By IAN GILMOUR unz made the Left, feel young again. Instead Oct dreary wrangles about the block vote and interminable squabbling over what is and what isn't Socialism, they were suddenly presented with a big foreign policy issue which made them feel back in the Thirties once more. Mr. Foot, indeed,. has gone so far in his -attempt to recapture his youth that he has called his •book on Suez Guilty Men, 1957,* even though it bears not the slightest resemblance to its famous predecessor. This is a pity. The present Prime Minister pre- siding in August over the 'Pretexts' Committee; the plotting a quatre on October 16 between Eden, Selwyn Lloyd, Mollet and Pineau; the Foreign Secretary explaining to the American Ambassador at dinner on Sunday, October 28, why he did not think Israel would attack Egypt; the poor British Embassy official going round to the State Department to explain that the British Government, though it had reaffirmed it nine times since the beginning of the year (and twenty-five times between, 1951 and 1955), had come to the conclusion that the Tripartite Declaration did not apply in favour of Egypt; the American Ambassador (who had spent half an hour with Mr. Selwyn Lloyd that morning) gaining his first news of the ultimatum from a copy given to him by Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick some minutes after the Prime Minister had begun his speech in the House of Commons—these and Many other essays in the higher diplomacy would have lent themselves admirably to the episodic treatment of Guilty Min.
Mr. Foot and Mr. Jones have written instead a serious partisan account of the Suez affair and its background. Readable, accurate' and effective though it is, they might have been Wiser to wait until more of the facts had seeped out from French and Israeli sources. On collu- sion, for instance, Mr. Foot and Mr. Jones are * GUILTY MEN, 1957. By Michael Foot and Mervyn Jones. (Gollancz, 12s. 6d.) in no doubt that the British Government knew • that the Israelis were.going to attack Egypt and that it used the attack as a pretext for the Anglo- French invasion, a view which will be disputed only by those in the state which theologians call invincible ignorance, but they have little that is new to say about it, and the revelations of the Bromberger brothers made this part of the book out of date before it was published.
'The purpose of this book,' they write, 'is to record and analyse the facts—facts which prove that in one of the greatest international crises of the postwar world Mr. Macmillan and those he has chosen as his associates conducted themselves in such a fashion that they must be pronounced morally unfit to govern and politically incapable of repairing the damage they have done.' 'Morally unfit'? The last three months of last year were certainly a period when the untruths that were told were so many and frequent (and contradictory) as to lend considerable force to H. L. Mencken's dictum that 'an honest politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.' But Mr. Foot as an active party politician could hardly go as far as that. He would agree with Mencken only if the word 'Tory' were inserted between 'honest' and 'politician,' and when he pronounces people 'morally unfit to govern' he is by implication saying that other people (Labour) are morally much fitter to govern, and should be given the job as soon as possible.
That Labour foreign policy is necessarily more moral than Conservative foreign policy is manifest nonsense. The Conservatives planned and carried out an attack on another country, as a result of which some British and French fighting men and a few thousand Egyptians lost their lives. The Labour Government did not attack anybody, but in Palestine in 1947-48 it did nothing whatever to prevent a war breaking. out. Indeed, it made one quite inevitable. There is no doubt that Mr. Bevin thought the Arabs would win the war, and there is no doubt that if the Arabs had won it many, if not all, of the Jewish population would have been driven into the sea. A policy whose expected consequence is the death of tens of thousands of people is surely no more moral than one likely to lead to the direct killing of only a few thousand. Of course, the Labour Govern- ment's Palestine policy was politically much less disastrous than Suez—but only because it failed. It involved, too, infinitely fewer lies. But this may be partly due to the fact that Suez was a positive' action and needed positive untruths to explain it; a negative policy needs only eqttivoca- tion and suppression.
Still, if the book's moral thesis cannot be Accepted, it does clearly show that last year the Government's behaviour fell well below the normal standards of British public life. Why? Up till .then its members had been men of the utmost probity and it is impossible to think that they all-became sinners overnight.
The Anglo-French attack on Egypt was as much of an anachronism as the Papal bull Regnans in Excelsis which 'deposed' Queen Elizabeth. Yet Piui V's objective was clear and rational, even if the means he employed were those of Innocent III. This is more than can be said for the British and French Governments. Once into Egypt, how were they going to get out again? Or were they going to occupy the country permanently? Was the attack likely to do much to quench the flames of Arab nationalism? What sort- of government were they hoping to set up in Egypt? What were they going to do, with Nasser? Allow him to escape to Damascus, Moscow or Algeria? Or send -him to the Seychelles? There is little evidence that either these or many other questions were even con- sidered, let alone answered. Nasser was the enemy : just -topple him from power and all would be well. This, of course, was an obsession, not a policy. Mr. Macmillan,. Lord Home and Mr. Lennox-Boyd, who because of the depart- ments they headed—the Treasury, Common- wealth Relations and Colonies—should by any criterion of reason or prudence have been the Ministers most opposed to the adventure, were in fact among its most' fervent supporters. The speeches of Ministers both during and after the crisis all point to the same conclusion—that reason played only a minor part in the business. If, therefore, the language of the courts must be brought into politics, a juster and ,more charitable verdict than that passed by Mr. Foot would be 'guilty but insane.'