12 MAY 1961, Page 6

Westminster Commentary

But Westward, Look


FOR once the quick brown fox appears to have jumped over the lazy dogs. The remarkable turn- up for the book achieved by Mr. Gaitskell last week, when first the Shopworkers and then the Engineers bolted the unilateralist ticket, has been hailed in some quarters as though it meant not only the end of. Mr. Gaitskell's troubles with his own party, but also the immin- ent return of Labour to office with a majority somewhere around five hundred. I can vouch for one quarter which is not quite so optimistic as all that, but there is no doubt that the decline in the Leader's fortunes has for the moment at any rate been halted. It can hardly be denied now that Mr. Gaitskell, who for once has had the sense to keep his mouth shut at the right time (it normally being his practice to keep silence when it is imperative that he should speak) can, if he keeps his nerve (and there is no reason to fear that a nerve kept as long and as manfully as he has kept his so far will be lost now), come safely home at Blackpool and stay there.

Nevertheless, as I suggest, it is not going to be quite so easy as the less sophisticated of our brethren seem to suppose. To begin with, both the Shopworkers and the Engineers, though they have rejected unilateralism, clearly hanker after what has come to be known as the Crossman- Padley compromise. Now there must be objec- tions on Mr. Gaitskell's part to this formula in itself, but far more pressing are the tactical ob- jections to it. The first of these is that it forms a natural stronghold for all those who wish to down Mr. Gaitskell but who are not unilateralists (and to them can be added some who are only uni- lateralists because that has hitherto seemed to be the best way of downing him), and if they can force him into a corner where he will be obliged to accept it, they are well on their way to their goal. For all they will have to do thereafter is to push the compromise, step by single step, farther and farther away from what Mr. Gaitskell can in good conscience support. There must then come a day when they demand more—but only just more—than he can concede. They will then be in the position of those who ask whether a man with one hair on his face had a beard and, receiv- ing the answer 'No', ask whether then a man with two has a beard, or three, or four, and so on, until the respondent is forced into the impossible position of settling for the number of hairs which constitutes a beard. Mr. Gaitskell's position would then be dire indeed, for although he can declare that he will fight, fight and fight again on the issue of uni- lateralism, he would cut a less impressive figure making such a declaration over, say (I choose a principle at random, but since some of Mr. Gaitskell's opponents have for a long time chosen all their principles at random I can hardly be blamed for that), the precise number of nuclear warheads which a Labour Government would permit the Americans to keep in Britain.

Secondly, the compromise must be unaccept- able to Mr. Gaitskell because the unilateralists, or some of them, will hasten to get aboard it if it looks like floating, on the grounds—perfectly tenable by even the sincerest—that although it is from their point of view inadequate, it is at any rate a step in the right direction. The only uni- lateralists this could not satisfy, in fact, are the sea-green incorruptibles who insist on the uni- lateralism, the whole unilateralism, and nothing but the unilateralism, all at once. This may leave surprisingly few, as a matter of fact, holding out; certainly the Communists and fellow-travellers, who after all were still anti- unilateralists at Brighton in 1958, will re-rat without qualms (indeed, it is they whom I expect to see leading the rush to get aboard the Crossman-Padley formula at Blackpool), and Mr. Cousins has made such a gigantic ninny of him- self so often already on this subject that he will scarcely blush to do so again. Whereupon Mr. Gaitskell will be back where he. started (only more tired), trying to satisfy those who arc in- satiable; for he cannot give them what they want, and they will not finally settle for less.

And not even this exhausts the dangers in Mr. Gaitskell's acceptance of the formula; the greatest is yet to come. It is that the resemblance which the Labour Party bears to Fred Karno's Army, close though it already is, will be even closer if they perform yet another somersault in public. Compromise after compromise has been the Labour Party's story these many years, and the hoots of derisive laughter from the country at large have grown ever louder, more frequent, more prolonged and harder to distinguish from so many raspberries. To this process it seemed that a halt was called last October; if it is to begin again now I doubt if the Labour Party will ever be forgiven.

So it will be seen that the dangers inherent for Mr. Gaitskell in the acceptance, willing or grudging, of the compromise are great. Yet can he refuse it and still win? I think he can. To begin with, he has what might be termed a natural advantage in that the formula, having the hand of Mr. Crossman writ large all over it, may justly be rejected on the good legal ground that if a testator's wishes be unascertainable by the study of the will, the disposition of his worldly goods will be decided as if he had died intestate. (Mr. Crossman, it will be argued, is not dead. But I know a house where they stick pins into a wax image of him twice a day.) Mr. Carron, for in- stance, is mandated to support both the compro- mise and the official policy, and Mr. Padley him- self to support the official policy if the compro- mise cannot carry the day. This—if the pattern is repeated at the rest of the mandating union con- ferences (the miners have yet to be heard from, as have Sir Tom Williamson's threequarters of a million)—should give Mr. Gaitskell sufficient elbow-room to reject the compromise with a good hope of seeing the official policy carried and everything else defeated, particularly when you add to this kind of advantage the great, though imprecise, effect of the desire of many Labour Party members to stop looking like so many charl ies.

But if Mr. Gaitskell should win, he must not make again the mistake of resting on his battle- scarred laurels. He has been saved, if he has been saved, by a combination of his own courage, the astonishing discovery of an enormous reservoir of fiercely loyal personal support for him among Labour's rank and file, the revulsion felt even by many who were not sympathetic to him against the depths of vituperation descended to by his opponents, the reaction against the way in which the Communists overplayed their hand, and, above all, by the sheer, hard grind of his supporters, particularly the 'Campaign for Democratic Socialism', who have gone out into the field and organised and drilled and per- suaded and canvassed and generally put their backs into it in a way which has never before been seen on the party's Right. But if he wastes all this now, he will not be forgiven, and he will not get another chance.

At Easter, 1960, Mr. Frank Cousins, on the last day of the Aldermaston March, was seen stumping along in the line, his raincoat over his arm and his eyes on the ground, by about 20,000 citizens, and this was widely reported in the news- papers. Now on the whole, the people who walk in the Aldermaston March may be deemed to be supporters of unilateral nuclear disarmament, with the possible exception of those members of MI5 whose duties compel them to mingle un- obtrusively with the crowd in the hope of over- hearing subversion, and even they may be readily distinguished by their tiny, pointed heads, their bowler hats, and their banners, which say, not `Ban the Bomb' but 'Observers from Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies.' Yet nothing was done fa the way of warding off a threat which, in view of the million-plus votes wielded by Mr. Cousins, should have been seen at once to be a formidable one. From now on, Mr. Gaitskell's intelligence must be as good as that of his opponents; his counter-attack must be as swift; his methods as ruthless; his supporters as well-drilled. Then, and only then, will he be able to lift his head from the day-to-day struggle for survival, and begin to look towards the more distant goal of repairing Labour's wasted fortunes.