29 JULY 1972, Page 4

Mr Heath's national crisis The state of the Government is

at its worst since taking office. The state of the nation is at its worst since Suez. The gravity of the situation is, as we argued in June, masked because "the seriousness of the Conservative or governmental crisis is in one respect diminished by the seriousness of the crisis within the Labour Party." The Labour Party's continuing weakness is a providential boon to Mr Heath's Administration, but to nothing and to no one else. There is much to be said for the Conservative Party's instinct for rallying-round in time of trouble; but demonstrations of loyalty, however enjoyable and comforting they may be to those who offer and receive applause, do not resolve great problems of government, nor will they for long conceal the growing weakness of the Conservative Party. It is easier for an Opposition to pull itself together than it is for a Government; and any conservative who comforts himself by observing the present condition of the Labour Party is living in a fool's paradise. This is realised quite clearly and coldly by the shrewd men who occupy some of the commanding heights inside the Conservative Party: an increasing amount of concern is now being expressed in high Tory places about the probable outcome of the next election, if things are allowed to slide much further. When Ministers are daily seen to be grappling unsuccessfully with events they seem incapable of understanding, let alone controlling, then no amount of weakness and confusion within the Opposition will prevent the electorate from seizing upon the visible deficiencies of the Government. Elections are lost rather than won; and the way things are going at the moment, the Conservative Party is floundering towards electoral defeat.

Of course, just as matters can suddenly get altogether out of hand, so can they be caught, pulled together• and firmly grasped. That is what Mr Macmillan did after the Suez debacle: he not only pulled his party together after a shattering experience, but he led it to electoral victory by managing to induce in the country at large that celebrated 'you've never had it so good' mood of euphoria which, in its trashy way, can be seen to have persisted throughout the nineteen-sixties, as much under Labour as under Conservative rule. It may be that Mr Heath will, in his entirely different way, discover the resource and the reserves of will to perform some similar kind of rescue operation. He has the kind of courage such an operation requires: but we do not know whether he has the imaginative resource to make the attempt, or whether indeed he has the will to do it; and he may not even think the operation to be worth while. In any event, the task facing him is much more difficult than that facing Mr Macmillan: for the Suez experience, although profoundly distasteful, could be explained away on the one hand as an aberrant policy which should never have been adopted and on the other as as a brilliant policy which, but for American intervention, would have triumphed. Suez was, thus, a nasty shock: but the kind that proves easier than expected to get over, being susceptible to alternative remedies which, although cancelling each other out, nevertheless leave the invalid feeling well cared for. Our present crisis is more deeply ingrained; it will require great craftsmanship to cut it out. It will be removed neither by a toothy grin nor by a flapping hand; but by a surgeon or a sculptor. What is needed is not only, therefore, a strong and brave hand, but a cunning hand. Confidence is required, certainly, but steadiness and skill also. The crisis is deepseated and malignant.

To state the obvious: last weekend, we had Northern Ireland reduced to bombed and bloody chaos; we had dock leaders put in prison for the contempt of a Court for which most spokesmen of organised labour have stated they feel contempt; we had the Government not yet adjusted to the resignation of the effective deputy Prime Minister, Mr Maudling; we had — and still have — the threat of a General Strike; we have France may again have — the threat of a General Strike; we have France and Germany both arguing about different aspects of European policy consequent upon British admission; and, subsuming all this and more, we had and have a public which is angry and fed up, and lacking confidence in itself, in its future, and in its leadership. When we say that " the state of the nation is at its worst since Suez" we speak politely; when we say that office" we honey our words. The country is in a mess. The Government is in a mess. We want to know why. But, more than that,we want to know what are Mr Heath and his Ministers going to do about it. How do they observe the problems facing them and us? Do they observe these problems at all? What, if anything, do they propose to do about them? Or do they prefer not to see some of them, decide not to do anything about others of them, and intend to carry on as if these 4 problems were figmentary handiworks of men disposed to do them ill? Surely not. The parts of the nation are set at loggerheads, and there is nothing untoward in asking the men who form our Government what they propose to do to quieten the present unnecessary, disturbing and weakening contention.. We enjoy neither violence nor disputation, and seek a calmed, if not entirely peaceful, way of life among ourselves, and with our neighbours. The job of this Government — and of any Government of this country — is to sort things out and not to stir things up. If this job is not done, then it will not matter who is Prime Minister or what is the Party which supplies parliamentary support for the Government: either Prime Minister or the Party will have to go,or both.

' It is to be hoped that both of these departures will be avoided. If this is to be so, then Mr Heath will have to pat aside his sharp-edged ability to divide the nation and overcome his tongue-tied inability to unite it, and will have to prove that he can address himself directly to the people in such a manner that the people respond to his leadership. At a time of national crisis, the manner of the Prime Minister's popular appeal is vital; but so, too, is the matter of his policies and remedies: both manner and matter must convince. The Prime Minister will realise more clearly than anyone else that if he cannot convince a bewildered people experiencing a national crisis that he is the man, and that he has the policies, best fitted to lead the country, then his departure will become necessary. It has not come to that yet; it may never come to that; but it is coming perilously close. This national crisis is also Mr Heath's: we hope he survives his own by surmounting the nation's.