7 JULY 1973, Page 18

• Another Spectator's Notebook

The results of the Manchester Exchange byelection, where Labour held the seat against a strong Liberal challenge, and the Tory lost his deposit, are not easy to interpret. For one thing, as Central Office very quickly pointed out, it is a very untypical seat, with a tiny electorate, and it will disappear before the next general election. For another, the poll was very low — though there is no reason to suppose that the pattern of distribution among those who voted was not representative of the electorate as a whole, Two things struck me, however. One was the comparative ease of the Labour victory, in spite of the fact that the Liberal challenge was strong, and that Mr Thorpe imported all his top experts in the communal politics which were so successful at Sutton and Cheam. The other is that the Liberal revival, even if it is now being contained, has, during this parliament, hit the Tories far harder than it has hit Labour. Once upon a time there was a great deal of dispute about the relative impact of these Liberal surges on the other two parties, and it seemed best to settle for the compromise view that both were hurt equally. Now it looks as if the Tories are bearing the brunt. This must be a matter of concern to Central Office: if the party were to be hurt by heavy abstentions from its own ranks next time round, and hit by the Liberals as well, it could be in trouble. There is a consolation, however; Labour still don't look like doing much better in the business of reducing abstentions than they did in 1970, and that was a pretty poor effort.

Extremely central Bernard

I still can't, myself, see much point to the continuing wave of Centre Party-Social Democratic sentiment. Bernard Levin has kept the flag flying bravely in the Times. He was typically brilliant the other day in denouncing poor Edward Short for suggesting that the Prime Minister might choose to hold a general election just after Princess Anne's wedding, in order to capitalise on a resurgence of royalist sentiment (an interesting example, by the way, of the fashion in which Labour so readily concedes the use of all the symbols of patriotism to the Tories). But I wonder if he considered the historical precedents. Briefly, his argument was that the Labour left had become so extreme that they would badly damage the party's prospects in a general election campaign, and that if the Labour centre and right left the party the remaining rump of the left would be smashed. His implied advice to Mr Jenkins and his allies was to get out anyway and form what he was sure would be an ultimately victorious Centre Party, appealing to all folk of goodwill and civilised sentiment. Now, I've always liked and admired Bernard Levin, and he's often quite sharp, really, but I failed to work out either from that article or the one that followed it two days later, what precisely the policies of this new party were to be, beyond vague attitudinising. And if Bernard could cast his mind back to the fate of Ramsay MacDonald he would discover, first, that MacDonald made just such a centrist appeal; second, that his defection did, indeed, seriously damage what was then the left of the Labour Party; and third, that ultimately it was that very left which triumphed, leaving MacDonald to decline into senile obscurity. As Henry Fairlie once observed, the way to destruction in British politics is through too vocal a cultivation of the centre.

Who's not who

I thought that most political correspondents had accepted that Ted Heath was too slow, if not for his own interests then for theirs, to reshuffle his ministers; and that political life was dull in proportion to the absence of games of musical chairs between ministers. Now I'm not so sure. It may be that many journalists and broadcasters find the existing pace of change in both parties too fast to follow. I appeared on a radio programme the other night where Jim Callaghan was described as Labour's spokesman on Northern Ireland (he is Shadow Foreign Secretary; Merlyn Rees is the Irish spokesman). On the BBC's unusually admirable Yesterday in Par/iament Robin Balniel was described as Minister of State for Defence (he once was, but is now at the Foreign Office), And the Sunday Express recently made Julian Amery Housing Minister (he was, but is now also at the Foreign Office). It reminds one of the occasion, just after the 1964 general election, when in the House of Commons the newly elevated George Brown wagged an angry finger at Sir Alec Douglas-Home and began "The Prime Minister very well knows. . ."

Supermac's last word

Harold Macmillan has finally finished his memoirs, and the last volume is expected to appear in September. This, of course, is the most eagerly. awaited of the series — mo eagerly even than the one dealing with Su for nobody expected the beans to be spill on that operation. lain Macleod describ Randolph Churchill's book, The Fight for t Tory Leadership, in these columns as " t trailer for the screenplay of Mr Macmillan memoirs." Soon, then, we are to have th movie itself. Ironically, in view of the fa that Macleod so vigorously denounced him that famous and scathing review, Macmill says in his book, I am told, that, in Septeml 1963, when he was considering retirement this before his illness — he favoured eith Hailsham or Macleod for the succession, b cause they were the only true radic around.

This is all the more interesting since, a cording to Nigel Fisher's biography, Made was convinced at this time that he was out favour, Macmillan having lost patience wit r his eternal thrusting at the Colonial Offi (which he had vacated by this time) and h eternal squabbling with Duncan Sand Another interesting matter on which the volume (called At the End of the Day) may may not throw light on is the emergence Lord Home — not as leader, but as a cand date. Macmillan has always said that Ho had majorities of varying size at every co ceivable level of the party, once his candid ture was known. But who first put him fo ward as a candidate?

Whitewashing Guardian

The Zanzibari trials continue, and men fa u death on that dreadful island, accused tin complicity in the murder of the tyrant Shailt t,„ Karume, without -benefit of defence counse or the appraisal of a jury. Meanwhile, on th mainland, President Nyerere continues t hold another batch of accused, about wholb plight Bernard Levin has written in trj Times, and 'Julius Shariff ' and myself in Th tut Spectator. Nyerere's assurance to Bisho Huddleston that he will not release these un fortunates into the blood-stained hands Jumbe, Karume's successor, without benet11,e1 of proper trial will soon be tested; for they who are being tried in absentia — are certal to be found guilty, and theZanzibar authori ti ad (it that word, implying legitimacy of sors sort, can be used of such thugs) will ask hi tai to stand and deliver, as he has done before "c Meanwhile, Radio Dar-es-salaam and th mainland press are full of fulsome praise f0. • Jumbe. The British press, of course, is pret0 tla silent about the whole matter — except f the odd snippet here and there, and a fainl anodyne piece by Colin Legum in the Ob server last Sunday — while they whip the selves into frenzies over fairly trivial matte like French nuclear tests in the Pacific an the iniquities of Rhodesia. But there has bee one pretty disgraceful exception to this rill in. of all papers, the Guardian, where Bruc Douglas-Mann, the Labour MP, was give. space for a whitewash job on Jumbe and hi Attorney General. We learned, inter alia, tha the Attorney General is a Middle Temple bat rister, and that Jumbe has put in some sarn' tation and built a road or two in Zanzibar. We did not learn that priceless example of Arab architecture have been ransacked hY the gang; furniture stolen from Arab house5, and even doors torn off and windoWs knocked out, all in order to stock the home of the tyrants with the riches of an ancien culture. Nor did Douglas-Mann remind us 0' the shameful and continuing practice of fore' ing Arab and Persian girls into marriage with members of the Zanzibari cabinet. C. p. Scott' thou shouldst be living at this hour! The Guardian hath need of thee. Douglas-Mann's article was rather like reminding us that Hit" ler built lots of nice au tobahnen, and forget'', Mg to remind us that he knocked off lots