7 OCTOBER 1972, Page 8

A Spectator's Blackpool Notebook

A brief Rumanian encounter in early summer assisted Harold Wilson to defeat Hugh Scanlon's engineering workers' union's resolution seeking to commit the Labour Party to outright opposition to European entry. Wilson has all along wanted to keep open the options for any future Labour government, and has also sought this week to sustain the party's new-found but very fragile unity. It was therefore important for the conference at Blackpool, if Wilson's triumph was to be complete, to reject the engineers' motion. This it did. But it was a damned close run thing; 3,076,000 votes against the engineers — and, in effect, in favour of Wilson's platform speech — and 2,958,000 the other way. Less than 120,000 votes in it, which is to say a matter of 60,000 swung votes. Wilson must certainly have swung several smaller unions and some of the constituency parties with his speech. It contained an odd passage, which went down uncommonly well —and this is where the brief Rumanian encounter comes in.

When Wilson was in Bucharest he was asked whether he would mind meeting a Spanish Communist Party leader. Naturally he agreed to do so. And the Spaniard — who was more Spanish than communist — asked about the question of Franco Spain's admission to the Common Market. Wilson readily agreed to mention his opposition to any such admission in some forthcoming speech or other. He forgot. But — and it is often thanks to such intuitive actions that politics takes the erratic course it does — he remembered this Spanish obligation in the course of his Common Market speech. He said, quite extraneously and indeed irrelevantly, "No Labour government will have any truck with a European Common Market which accepts Franco Spain as a member." Immediate applause. The speech hitherto had been somewhat tepidly received (unlike his Tuesday performance). He reflected, justifiably pleased with himself, on Wednesday afternoon, that the Spanish reference might well have tipped the scale, and I have little dbubt that he was right.

The King nobody -knows

Wilson has developed an intriguing fondness for historical analogies. But he overreached himself on one occasion. He was busy calling Heath's acceptance of Pompidou's terms "the most abject surrender of Britain's rights to the French since Henry VI." Then he added, mysteriously, "We all know what happened to him." It so transpires that I have not the faintest idea what happened to Henry VI, so I started asking people of high and low estate "whatever happened to Henry VI?" And nobody knew. Senior historians and senior statesmen were consulted without useful response. Consequently, when I bumped into Harold, who was justifiably very elated at his conference triumph, I asked him, confident that I would receive an immediate snappy catch answer, "By the way, what did happen to Henry VI?" For the first, and no doubt the last time in my life, I had asked Harold Wilson a question which floored him. He said, " Don't you know, George?" And I said, "No, I don't," and repeated the question. Far from us all knowing what happened to Henry VI, no one, not even Harold Wilson, knew.

Backing a loser

The funniest thing that happened in Blackpool this week didn't happen in Blackpool at all. It happened in Printing House Square, London EC4P 4DE, where the Times is published. I refer, of course, to that once thunderous Whimperer's remarkable interpretation of its very own public opinion poll which apparently said that 37 per cent of the British public were Lib-Lab. What the Times was endeavouring to do was to influence the Labour Party into believing that Woy Jenkins — he is reported to be having elocution lessons to enable him to be known as Roy, not Woy — commands twelve or thirteen million votes. Mr WeesMogg is wery pwo Woy Jenkins. The Whimperer did not go out of its way to tell people that 40 per cent of the public approved a Tory-Lib alignment, for that would not assist dear Woy.

I quite approve of journalists trying to influence events. But any journalist who backs a certain loser is a fool. The certain loser at Blackpool this week has been Jenkins. The Times has looked, in consequence, extremely foolish. When its editor arrived, he sat down to eat with his staff. Not so Mr Hugh Cudlipp, who entertained Harold and Mary Wilson to lunch after Wilson's triumphant Tuesday morning speech. Wilson's policy on Europe, and on industrial relations, is quite different from Cudlipp's. But Cudlipp has not lost the gift of knowing a winner when he sees one. The Cudlipp-Wilson reconciliation was not only touching to behold. It also indicated, to me at any rate, that it is not only the Labour Party which is rallying round Harold, but the International Publishing Corporation also.

The succession

Jim Callaghan's speech, even for a Monday morning, was a sad, dispirited affair. One of the more literate trade union leaders remarked after it, "Jim's like a spavined nag, if that's not too cruel." I thought it was certainly cruel, but too cruel? Is anything too cruel at party conferences? There have been moments this week at Blackpool when I have even found myself feeling sorry for Mr Jenkins. His political isolation has been complete. The Jenkinsites have all been saying that they intend to stay with the party, come what may. Healey, too, has not had a good time. Tony Crosland did all right speaking from the rostrum rather than from the platform. But as far as the leadership issue is concerned, Harold has left the field standing. On Monday someone taking the long view said, "It's a race between Tony (Wedgwood Benn) and Peter (Shore)." Tony, given 'this analysis, has done himself no good at all in his chairmanship of the proceedings. It is odd that, after Jenkins dropped out as Wilson's choice as successor, Wedgwood Benn took his place: odd, for Wilson has a strongly developed sense of humour, and Benn is nothing if not earnest. But there it was: Bonn was the chosen successor. Now no more. Attlee devoted his energies and skills to ensuring that whatever else might happen Herbert Morrison would not succeed him. Harold Wilson thought for a time along much the same lines: come what may, he would not be succeeded by Jenkins; hence, perhaps, the sponsoring of Benn. But this Blackpool conference has demonstrated that Jenkins i3 a busted flush. Benn is therefore not necessary. The race — and it's a marathon, not a sprint — may well lie between Tony and Peter; but, although it is the same Peter (that is, Shore), the Tony is Crosland, no longer Wedgwood Benn.

Sweet whiff

I heard one disillusioned chap say, " Unity? Unity? There's as much chance of uniting this — lot as there is of uniting — Ireland "; but as the week wore on — and at Blackpool the week certainly does wear on, and on — it seemed to me that the Labour Party was a good deal more united than might be gathered from the general run of press comment and description. Much as the prospect of imminent death concentrates the mind wonderfully, so does the prospect of a general election wonderfully unite the Labour Party. At Blackpool the delegates have caught the whiff of an election, and the whiff, too, of victory.