7 OCTOBER 1972, Page 3

The race is on

The Labour Party has come out of its Blackpool conference very much stronger than it went into it; and this is chiefly due to Mr Harold Wilson. The carping critics who have been endeavouring, by fair means or foul, to write him off and destroy his credibility have succeeded only in destroying their own credibility. The motives behind the conspiracy to belittle Mr Wilson was and still is nothing to do with his merits and demerits. The rffotive was — and still is — to promote the European cause by destroying the political reputation of the only man potentially possessing the political power to renegotiate and, if necessary, to revoke Britain's entry to the EEC. A sustained campaign of vilification has been carried on against Mr Wilson which finds no parallel in post-war British politics; and at the end of the day, the campaign has failed and Wilson has vindicated himself. He has done so, what is more, without losing for himself and for the Labour Party the freedom of manoeuvre on the European question. Mr Wilson could have opted for a cheap and easy conference victory by joining the ranks of those hostile to British entry as a matter of principle, but he chose instead the much more difficult and hazardous course of limited opposition, argued on the unacceptability of the Heathian terms. Opponents of the Common Market, at all costs, may regret Wilson's strategy as they have preferred some unequivocal repudiation of the European venture and a recantation of past error in making the application which the Prime Minister has now legislated for; but this view will not, after this week, be held by those who accept that the Labour Party provides the alternative government of this country and consequently recognise that a strong and effective Labour Party is an essential constituent in our political life.

It needs to be understood that the Labour Party has not only avoided Schism; it has also achieved a unity. This unity is not of policy but of purpose, and it is none the worse for that. The Labour Party is, of course, united in its hostility to Mr Heath — and the venom of Mr Wilson's attacks on the Prime Minister demonstrate a new departure in the conduct of party politics — but what is new about the situation created by this year's Labour Party Conference is that the Labour Party is also reasonably united on the ambition of getting back into power. Not only has it withdrawn from schismatic pleasures; it has also seriously looked at itself and at its present opportunity, and it has decided that power is not only possible but also desirable.

The Conservative Party can no longer console itself with the consideration that the Labour Party has ruled itself out of office. It will be very foolish if Mr Heath and his ministers imagine that the comparatively easy ride they have enjoyed over the past couple of years is to continue. Mr Wilson rides again; and when Wilson is riding the Labour Party, the Tories are presented with no walkover. The race is on. The Labour Party has pulled itself together, has picked itself up, dusted itself off, and is ready to start governing all over again. There is no leadership crisis within the Labour Party. The Common Market issue is a dead duck as far as future Labour Party rows are concerned, and Europe has been served notice by Britain's alternative government that Britain does not regard itself as bound by the entry terms negotiated by the present Prime Minister. The main outstanding political question has therefore now become — not before time — whether the advantage lies with the Tory Government in attempting during the forthcoming months to force the unions to accept a ' voluntary ' wage policy or with the Labour Opposition in endeavouring to become the party of One Nation.