13 OCTOBER 1961, Page 3


UNTIL last Monday the prospects for this year's Conservative Party Conference looked bleak indeed. Blackpool may have been mildly disappointing to some Labour supporters (as Roy Jenkins suggests on a later page), but it was incomparably more heartening than its immediate predecessors. The Government, on the other hand, had nothing to congratulate it- self upon—except the decision to enter the Common Market, which might not commend itself to the delegates at Brighton.

It was a shrewd move, therefore, of the Prime Minister to announce his Cabinet changes before the Conference began—especially as they were, on balance, valuable changes. A few months ago the removal of Mr. Macleod from the Colonial Office would have been greeted with dismay by all who have admired what he has done to promote the peaceful and orderly transition of the African colonies to self-government. Re- cently, however, his efforts to reconcile the irreconcilable—Federalists and Nationalists in Northern Rhodesia—have failed; the best he has been able to secure is a Selwyn-like Pause; and it may be easier for his successor to achieve a breakthrough. Whether Mr. Maudling is a suit- able choice is another matter; his handling of delicate negotiations in the past has not suggested that diplomacy is his forte. Still, per- haps the time for tact is past; bluntness may achieve more. In any case, Mr. Macleod's pro- motion is an excellent sign: the campaign against him from Old Sarum has rebounded.

The decision to create a new Treasury post, too—giving the Chief Secretary of the Treasury full authority (under the general direction of the CWancellor) to supervise public expenditure —is a sensible one; as is the choice of Henry Brooke to occupy it. And although R. A. Butler's is not the first name that would occur as ideal for overseer of the Common Market negotiations, at least it demonstrates that he is not, as he has been assiduously rumoured to be, opposed to them.

Following the announcement of the Ministerial changes came the reports of Mr. Heath's state- ment on the British Government's attitude to the Common Market negotiations. This was the most effective pronouncement on the subject that Mr. Heath, or indeed any Minister, has yet made. Since the decision was made to apply for member- ship, ministers have tended to stress the import- ance of not letting down the Commonwealth, EFTA, or the farmers. This was understandable; naturally they wanted to avoid the suspicion that Britain is going to default on old commitments and old loyalties; but the result has been to give the proceedings a negative air. This made people on the Continent wonder whether Britain might be trying to revive the old free trade area under the pretence of joining the Six; and it also missed the chance, here at home, of stressing how fine is the opportunity that a united Europe presents.

Mr. Heath has now forcibly and clearly insisted that Britain is committing herself to the ultimate objectives of the Six; we are not trying to modify the Treaty of Rome, but to strengthen it. By all accounts the representatives of the Six have been duly impressed. The anti-Common Marketeers in the Conservative Party are unlikely to be converted, and it is possible that they are present in Brighton in some strength; but Mr. Heath's statement should make it easier for the Government to hold waverers—and to win the uncommitted.

* These events, however, cannot disguise the fact that the Conservative Party is in poor health. And whatever may happen at Brighton, when Parliament reassembles it will find itself faced with some serious problems on it; hands.

The most dangerous disorder is economic. It was possible to believe, or at least to hope, that this summer's storm had galvanised the Chan- cellor into activity: that however hurried and makeshift his crisis proposals might be, by the time Parliament reassembled he would have a policy prepared that would hold out hope for future stability and make a repetition of earlier economic crises unlikely. But there has been little indication yet that he has used the recess to real advantage. The proposed National Eco- nomic Development Board, though a move in the right direction, does not move far enough. When the Pay and Prices Council was set up four years ago, the Spectator criticised the body on the grounds that its existence 'would add to the many layers of felt by which Governments are contriving to insulate themselves from reality'; and much the same criticism can be made of this project. The Chancellor has not made up his mind whether he wants advice or planning; and the new Board might all too easily degenerate into a waffle-shop.

In any case, for the country's economic de- velopment to develop along more stable and effective lines, it will be essential to win the con- fidence and respect of the workers; and this Mr. Lloyd is signally failing to do. It is not simply a question of appeasing (or offend- ing) the unions; some union leaders are now in a position where they would find it very difficult to co-operate wholeheartedly with any Conservative Chancellor even if they wanted to. But Mr. Lloyd could have taken greater pre- cautions to demonstrate that his Pause exists not to attack but to defend wages.

Another pressing need is for a reconsidera- tion of the country's defence policies. In a year's time, national service is due to come to an end; and already there appears to be no prospect of the regular army being large enough to meet Britain's defence commitments. Unfortunately the situation is becoming unpleasantly reminis- cent of the Thirties. The Government, anxious not to incur unpopularity by reintroducing con- scription, has been having recourse to dubious expedients to preserve the illusion that all is well: and there has been a reduction in the effec- tive strength of army units until theyst exist in skeleton form; shadow without substance.

In the year 1708 (Sir Winston Churchill told the Commons a quarter of a century ago): Mr. Secretary St. John, by a calculated ministerial indiscretion, revealed to the House that the Battle of Almanza had been lost in the previous summer because only 8,000 Eng- lish troops were actually in service out of the 29,000 that had been voted by the House of Commons for this service. When a month later this revelation was confirmed by the Govern- ment it is recorded that the House sat in silence for half an hour, no member caring to speak or wishing to make a comment upon so stag- gering an announcement.

The trouble with the present House of Com- mons is that in similar circumstances it passes rather hurriedly on to other business. A few Conservative MPs have persistently criticised the Government's decision to run down the country's conventional forces while prating of Britain's determination to stand fast by its allies; but as yet they have made little impression.

Then there is Central Africa. There are two things that Mr. Maudling will need to remem- ber when he begins to hear the evidence for and against a continuance of Federation. The first is that Northern and Southern Rhodesia are not, and have never been, a political entity; they cannot be fused into one unless the people so desire; and the overwhelming mass of Africans do not so desire. The stock argument that the overwhelming mass of Africans are not politi- cally minded and consequently are in no position to judge is true; but it is also irrelevant. They will follow their leaders, in the long run. The second is that events are moving fast on the African con- tinent: with the examples of Kenya, Tanganyika and now Uganda before them, the Northern Rhodesian nationalists simply will not wait much longer—particularly if Nyasaland breaks away, as soon it must.


The chief need for the Conservative Party, if it is to overcome these difficulties, is to recover its dynamic. That the advance publicity for this year's Brighton Conference should have been mainly devoted to the resolutions on hanging and flogging was no accident: and the debate is likely to be embarrassing to an administration which has tried so hard to detach the party from old reactionary tendencies. For there remains a risk—less serious now, after the Common Market decision, but still appreciable—that the party persona will again be identified in the public mind with the sight of angry women howling for the birch, coupled with—to quote again Mr. Wilson s Blackpool phrase—Treasury-financed limousines propelling share-pushers to their offices. The party cannot afford to allow this mask to be presented to the electorate as the true face of Conservatism, and the current conference of Brighton will be a searching test of the ability of the leadership to turn the energies of its sup- porters to more constructive channels.