5 JUNE 1971, Page 5

Replying to the Marketeers


In the coming months many considerations will weigh with MPS and electors who feel obliged to reach firmer conclusions than they have so far about Britain's application to join the EEC. In the attempt to persuade them one way or the other, the advocates of each of the possible courses of action will produce some fairly foolish arguments. Few will be as foolish as the 'Red Scare' argument an- nounced by Mr Peregrine Worsthorne in the course of an article in the Sunday Telegraph last Sunday.

The article in fact made two points which are really inconsistent with one another. The first was a prediction that, if Labour suc- ceeds in keeping Britain out of the EEC, there will be an electoral back-lash against Labour when the economic consequences of staying out become clear. The second was an at- tempt to frighten Conservative waverers into believing in the danger of a government of the Far Left dominated by Messrs Jones and Scanlon as the inevitable outcome if the anti- Market campaign turns out to be suc- cessful.

Of the first point it can only be said that though odder things have doubtless hap- pened it would be exceedingly odd if the Labour party were to become unpopular as a result of successfully opposing unpopular policies and the present government would be remarkably foolish if, having failed to get Britain into the EEC, it spent the next three years blaming the rest of its difficulties on whatever body of opinion was responsible for its failure. It may be that the Govern- ment is as foolish as this, though it seems unlikely. It is fairly clear that the Conservative party is not.

To the second point the answer is that, of all the possible consequences of a failure to join the EEC, a Labour government of the Far Left is almost the least likely. If Mr Heath and the Cabinet decide in the end that they cannot go on with their application in the light of the Luxembourg terms or of parliamentary opinion, then Mr Heath will remain Prime Minister if he wants to. If Mr Heath remains obstinate when other Cabinet ministers change their minds, then either they will resign or he will. Whether there are negotiations or not, there are at least two situations in which the government might be defeated. It might be defeated on a declatory parliamentary motion in favour of joining the EEC (which it could win only if it had sufficient Labour support to outweigh its Conservative opponents). Or it might be defeated on a subsequent motion of con- fidence on which, assuming that the whole Labour party voted against the government, the outcome would depend on Liberal votes and on whether there are between fifteen and thirty Conservative anti-Marketeers who regard British entry as so objectionable that they would wish Mr Heath's government to be replaced even after the declatory motion had been accepted. In the event of large-scale resignations or a negative parliamentary vote, three things might happen—a general election if Mr Heath recommends it and the Queen accepts the recommendation (it is not certain

that she would have to); a caretaker minority Labour government followed by a general election; or a new Conservative Prime Minister (it might be Mr Heath himself) who would have to pick up the pieces as Mr Macmillan did in 1957. In the. one hopes unlikely, event of Mr Heath get- ting Parliament dissolved in view of the inadequacy of Cabinet or parliamentary sup- port or a defeat in the House of Commons, then there might be a majority Labour government. In that case Mr Wilson would almost certainly be able to celebrate his vic- tory by inviting Mr Jenkins and company to join him for the next major stint of moderate socialism and party unity.

In fact, unless public opinion shifts sharply, there is no particular reason to ex- pect a general election on the Common Market question. Unless there is a shift, there will be an election (as distinct from the threat to hold one) only if Mr Heath cares so little about the long-term interests of the Conservative party that he will compel it to stake its future on a policy which many of its members dislike more strongly than their public statements suggest.

In other words, it is not particularly likely that failure to join the EEC will involve a change of Conservative leader unless Mr Heath is actually defeated in the House of Commons. It is even less likely that the Conservative party will be removed from office. There is no reason to believe that Mr Jenkins would stay outside a successor Labour government if one were to be formed. Why, then, does Mr Worsthorne emphasise this set of possibilities instead of emphasising others that are more likely to follow?

It would not be surprising to find a certain sort of committed Marketeer using Messrs Scanlon and Jones to frighten Conservatives into supporting Mr Heath against their instincts and inclinations. Mr Worsthorne, however, is on record as being uncertain about going into the EEC at all; it is ex- traordinary to find him capitulating to what can only be described as 'thick rubbish' at a moment at which it is not clear that the Lux- embourg terms will be acceptable even to the Cabinet. It is possible to see that Mr Heath should be pleased by his assistance. It is less easy to see why so outspoken a critic should so much want to be on what he has decided will be the winning side that he is willing to take up the role of Cat to Mr Heath's Whit- tington.

The point of Conservative politics in the next six months should be so to conduct the European argument that the Conservative party will not be weakened by it. This means accepting that the opponents of entry are neither flat-earthers nor communists, and that there are extremely powerful conservative reasons for opposing entry. Whether this will be accepted is really up to the Cabinet as a whole. It is also up to it whether the present government is going to survive Mr Heath's leadership, and in what shape the Conservative party will be after the bashing to which he is subjecting it.