18 OCTOBER 1963, Page 3


HE Tory succession will shortly be de- Tcided—very soon, perhaps, after these words are in print. Mr. Butler or Lord Hailsham? Lord Home? Mr. Macleod, Mr. Heath, Mr. Maudling'? If there were less talent on the Government front bench, there would be less confusion among prophets even at this late hour. But all their supercharged speculation will soon be so much water under the bridge. What we know with certainty now is that whoever emerges to receive the Queen's commission will be carried forward on a wave of sup- port; and that the Tory Party will lose no time in descending from the heady heights to the duller terrain of past achievement and future policy on which much deft marching and counter-marching must be done between now and the general election.

Meanwhile Tories are looking back at Blackpool, and at Scarborough. The general day-to-day impression of the Tory conference conveyed by press and tele- vision was one of a party in a 'state of frenzy, obsessed by the question of the leadership and heedless of the stream of speeches in the conference hall. But it was not in the least like that. And when it was all over everyone seemed glumly agreed that, regarded as a public-relations exer- cise in reply to Labour's superbly staged- managed entertainment at Scarborough, it must be written off as a dead loss. So said or implied the reporters and commentators. In fact the leadership question and its open discussion provided an immense stimulus and focused an intense interest on the party.

Under the apparent fog of short-term con- fusion lay solid peaks of long-term advant- age, and they are already coming into view. Speaker after speaker from the platform told a true story of actual achievement and, within the inevitable inhibition of office, made it abundantly clear that policies long since set in motion are accelerating fast enough to arrive on the parliamentary scene during the next session. This was no mere image-making exercise. Credit was claimed for nothing but manifest achieve- ment, and there was no dishing-out of vague promises packaged in modish verbalisms.

There was no windy ranting from Mr. Macleod (whose fighting speech will not lack long-term effect for all that it was downgraded on the following morning by Mr. Macmillan's message) nor from Mr. Butler (whose wise words are strong enough to survive the floods of speculation about the leadership that half-drowned them on Sunday morning). Lord Hailsham's balanced blend of tradition and idealism is not lost forever because his vast audience was hanging on his lips for the revelation that came at the end. Mr. Maudling's im- pressive proof that he has not been dawd- ling did not fail to sink in because on that particular morning his hearers were expect- ing something more personally spectacular. And so with every speech by every Minister. Every day provided abundant proof that the Tories are a great deal less of a one-man show than the Labour Party.

To any participant or observer not wholly abandoned to leadership gossip or lobbying, this was by any standard an enormously impressive conference. What it lacked in chromium and plastic embellish- ment, as compared with Labour's perform- ance, it more than made up for in solid substance. Political correspondents are necessarily concerned with the moment; and, considering the results of the Prime Minister's illness, they cannot be blamed for failing to reflect the unanimity of will behind the furious ebb and flow of gossip. But he would be a short-sighted observer who still maintained that the total effect of the conference on the delegates was any- thing less than electrifying. It was left to Mr. John Beavan, the political editor of the Sunday Mirror (not the warmest admirer of Tories and their doings), to tell his readers that an attrac- tive programme, fit to be set against Labour's, had emerged from the con- ference. 'Hardly a word,' he wrote, 'has been said on the platform during the past week to appeal to self-interest. . . . The whole emphasis has been on creating wealth for social purposes and to succour the weak.' And, it may be added, the dele- gates were behind the Government speakers to a man. It is this which will soon assume its true significance. That transformation of the Tory Party, first set in motion by Mr. Butler and finally accomplished by Mr. Macmillan's adroit guidance, cannot fail to impress itself on the public mind— which has plenty of time yet to question the gimcrack 'unity' of Labour and the meretriciousness of its appeal. No one knows better than Labour's leaders that they are a long, long way from having the next election in the bag