31 MAY 1930, Page 5

Wanted a National Policy

T' glaring contrast between what everybody is saying in private about the state of politics and what the leaders of the Parties are saying and doing in public is as strange a political phenomenon as we can call to mind. Hardly a single thoughtful person, so far as we can judge, wants the Government to fall for many months to come. The use of invective likely to provoke the Government to some folly, and the business of laying-debating traps for the Government to walk into, are reserved for the pro- fessional politicians. Apart from such factitious denun- ciation of the Government, because of their naval policy, as comes from Mr. Churchill (although it is obvious that the Naval Treaty is popular and that the Unionists would destroy it at their peril), there is an utter failure in all three Parties to organize their destinies. It is fairly clear what the interest of each Party is, and it is trans- parently clear what the interest of the nation is ; yet things are allowed to drift so that neither Party in- terest nor national interest has any visible chance of being properly served.

The Prime Minister, to begin with, is blameworthy because if there is to be a co-operative attempt to settle the Indian problem and successfully to grapple' with unemployment the invocation of the national spirit must come from him more than from anybody else. The be- setting fault of his disposition is that he is too much inclined to bemoan his hard fate and to attribute all his difficulties to the pettiness of his opponents. Surely, we cannot be wrong in thinking that few Prime Ministers have received more indulgent treatment from the country as a whole. There are some bitter speakers in Parliament, of course, and there is the usual rough-and-tumble of a changing Parliamentary situation ; but when we reflect that a Labour Government is now feeling its power for the first time, although Socialism has not been approved by a majority of the voters, we cannot help thinking that Mr. MacDonald, so far from being aggrieved, ought to be grateful: Although we are not Socialists, we say plainly that it would be a disaster if the Government were voted out of office till the nation has been got out of its present dangers. A General Election would be sure to add confusion to the present confusion, which is bad enough. There is not a single Party which has a clear policy. Much the best thing would be for the Government to stay where they are with the other Parties helping them frankly on the ground that the nation has got to weather a storm and requires for the purpose a concentrated determination as- strong as that which was put forth in the War.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister spoke vaguely and not very hopefully about the co-operation of all parties. We write this article before the 'debate on Unemployment in the House of Commons, on Wednesday, and we are therefore at a disadvantage in not knowing what line the Prime Minister will take. We shall suffer another dis- appointment if he does not admit that the time has come to call all hands to save the ship. The obstacles in the way of co-operation to which he has repeatedly called attention are obvious enough. In dealing with unemployment, for instance, the Parties are in sincere conflict about the remedies; How can they agree, it will be asked, when one Party wants Protection and the other two Parties think that Protection would mean a worse state of ruin ? The answer is that it is just such obstacles that the spirit of a whole nation can surmount.. Even if there were not much common ground already in- view; common ground could be discovered or else ground could be made common by some effort and sacrifice.

When we write, the Liberals are seriously asking them. selves whether they should vote against the Government or merely abstain in the Unemployment debate as though their duty did not depend entirely upon what course the debate may take. The Prime Minister may or may not make some acceptable proposal, yet plans are being discussed on the assumption that in no ch..

cumstances will " he do anythirig satisfactory. The bargaining between the Liberals and the Government about electoral reform, as the price of Liberal support, is little better than fiddling while Rome burns. It is true that too little has been heard recently of the Ullswater Committee on electoral reform, but any attempt at a bargain to suit the convenience of two Parties which would prejudice the Committee's recom- mendations is almost a scandal. If report be true, Mr. Lloyd George has demanded Proportional Representation and the Prime Minister has offered only the Alternative Vote or the Second Ballot, neither of which would satisfy the Liberals. The latest rumour says that Mr. Lloyd George might content himself with Proportional Representation only in the great industrial towns. The signs seem to mean that the bargaining, though suspended, is by no means ended.

Unpleasant though such haggling seems at a time of national crisis when the price is likely to depend not so much on principle as upon the inability of one Party or the other to hold out any longer, it remains desirable that, whether by fair means or not, the Government should be kept in office. If Parliament were dissolved, or if Mr. Baldwin were persuaded to take office in the present Parliament, the result would be the same—there would be an appearance of hesitation and confusion in the presence of both India and Egypt ; and as for the Naval- Treaty,- it would be good luck and . not good management if the United States did not think that Great Britain . had gone back on her word. • Those are in themselves decisive reasons against any change of Government. But there are others. There - can be little doubt that general opinion is in favour of the Slum Clearance Bill, the • Education Bill, the Consumers' Council Bill, at all events with amendments; and the Coal Bill also suitably amended.

Already the • Government have agreed in principle to a non-Party examination of agriculture. That is an important step forward. Unemployment even more needs the common effort. It is only when a policy is in the full sense of the word national that one can expect sacrifices and the necessary accommodations. We have little hope that unemployment will be reduced until several of the problems which incidentally affect it are removed from the political auction-room. To change the metaphor, it is essential that at the least some kind of shock-absorber should be placed between those who make promises and those who have votes to sell. So long as the present corrupt bidding for public favour goes on, no Party can save its soul alive. The-British political world must be- made safe for honesty, and now is a very good opportunity for making it so. It is not beyond the bounds of reasonable hope that if the Parties pooled their efforts instead of - competing they could invent at last some means of modifying the present appalling and demoralizing system, by which able-bodied and well- intentioned men who are " genuinely seeking work ", are paid month after month for doing nothing. -