30 DECEMBER 1972, Page 6

Political Commentary

Honours of the year

Patrick Cosgrave

I have said a lot of unkind and unfriendly things about him over the last year — and The Spectator has said them even more emphatically — but the gong of the session must go to the Prime Minister. His political stamina is ineluctable. When Mr Wilson was Prime Minister a reverse in fortune or policy — in spite of his undoubted resilience — could set him back for weeks, and the accumulation of his misfortunes took, over the years, a tremendous physical and psychological toll. Mr Heath seems to require no more than a few hours to get over even more staggering turnabouts, and even more humiliating rebuffs. Further, as his colleagues have noted and appreciated, his personal level of cheer actually rises when things are going against him; and, even if he loses his temper over small things far more often than is consonant with his dignity or effectiveness, it can safely be said that the Government would be in much worse shape were it not for has ability to sustain its collective morale not so much by the magic as by the strength of his personality.

It is nonetheless a back-handed award for a Prime Minister who set out two and a half years ago with such high hopes. It is even more so when considered alongside my second award, for the survivor of the year. This must go to Mr Nicholas Ridley, successful Tory ideologist, sacked junior minister, who has made a remarkable return to dignity and respect on the backbenches. Most promising youngster of the year must be Mr Kenneth Baker, undersecretary at the Civil Service Department. Mr Baker was first elected for Acton during the life of the Wilson government, He lost the seat at the general election and later gained Marylebone, helped on 'his way by a public compliment paid to him by lain Macleod in his last speech to the House as Chancellor. Mr Baker has made a brilliant start in government, and will go far.

It is specially fitting to give the gong for campaigner of the year to Mr Jack Ashley, not only because he has fought so hard for decent compensation for children affected by thalidomide, but because he applied to that task the same tenacity which enabled him to overcome the handicap of his own unexpected deafness and continue with a public career of distinction. One of the things most remarkable about parliamentary politics in recent years, indeed, has been the number of individual members who have taken up what might be called social welfare causes, and campaigned vigorously on them in the House, often with great effect; to Mr Ashley's name must be added those of Mr Alf Morris and Mr Neil Marten.

This year's award for boob of the year is equally divided between the Government (on whose behalf it will be received by Sir Keith Joseph) and Mr Anthony Wedgwood Benn, who gets his share in his own right. It is, I admit, rather unfair that so normally efficient and excellent a minister as Sir Keith should have so publicly to accept the responsibility for the Government's cock-up over the £10 Christmas donation for pensioners: but it was his department which first excluded some pensioners from the largesse. Of Mr Benn little need be said. His award is, of course, for his conduct (I think that is the right word) as chairman of the Labour Party conference.

The most improved politician of the year is undoubtedly Mr Crosland. Colleagues sometimes jest at my tipping of him as next leader of the Labour Party, but few, I 'think, would question my award. It goes to Mr Crosland for shaking off that lethargy which has so often disfigured his performances in the House (even when a lot of unseen hard work lay behind them) and sailing with zest into the party battle. At the same time, he has lost none of his intellectual poise and undramatic honesty.

The Much° Pampas° award (after Admiral Leighton in the Hornblower novels) is given to that politician who has shown most speed in acquiring the more disagreeable mannerisms that often go with office, It must, I'm afraid, go this year to Mr Patrick Jenkin of the Treasury. I regret this 'because I like Mr Jenkin — basically — and .he is 'both able and handsome. But all that pottering around Great George Street 'has been bad for his soul, and when he 'stands at the dispatch box nowadays his manner and voice are permanently 'peevish and irritable. The great advantage of the Much° Pompom) award is, however, that it can 'be returned by 'the recipient at any time during the year to come if I judge that he is making a real effort not to deserve it. I still have 'high hopes of Mr Jenkin.

It is too early yet 'to form a judgement on any of 'the new members of the Heath Government but there is, I think, a case to be made for some kind of award to the new member of the Cabinet, Sir Geoffrey Howe. I •agree with all the conventional estimates of Sir Geoffrey's ability and amiability; .and 1 think 'he might one day lead his Party. The award he gets, however, is a double-edged one: it involves stressing 'both the scrapes he has got himself into and the adroitness with which he has got out of them. Three times Sir Geoffrey has presented 'to the House of Commons legislation which, 'either then or subsequently, created very serious doubts about its propriety in constitutional terms and its efficacy in political terms. Each time, whether the difficulties were in the mind, in Parliament or, eventually, created outside, Sir Geoffrey has been found moving on to something else, his reputation enhanced. He is the Houdini of the year.

I am distressed to find no young member who merits the award for discovery of the year — indeed, able though many of thera are, the youngsters on both sides of the House seem a dull lot these days. In such circumstances I am, giving the discoverY award to Mr Robert Carr. After a shakY start at the Home Office he found himself in his reply to the 'immigration debate at Blackpool. I never thought to see such passion and righteousness pour forth fronl that slight 'and rather dry frame. With the single speech he — tarnished though tvis, record had, been at the Department cl Unemployment — leapfrogged over several contenders to claim second place in the Government. Alas, there are indications now that he is a little tired, and finding the general business of the Home Office as intractable as did his 'predecessors — performance in the debate on 'immigration regulations was a shambles.

I always like it at the Oscar ceremonies when they 'give .an award to somebody Psi for being himself, This year I am giving ee award to Mr Enoch Powell for just thatA' Strictly speaking, of course, one .shatilu give these 'awards only for performanoe5_,, within the last year, and I don't think NJ' Powell has been at the peak of 'his fortfld in 1972. But he is unique, splendid en delectable for the political connoissellr' His range is formidable, his oratory trencu; ant and his imagery dazzling. What ls more, his capacity to sustain his repuitatio! and the public !memory of him, tho.or without office and almost without allies' surely entitles him to some recognition. , Mr Whitelaw, I think, has the capaeit' to be a major figure, perhaps in the Mae. millan or Baldwin mould—but he is 11° isolated from the mainstream, whateveo recognition we give him for courage Op determination in Ulster. The coming on either side of the House seem to 10'11 that capacity to rivet the attention Whihce Mr Powell has, and which is indisputable hallmark of the major polities figure. The problems the country faces, and til° problems Europe faces as well, surely ed out for men of wide horizons, CI pelling rhetoric and 'bold ideas. They shone, be men liberated, not dominated, by rot sponSibility; they should .be leaders, '1,4 administrators. And a strong courit'l should have more than one of them.