13 DECEMBER 1963, Page 16


Stn,—]n your issue of December 6, Donald Home tries hard to conceal his pleasure at the Labour Party's reverse in Australia. Mr. Home would like to think that foreign policy issues helped Sir Robert Menzies to win. The Labour Party, I suspect, would like to think so too: for a party's foreign policy can be changed, however difficult and disruptive the process may be. What cannot easily be changed is the mood of an apathetic and indulgent elector- ate, too silly to be rational in its hostility to Com- munism or to embrace an adventurous vision of its future. If foreign policy issues really influenced voters they might well have helped the Labour Party rather than the Government. For since 1961, when the ALP made its biggest gains, the party has moved to the right. Its demand for withdrawal of troops from Malaya at all costs has been abandoned; its support of Malaysia has been no less forthright than Sir Robert's, whose Defence Minister two years ago was making a goodwill visit to Indonesia soon after Sukarno's paratroops dropped into West New Guinea; and in pressing for joint control of the US Polaris radar base in Western Australia the ALP has sought the same sort of conditions that Britain exercises over US installations on its soil. In numbers and influence the left wing of the parliamentary ALP is of course insignificant; but if Sir Robert can edge to the right of his right-wing Opposition it is always possible to say that the Opposition is on the left.

If, then, the foreign policy issues in the election were spurious and diversionary, what is the reason for the big swing back to Menzies? But was it a big swing? In fact, it cost the ALP about 1.4 per cent of its vote in 1961. And with this marginal shift of allegiance Sir Robert regained nearly all the seats he lost marginally in 1961, when Australia was having a recession—or 'unemployment scare,' as Mr. Horne would call it. Australia voted for the status quo: my own guess is that if the government had been Labour it would have voted Labour, just as the State of New South Wales (where Menzies made his biggest Federal gains last week) has re- turned a State Labour Government since 1941. The trouble is that poor old Arthur Calwell just doesn't speak very nicely, and in an inert electorate which values respectability and nice speaking voices more than a chance to experiment, that will never do.