1 NOVEMBER 1963, Page 8

What Price Progress?


Tin: Prime Minister has been quick to deny that his appointment implies any 'lurch to the right' in the policies of the Conservative Government---a suggestion that has- been freely made by many who ought to know better.

Things have indeed come to the proverbial pretty pass when Professor Max Beloff concludes

a letter to the Sunday Times with the assertion that only the Liberal Party can prevent the country being 'left for a whole generation able to choose only between dogmatic Socialism and blind reaction.'

The extent to which Mr. Harold Wilson is in fact committed to 'dogmatic Socialism' may be arguable. But that a Professor of Government can describe Conservative policies since 1951 as 'blind reaction'—or even suggest that the modern Conservative Party is capable of be- coming 'blindly reactionary'--is almost in- credible.

The origin of this extraordinary illusion is to be found in the anguished cri de canir uttered by Mr. William Rees-Mogg in the Sunday Times of October 20, under the headline 'Turning Aside from Progress.' It is hard to imagine that Mr. Rces-Mogg would not now wish to modify some of the anguish wrung from him in the first shock of finding that Mr. Butler was not to be Prime Minister, but that he genuinely believes the implication of his headline can scarcely be doubted. The question is whether there is any evidence to justify it,

Few people have attempted to justify it on the grounds that Sir Alec Douglas-Home is himself a right-wing reactionary, devoid of sympathy with any 'progressive' cause. It is, no doubt, extremely hard for any very rich man to com- prehend fully the desires and difficulties of those who are not well off. But Mr. Butler is not exactly a pauper, and he is generally held to have managed it. In any case, 1 should need a great deal of convincing that the new Prime Minister is the sort of man who could--even in the unlikely event of his wanting to--convert to 'blind reaction' a Cabinet that contains Mr. Butler himself, Mr. Maudling, Mr. Heath, Sir Edward Boyle and Sir Keith Joseph.

Some people (including, apparently, Mr. Henry Fairlio see the non-appointment of Mr.

SFARBUCK 'Anyway, they're Still on their summer holidays.' Butler as a smashing victory for a ruthless and implacable right wing in the Conservative Party.

This excessively dramatic description of events

(which do not--and did not—really happen quite like that) is dangerous chiefly for its im- plications. For, even if we grant that a right-

wing minority 'did in truth succeed in black- balling Mr. Butler, it does not in the least follow That this minority can hope to influence goy ern-

ment policy in a reactionary direction. It is always easier to block the advancement of a

man than to reverse policies which are dictated inevitably—as the Government's are—by the logic of events.

The plain fact is surely that the Government could not, even if,it would, reverse the trend of

its social and economic policies. Nor is this only because it would clearly be political suicide to do itr.The Government is deeply committed to economic expansion, and the 'modernisation of Britain' is an inescapable part of the process; the housing and education programmes are now an integral part of it.

Even the abstention of Messrs. Jain Macleod and Enoch Powell from office cannot be held to prove very much, for it is generally agreed that their reproachful presence on the back benches will prove a pretty effective curb on any possible tendency to reactionary backsliding in the Government.

One unfortunate result of their decision, however, has been the release of this fresh burst of rather bogus interpretation of political events in terms of 'left' and `right,' progressive' and 'reactionary,' within the Conservative Party.

The trouble is that left-wing' and 'progressile' are words that have become inescapably iden- tified with the Labour Party. When, therefore. commentators refer to Messrs. Macleod and Powell and those who think like them as 'left- wing' or 'progressive' Tories, the impression is at once given to the unsophisticated that these are men whose views are 'ClOser to those of the Labour Party than they are to those of the mass of Conservatives. Hence much of the distrust of Mr. Macleod and Mr. Powell (and indeed of Mr. Butler) felt by many Conservatives.

In .respect of one or two details of 'policy, the impression may be accurate: capital punish- ment is a case in point. Over the whole range of economic and social policy, however, the im- pression could .hardly be more misleading. The record is clear and irrefutable, and it goes hack to the earliest days of that group of Tory MPs who came, together in 1950 to discuss the social services and to write the book, One Nation, which gave its name to the group.

The original One Nation Group,' which ■‘,,s founded by Lord Alport, Mr. Gilbert Longden and myself, included—in addition to Messrs.

Macleod and Powell---Mr. Heath and 'Or. Robert Carr, who are both in the present Government. Other "present Ministers who have been members in their back-bench days include: Mr. Maudling, Sir Keith Joseph, Mr. Deedes, Mr. Rippon, Mr. Ramsden and Mr. Chataway. It is therefore not unimportant to try to under- stand what were the policies of the group.

The book One Nation, which Mr. Macleod and I edited and to which Mr. Butler wrote a .commendatory foreword, was published in 1950 and contained the following major recommenda- tions: abolition of the consumer food sub- sidies; the freeing of house building from on-

trols; repeal of the development provisions of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act; the introduction of charges in the National Health .Service.

Now it would be difficult to imagine proposals more violently opposed to what was in 1950 the current trend of 'progressive' thought. They were, indeed, assailed as highly 'reactionary.' They were all subsequently carried out by a Conservative Government. The underlying philo- sophy was one of expansion, efficiency and the enforcement of 'social priorities.

In 1954, the group published another book, which was edited by Mr. Powell and myself. Change is our Ally strongly attacked nationalisa- tion, restriction in industry, State control of investment, and indeed all State intervention in the economy which could not be justified on social grounds or to palliate the effects of rapid and temporary adjustments. None of this was at all welcome to left-wing 'progressives.'

During this period Mr. Powell had been `thinking aloud' in print about the philosophy of the social services, and at one time came very near to proving that logically all beneficiaries should be means-tested. He was regarded on the left as being a very unprogressive person indeed.

And a few weeks ago at Blackpool, delegates heard not only Mr. Macleod but Mr. Butler as well speculating out loud about the possible future need to get rid of the all-embracing, flat- rate social service in order to concentrate more resources on those who are most in need. Could anything be less 'progressive' in the Labour Party Sense, or indeed more positively 'reactionary'?

What—for want of a better word-1 will call the 'modern Tories' hold views on economics and the social services that are strongly opposed to those of all but a few 'left-wing progressives.' Moreover, 1 vecy much doubt whether these views are seriously in conflict with those of any member of the present Governnient, or indeed of the great majority of Conservatives. Certainly I can see no likelihood of the expansionist policies to which they have given rise being reversed or modified. (1 freely admit, of course, that there is a greater conflict of opinions on colonial policy.) If one really understands what the 'modern Tories' have been about, one can see at once that most of what has been said about the 'lurch to the right' is nonsense.

So that when Mr. Rees-Mogg ends his article with the extraordinary assertion that 't now know of no convincing arguments which I could put to a young scientist or university teacher to persuade him that the Conservative Party was both the best way of fulfilling his political ideas and a party in which he would be at home,' two comments must be made.

The first is this: if the political ideas of Mr. Rees-Mogg's young intellectual are those of the left-wing progressive,' then the Conservative Party never was and never will be the best way of fulfilling them. Moreover, Messrs. Butler, Macleod and Powell are in many respects prob- ably farther away from him than is the Con- servative centre.

But if what he wants is an expanding economy, industrial and social modernisation, better edu- cation, more houses, schools and hospitals, better roads and increasing international co- operation (including a united Europe), then on past and present form he has no hope whatever of getting these from the Labour Party and almost complete certainty of getting them from the Conservatives, whether or not Messrs. Macleod and Powell are 'in the Cabinet. These are not negligible arguments.