22 JULY 1972, Page 8

A Spectator's Notebook

Reggie Maudling must by now 'have put aside for good all hopes of ever becoming Prime Minister; yet, but for a narrow majority of Tory members of Parliament, who thought that Ted Heath was better fitted to take on Harold Wilson than the easier-going Reggie Maudling, he would by now have almost certainly been Prime Minister. Those who think that men have little effect on matters, and that governments and people are subject to uncomprehended and uncontrollable economic forces and other manifestations of inevitable historical change, need only reflect how different things would have been with a Maudling administration than they have been with the Heath administration, to realise how much individual men can, and do, matter. It is unthinkable that a Maudling administration would have allowed itself to alienate organised labour. Now, a political career which promised much distinction, may have come to its end; and not because of any lack of ability; still less because of any corruption: but because of foolish but minor misjudgements, not at all venal, but upon the strictest construction, perhaps a trifle venial. The man who might have been, and who many good minds think should have been, Prime Minister, is now, tragically, theatened with permanent exile from political power. To recognise the tragedy and the waste is to say this outcome should have been avoided.

The next PM?

The Prime Minister, faced with the resignation, has done as he would be expected to have done: as little, that is, as possible. Mr Robert Carr's appointment as Home Secretary, in addition to his job as Lord President of the Council, effectively is tantamount of a downgrading of both jobs. Here are two of the most ancient and powerful offices of state; and now both are in the hands of a man who, however nice he may be, is no longer regarded as carry ing much political weight. Given Willie Whitelaw's Irish pre-occupation, Sir Alec's twilight, Peter Carrington's lordly isolation, and Peter Walker's not yet cast-off lightweight youthfulness, who now stands next in line to Ted Heath, should the celebrated bus knock down the Prime Minister? None other than Sir Keith Joseph, the compassionate right-winger and ex-Fellow of All Souls.

The credit of Keith

Sir Keith, at a moment when national unity is difficult of achievement, has two compelling points to his credit. He has been given a standing ovation by the annual general meeting of t'he Child Poverty Action Group; and he is more than willing to say, in private, that he has not retreated a whit from the stern and right-wing economic doctrines laid down in the five important and weighty speec'hes he made before the last election. He is thus the only Tory who can both offer the electorate a wholly justified social conscience, and propound right wing ideas about the economy. T'he source of his social conscience is interesting: someone who knows him well tells me that he feels fearfully guilty about being rich and, during the opposition period of 1964-70, he developed an extremely effective housing association in London which caters for t'he poor, the immigrants and the other unhappy and disaffected. Also, he used to be a great friend of Enoch Powell's. When Powell made his immigration speech in April 1968 Joseph wrote to rebuke him. Powell's reply included the splendid sentence: " We have been friends for a long time. But, now, we are looking through different windows." The exchange may indicate Joseph's ability to be firm in his pursuit of right-wing economic policies, and to be socially unifying as well.

Ungovernable Britain?

I was somewhat taken aback when a senior Cabinet minister a few days ago asked me, in all seriousness, "Do you think this country is becoming ungovernable?" I thought about it for a moment or two, then answered, "No, I don't." But, having brooded on the matter subsequently, it is clear that the question is not so flippant, or cynical, as it first appears. Nothern Ireland is, right now, ungovernable, or at any rate, ungoverned, despite Mr Whitelaw's valiant efforts. This year the miners pitted themselves against the Government, and won; and the railwaymen, even if they did not win an outright victory, were ahead on points when they ceased their working to rule. The Government has seen its Industrial Relations Act, and the Court set up under that Act, been made to look foolish. That Act and Court, together with the relentless pursuance of the European policy and the relenting tolerance of an economic system which makes millionaires out of men who throw men out of work, divides the Government and the Tory Party from the powerful Trade Unions so much that it is not difficult to imagine a combination of circumstances which could produce a General Strike. The country is not ungovernable; indeed, it is a fair way from being so: but it is nearer to becoming so than at any time since the war.

Cabinet confidence

It is very odd: no one in the Cabinet has any real confidence in his, or any of his colleagues' ability to solve the Irish problem, to deal with the economy, to unify the country, yet there is no purely political crisis. This is because the Labour Party's Opposition is in as much disarray as is the Conservative Party's Government, and because the Labour Party's leadership is in worse condition that the Tories'. Mr Wilson has shown signs of renewed vigour in the Commons; but there are those in high places who ,think that six years of being Prime Minister in present circumstances knocks the stuffing out of any man, 'however resilient, or good. On the other hand, Mr Heath, after two years of power, seems to be very much in command of his Cabinet despite his weaknesses in the conduct of policy and despite his growing tetchiness. " What about Ted?" one asks his senior colleagues, and the answer comes back pat: "Who else is there?"

Jack McCann

Jack McCann's premature death he

was sixty-one — stirs memories. He has been the member of Parliament for Rochdale since 1958, when 'he won a famous byelection. He did not so much win the election as did the Tory candidate, John Parkinson lose it — chiefly because of the powerful campaign of the Liberal candidate, Ludovic Kennedy. This was one of the peaks of the 'Liberal revival,' and Ludo Kennedy came a good second, knocking Parkinson into third place and producing anguish and tears at the local Tory headquarters. The cotton employers, angry at the condition of their industry, advised their members to vote Liberal, thus causing Parkinson to declare that he had been "stabbed in the back" — the seat had previously been held by a Conservative. It was the first election which was televised in any detail — thanks almost entirely to the initiative of Granada Television, whose reporters and producers and executives throughout the campaign were breaking into entirely new ground. It also had a bonus in the presence of Ludo Kennedy's lovely and delightful wife, Moira Shearer, who did, more than her fair share of electioneering and doorstepping among the mill-girls and up and down the back streets of Rochdale.