26 FEBRUARY 1972, Page 3


Obscurely and imperfectly and subject to aberrant freakishness, the House of Commons strives to represent the nation. On occasion the Commons anticipates the will of the people, on occasion it follows, and on occasion it acts as a mirror, both focusing and reflecting. From that farcical time when all political parties supported a European policy resisted by a clear majority of the people, the Commons has now moved — albeit in what must look to many to be a mysterious and undignified way — from the possibly noble but politically preposterous vote 'on principle' last October to the Government majority of eight last week. Clumsily but inexorably the Commons moves towards the public it represents and from which it derives its authority. Those who are rightly jealous of the powers and privileges of Parliament, particularly insofar as these powers and privileges protect the freedom of the individual from arbitrary rule, welcome the stumbling steps the House of Commons has taken towards a reconciliation between itself and its electorate. Only those prepared to exchange these powers and privileges for the chimerical advantages of the European connection will take a different (and temporarily more fashionable) view.

Political parties do not enjoy a coelacanth existence, immune to movement and to change. They must go to the people if the people do not come to them. It would be foolish for politicians and commentators, however much their own fastidious senses may be affronted by the manoeuvrings with which the change has been effected, to ignore the fact that over the past year the Labour party has moved towards the people over Europe. Were it not for Labour's responsive and responsible shift, the House of Commons would, at this present critical juncture of the nation's affairs, be quite unrepresentative of the people; and Parliament itself would have been brought, quite properly, into even greater public disrepute than is its present state.

As it is, Parliament and people alike are out of sorts. Parliament reflects the move towards disorder which is evident among the people. Parliament at times endorses, in its own sloppy tolerance of the lately disgusting unruliness of some of its members, the unruliness which is coming to characterise much of the country's present way of setting about its affairs. The proclivity to violence, which is the true disease of our times, is thereby countenanced rather than resisted by the House of Commons. The nation instinctively inclines towards the Conservative party as the party of law and order. But if, as is likely and desirable, the Conservative party is to move towards the people by resisting the tendency towards anarchy, the policies of a Conservative government must unite rather than divide the nation. It is the habitual wisdom of the Conservative party, to grasp this kind of political fact, and its instinct for self-preservation will compel it to act accordingly. The party, at this nadir, must now assert itself, and move towards the people from whom it has become dangerously estranged.