15 MARCH 1963, Page 4

Backs to the Wall

EIE talks called by Mr. Butler between the I leaders of Northern and Southern Rhodesia on the future of the Federation in London later this month seem likely to be the last chance for the British Government to exercise any liberal influence upon the policies of Mr. Winston Field and his Rhodesian Front. When Mr. Field came to power in December, it was widely thought that, although he is much further to the right than Sir Edgar Whitehead, he might well be receptive to new ideas and able to introduce a new climate in racial relations. Such hopes were encouraged by Mr. Field's release of a number of detainees shortly after coming to power. They would have been encouraged even further had he permitted the formation of a new African party which would eventually be allowed to fight for those parliamentary seats which the present Con- stitution allows. This course is still possible, but it looks increasingly as if Mr. Field is the cap- tive of the most extreme of his followers. The new laws promising long-term imprisonment for any resident attempting to bring any form of out- side pressure to bear on the Government are the acts of frightened and inexperienced politicians retreating to the wall of last resistance before they have even begun to explore the possibility of compromise. The most alarming aspect of this approach is the mental isolation it breeds on the part of the whites. All contact with African opinion and aspirations seems about to be lost. If at the London conference Mr. Field cannot be made to understand the consequences, then it may be that the British Government will have to consider suspending economic aid.