6 OCTOBER 1973, Page 3

Labour's great chance

"It's Labour's future. Don't let socialists ruin it" could serve as the text of this week's Labour Party conference. A combination Of circumstances in which the Labour Party itself has played remarkably little part has had the effect of offering Mr Wilson and his colleagues power on a plate. But some of those colleagues distrust the offered plate and would dash it out of Mr Wilson's eager grasping hands. There are those within the Labour Party for whom power is itself so corrupt that they would, it often Seems, do anything to prevent its being won. Unfortunately for Mr Wilson and the rest of those in the Labour Party who are anxious for power and are prepared to put up with the Fompromises and accommodations that unavoidably accompany Its exercise, the purists of the left have today more powerful a following among the trade unions and the constituency parties than at any time since the war. In part this is the consequence of oPPosition. In part it is the consequence of the disappointment and disillusion created during the years of Labour government. IM Dart it is because of the virulence of the anti-Wilson press. In great part it reflects the hostility of the unions to the efforts of both the Labour and Conservative governments to impose controls on free collective bargaining procedures. But also, and very Ironically, the power of the left has been brought about by the same actions of the Heath administration which, were it not for that power of the left, would have the result of ensuring a return to power of Mr Wilson at the next.election.

The 'Liberal revival' is direct evidence of a revulsion from the orthod'ix politics of the two-party system, a revulsion brought about primarily by Mr Heath and secondarily by Mr Wilson. Although the Liberal Party is the most obvious beneficiary of this revulsion, the left wing of the Labour Party has also gained strength from it. The 'community politics' of the Liberal Party feeds upon a public which increasingly feels itself to be further and further removed from government, to have a voice which is ,flot, heeded, to have wishes and aspirations which are not unue.rstood by ministers. The Government does not treat this public with respect but with what is tantamount to contempt, and, far f,rorn redressing its grievances, piles new ones on top of the old. is hostility to government which provides the cement which pinds together the revivalists of the Liberal Party. The same aostility empowers the left — or socialist — wing of the Labour rarty.

One difference between the Liberal revivalists and Labour's left ing socialists is doctrinal: the militants of the left possess a coherent socialist creed and programme which the motley and militant revivalists know nothing of. Thus, while the revivalists ‘1.11:0111d probably be hostile towards any government, even a iberal one, the hostility of the extreme socialists is not towards government as such so much as towards the present government Mr Heath and, to a lesser extent, towards the previous government of Mr Wilson. Another difference between the valists and the socialists is tactical: unencumbered by doc"we and naive about policies and programmes, the revivalists ready to sweep into their net every Tom, Dick and Harry who 1J fed up with the way things are going, and have proved _Lnernselves brilliant vote-catchers, whereas in electoral terms the v_coice of left-wing socialist militancy has always been strident and Popular, its policies and programmes spurned by the elecu?rate. Put crudely, the Labour Party's militant socialists have a clear idea of what to do with power but no idea of how to get it, while the Liberal Party's revivalists have brilliant ideas about winning seats but no idea of what to do with them when they are won. The Liberal revivalists win their party votes; the Labour militants lose their party votes. And this is because the public does not know what the Liberal Party's revivalists want to do with power, but knows all too well what the Labour Party's true-red socialists intend.

It is the public knowledge and fear of the intentions of the militant socialists which is likely to prevent the Labour Party from gaining the full advantage it might otherwise expect from the Liberal revival. The Labour militants are strengthened by the same circumstances which produce the Liberal revivalists; but while the Liberal revivalists weaken the Conservative Party, the Labour militants weaken the Labour Party. So far, the effect of Mr Heath's administration has been to weaken the Conservative Party, because the Liberal revivalists are bringing about a net loss to the Tories greater than any net loss the left is capable of inflicting upon the Labour Party. If however, as a consequence of this week's Labour conference, and in spite of the efforts at statesmanship from union leaders, especially Mr Jack Jones, the left wing militants win a durable victory which they can secure in the months ahead, then the conditions for a second term of Conservative government may, notwithstanding the Liberal revival, have been met. No doubt Mr Heath did not calculate. that, by encouraging a revulsion against the two-party system and thereby allowing Liberal revivalists and Labour militants to flourish, he was pursuing a policy of Machiavellian skill by which greater damage was inflicted upon the Labour Party than upon the Conservative Party; but this, nevertheless, could turn out to be the incalculable consequences of his first term.

This need not, however, necessarily be so. Labour Party leaders are accustomed to quietening the left. Mr 'Wilson remains a politician of great tactical skill. And the posture the Labour Party has now adopted towards the Common Market accords better and better with the mood of the country. The joint European posture of Mr Heath's men and his Liberal revivalist opponents, who may be trying to escape from Mr Heath's domestic policies but who are tied to him by the bureaucratic bonds of Brussels is that of two men trying to run a three-legged 'race in opposite directions. The Labour Party is increasingly capable of speaking with a united voice on the Common Market, and it speaks, indeed it sings, in tune with the country. The Conservative Party is at present incapable of speaking either to, or for, the country. It cannot now dress up its platforms with Union Jacks without appearing hypocritical.

The public has hitherto been prepared to go along with the Conservative Party's assessment of itself as the patriotic party. It has been generally assumed that at a time of crisis the nation would turn instinctively towards the Tories as the guardians of its life and liberties. It is true that in 1940 it was to the Labour Party that Amery cried " Speak for England "; but the effect of Labour's response was to entrust the country's war to Churchill. Now, however, the party and its leader which has sold us into Europe cannot play the patriotic tune. The Conservative Party has become the party of the Eurocrats; for as long as it remains Eurocratic it cannot itself speak for England; and only the true patriots amongst its number are entitled, at this critical time, to echo Amery, call out to Labour "Speak for England," and hope that there is an answering response. For the time being, it is to the Labour Party, because of the default of the Conservative and the Liberal parties, that those who love this country and seek to preserve its life and liberties must, willy-nilly, look. There is no other place. Labour must speak for England. If it does — and this is Labour's great chance — and if in so doing it seeks to base its policies on the broad assent of the public, and eschews the programme of its militants, then it cannot fail to be returned to power. Enoch Powell this week quotes Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury's words from Henry VI: Hark, Countrymen! either renew the fight, Or tear the lions out of England's coat and he knows that his own party, in its present abject condition, cannot respond. The marketeering Liberal Party is in like measure incapacitated. Only Labour can renew the fight. Only Labour can speak for the country. This is its time. If it seizes it, this is its great chance; and only its own militants can keep it from office and give Mr Heath another term in power.