23 JUNE 1961, Page 4

And Then Fight Again

A s Mr. Gaitskell tots up the figures once ..n.more, just to make sure he has them right, he no doubt stops from time to time to pinch himself. And well he might; the victory he has snatched from the jaws of defeat seemed so im- possible such a short time ago that be might well have been pardoned for giving up the fight entirely.

But it is necessary to examine his victory more closely than has been done so far, amid the rejoicing. It is, after all, Dunkirk that he has won, not Alamein. Properly capitalised upon, the rout of the unilateralists at this year's Labour Conference can give Mr. Gaitskell the elbow- room be needs to start repairing the Labour Party's electoral fortunes; but it is not in itself an event which does much for the Labour Party's future. Indeed, it is a measure of the desperate depths to which the party has sunk that a hard- won victory of one section of it over another is hailed as the best thing that has happened to it for years.

Not even this victory, though, will be entirely clear-cut. The unilateralists, as soon as they saw that they were to be defeated, changed their ground: it is the presence of the Polaris missile and the Holy Loch base that is now the ultimate wickedness (and the diversion is itself a measure of the hypocrisy of some of Mr. Gaitskell's opponents, for if Britain is to be armed with nuclear weapons of any sort, the Polaris is demonstrably the one involving the least risk to this country). And the leadership could lose the vote on this, despite the large majority of which they are now assured on the main question.

What then? Mr. Gaitskell said that he would 'fight, fight and fight again' to bring the Labour Party back on to the path of sanity, and he has done so—with the field-work so ably carried out by the Campaign for Democratic Socialism, which is going to give even Mr. Cousins a rough ride at his own conference next month. But Mr. Gaitskell knows very well that many of those who supported his stand over defence disagree with him on the party's domestic policies. He knows, too, that those who, for various reasons, many of them deeply discreditable, supported unilateralism less out of conviction than from a desire to bring him down, will now intensify the struggle to force into the party's programme measures of old-style Socialism long since finally rejected by the electorate, in the hope that they can destroy him in this way instead.

So Mr. Gaitskell's troubles are about to begin again in a new form. And it is at this conference that he will probably have his last chance to turn the Labour Party into the kind of organisation that alone makes political sense in Britain today. His victory over unilateralism, and more par- ticularly the way in which it has been achieVed, has enormously strengthened his hand. His pres- tige within his party is now higher than at any time since the very short period immediately following the last election, which was governed by the instinctive desire to close the ranks. He could not, last year, stake his standing and posi- tion on the defence question, and this year he does not need to. But he now has the oppor- tunity before him to throw his leadership into the scale finally and decisively on the side of reform—fundamental reform of the very nature of the Labour Party. If he seizes the opportunity, we could well see a return to full two-party government in this country even before the year is out.