The Pressures on Mr. Heath
By ALAN WATKINS
rr OWARDS the end of last week a perceptible
change occurred in the mood of the Con- servative party. Resignation was replaced by irritation. One heard talk of Mr. Harold Wilson 'getting away with it again.' Normally docile Conservatives, obedient troopers through the divi- sion lobbies to a man, complained about 'our chaps helping him in a tight spot.' Where—and one listened to this question time and again— where was the distinctive Tory contribution to the settlement of the Rhodesian problem? Did Mr.
,1Edward Heath have the answer in his private computer? If so, why did he not produce it? Cer- tainly Mr. Heath was not criticised in so many words; Ted, it was freely admitted, found him- self in difficult and delicate circumstances; none the less, a critical implication was only too apparent. The hungry Conservative sheep were waiting to be fed, but Mr. Heath did not seem to be in a very generous mood. Instead he took off for Paris and General de Gaulle, causing about as much stir as he would have done by spending his Monday at Margate.
A symptom of the Conservatives' growing irritation was their reaction to the strange affair of the congratulatory motion. To a detached observer this reaction might have seemed one of wholly diiproportionate rage and mortification: but in the circumstances it was understandable enough. Late on Thursday Mr. Heath agreed to put his name to a motion, also signed by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Jo Grimond, congratulating Sir Humphrey Gibbs upon his courage in Rhodesia. The Opposition Whips understood that signatures were to be confined to the party leaders; the Government Whips, for their part, deny that any such understanding existed. At any rate, on the Friday Labour Members in their scores hurried along to add their modest signatures to those of Mr. Wilson, Mr. Grimond and Mr. Heath. But the Conservatives, like the animals, came along two by two; by the weekend the not very impres- sive total of fourtetin signatures had been amassed; and all the party received for its pains was a rebuke in The Tinfes. This was more than flesh and blood could stand. It was all (Con- servative MPs explained) a devilish plot by Mr. Wilson or conceivably by Mr. George Wigg. The Labour Whips had been observed nodding and beckoning and exhorting their Members to sign. 1 he whole affair showed that the Government, while purporting to treat Rhodesia as a national question, was really making party capital out of it all the time. Something—no one was quite sure precisely what—would have to be done. Strong sentiments such as these were, at the
beginning of the week, being freely expressed by the middling sorts of Conservatives. These are the Tories (and they form the majority of the party) who have an aversion both to African nationalism and to Mr. Ian Smith. They also have an aversion to the United Nations. But these dislikes—they are all dislikes of far-away things— are as nothing compared with the anger aroused by the suspicion that the Conservative party is in some way being used by Mr. Wilson. Oddly enough, the mood of this group was first caught by Mr. fain Macleod. In the end, said Mr. Macleod, one would have to negotiate with power. Mr. Heath, however, still seemed to be preoccupied with committee points.
By Monday, then, Mr. Heath had succeeded in disappointing every section of the Conservative party. For in addition to the amorphous centre of the party, who were hazily conscious that Mr. Wilson was being allowed to pull fast ones, there were also the extreme wings.
Let us have a look, first, at the group which favoured sanctions. Its leading members were, and are, Mr. Nigel Fisher, Mr. Christopher Chataway, Mr. Humphry Berkeley and Mr. Richard Hornby. Mr. Berkeley, despite his well- known individualism, may serve as an example. He is critical of the Prime Minister as well as of Mr. Heath. He believes that Mr. Wilson did not hit Rhodesia hard enough or fast enough. His quarrel is not so much over sanctions as over the woolly advice which the Government gave to Rhodesian soldiers and civil servants. They should 'have been told unequivocally, says Mr. Berkeley, to leave their posts. They should have been promised employment or pensions by the British government. At most Mr. Berkeley and his allies cannot claim more than thirty adherents, though during the course of the affair it was
whispered that Sir Edward Boyle was a sup- porter. This, it appears, is something of an
exaggeration. Sir Edward has lain fairly low. He has confined his activities to telling everyone who will listen that the Smith government, far from being the representatives of Christian civilisation in Africa, are in fact an unpleasant bunch of men who are running a police state.
But neither in numbers, nor in the amount of noise it made, was this sanctions group important.
The same cannot be said of the supporters of Monday's comic opera version of a Nuremberg rally at the Caxton Hall. All the old lags of the right, the tattered remnant of the Suez group,' have come together again on Rhodesia—Mr. Paul Williams (who is no longer an MP) and Mr. John Biggs-Davison and Mr. Anthony Fell. (Mr. Pat- rick Wall should be excluded from this group. He is a serious student of Central African affairs.) The group's supporters probably num- ber around sixty. Dr. Wyndham Davies is a recent acquisition, if that is the word. Most im- portant of all, however, is the fact that in Mr. Julian Amery the Tory right has found a leader.
Mr. Amery is one of the most exotic blooms in contemporary politics. Why is he disliked so strongly as he is? Is it because, having been a leader of the old Suez group, he forgot all his differences with the leadership once Uncle Harold invited him to join the Government? Perhaps this is part of the explanation, though Mr. Enoch Powell appears able to do much the same thing and get away with it. Or is Mr. Amery disliked because of his plummy voice and aristocratically cockney pronunciation? Or be- cause his hair is slightly too glossy and his maroon handkerchief protrudes slightly too far from his breast pocket? All these characteristics may have something to do with the distaste which is felt for Mr. Amery in many sections of the Conservative party. And yet Mr. Amery is not only a man with political personality but a man with political ideas. The combination can be a dangerous one. It is too early yet to say whether Mr. Amery will become a real menace to the Conservative leader- ship: but even if he does not, his dismissal to the back benches may turn out to have been an expensive luxury for Mr. Heath.
Certainly the attitude which, after herculean labours and awful wrestlings with the spirit, the Shadow Cabinet finally took on Tuesday night owed little to Mr. Amery and his friends. This attitude was more a concession to the centre of the party. Mr. Wilson, it will be recalled, said several important things in the House on Tues- day. He said that the Government had not finally made up its mind on oil or other economic sanc- tions, but that in any event Britain would not act alone. He also said that he would be glad to do business with Mr. Smith once Rhodesia was restored to the paths of constitutional govern- ment. By any standards both these statements were substantial concessions to the Conservative attitude, as an indignant Mr. Michael Foot was quick to recognise.
As far as oil sanctions are concerned, it was clear from the beginning that they were always a possibility. On November 11, true, Mr. Wilson said that 'we do not contemplate ... any national action, and may I say any international action, for the purpose of coercing even the illegal government of Rhodesia into a constitutional position.' But it is abundantly clear from the context in which these words were spoken that Mr. Wilson was talking about military force and not about economic sanctions. The attempt of Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Mr. Amery and other Conservatives to prove otherwise has not so far carried much-conviction. On Tuesday, however,
Mr. Wilson was trying to convey that he viewed oil sanctions with no very great enthusiasm. He was trying to satisfy the United Nations and his own back-benchers and the Opposition all at the same time. It was, if you like, not so much double-talk as treble-talk. And, even more im- portant, Mr. Wilson said he was prepared to negotiate—a far cry from the silly treason talk of a week ago.
Poor Mr. Heath did not know quite what .to say. He consulted Sir Alec, who was evidently not much help. In the end Mr. Heath made some footling points about the Prime Minister's state- meat not being available to the Opposition and about some speech of Lord Caradon not being in the library; he then contented himself with a harmless question. It was left to the Shadow Cabinet, later that day, to tell Mr. Heath what to do. In effect, what we saw this week was Mr. Wilson moving towards the Opposition front bench, and the Opposition front bench moving towards its back benches in order to avoid too great a show of party unity. And in all this Mr. Heath has been the creature of political forces rather than their controller; a patient, not an agent.