has an Opposition to a. Government that seeks a renewal of public confidence fared worse at the polls. Never has an
existing Government done better : in 1935 the National Government did as well as in 1924 at the Red Letter Election. We are asked to believe that, after the 1931 election, Mr. MacDonald (how hard Mr. Clynes tried to hate him !) was swiftly edged into the obscure office of Lord President of the Council. It was not until 1935 that he was succeeded by Mr. Baldwin as Prime Minister. Elaborate explanations are given of the crisis of 5931, and then, without warning, Mr. Clynes tells us that the Bankers made it He has not even correctly stated the cuts which had to be sustained by the Ministers enjoying £5,000 a year. For one of his remarks there can be unqualified applause—" Politics nowadays are most successfully run by men who possess accurate minds "- a refreshing sentiment from him who solemnly identifies the pacifist with the peace-maker.
Two of his observations about Parliament are useful. He demolishes the silly proposal of those who would fill, the House with " business men." And it is difficult not to agree with his strictures on the House of Lords. He tells us that, of 729 Peers, more than one-half never, spoke in any debate in the Lords from 1919 to 1931, while III never voted in. a single division. These figures certainly indicate a disgraceful dereliction of public duty, and make the hereditary principle less defensible than ever.- But Mr. Clynes lapses again when he says , that the Lords have more power than the Commons. Surely he knows that, they have no control over public finance, and that all they can do to other legislation is to delay it. Why did not Mr. Clynes use their Lordships' impotence as yet another ground for their demise ?
The best part of the book concerns his work at the Home Office, but much space is squandered in rebutting the trivial criticisms which were directed against him. It is to be hoped that no " Tory " statesman of comparable standing will write an autobiography of which so large a proportion is devoted to answering the misrepresentations of Mr. Clynes and his associates. But even in the Home Office pages I could not find the answer to my question ; if Mr. Clynes disapproved of the Death Penalty, why did he not introduce a measure of abolition, which might have consumed perhaps one day of Parliamentary time ? He had a majority at the House of Commons for this reform, and he had over two years to introduce it. As to reprieves, Mr. Clynes argues that the Monarch has with the Home Secretary at least an equal responsibility. Of course the Home Secretary must be the main decisive human factor. " It is no easy matter," says Mr. Clynes, " to convince a Sovereign that a murderer should be given back his life." No doubt it is not an easy matter either before or after the murderer's life has been taken