Reflections on argument

Early in the New Year the B.B.C. started a weekly series of half-hourly talks between opposing members of the House entitled “Argument.” The first contestants in the ring were Dr. Chas. Hill (Lib. Cons.) and D. Houghton (Labour). The talks were originally scheduled to run three consecutive weeks but this was extended to four “owing to the wide range of interesting matters under discussion.” Next came Barbara Castle (Labour) versus Lord Hailsham, followed by Tom Driberg (Labour) versus Randolph Churchill. At the time of going to press the last team have two more weeks to run so the Arguments continue. The B.B.C. announced the series as “discussions between two controversialists from opposing sides of the House on topics of interest.” The whole thing boils down to a weekly half-hour of verbal skirmishing, the theme song of which should be “Anything you can do I can do better.” The modus operandi consists of making derogatory remarks in varying degrees of intensity regarding the opposing Party’s misdeeds past and present Also digging up an incorrect or indiscreet statement made by a member of the opposing Party, thus setting him at a disadvantage and generally “taking the mickey.”

The series have served one useful purpose, namely to emphasise how trivial are the points of divergence between the two Parties and how little these “topics of interest” need concern the workers. The second of the Hill-Houghton talks receive attention in the February issue of the Socialist Standard. In their fourth venture a rather subdued Dr. Hill addressed Houghton as “my dear boy” almost as if he were soothing a nervous and highly-strung patient in his surgery. He suggested incentives and rewards for work “well done,” and bemoaned that overtime was sometimes cancelled out by Income Tax. He pointed out that before the war, miners only worked three days a week and now they cannot work long enough. The story of boom and depression was lobbed up and discussed, as if it were a new and startling discovery.

The subject matter of the first argument between Barbara Castle and Lord Hailsham was the branding of “Red” China as an aggressor, and the lady was in a terrible twitter because “it could do no good to stick a label on China.” Lord Hailsham addressed her in the tone of one humoring a wayward and fractious child. His drawling repetition of “my dear Barbara” must have caused listeners to speculate as to whether he was endeavouring to gain time in order to muster his argument or waste time because he was experiencing difficulty in formulating one. Their second talk was on the “Shortages under Socialism.” We must digress a moment to once again nail the lie, whether deliberate or due to ignorance that the present Government is or ever will be, Socialist. To continue, Hailsham sneered at the “Socialist Government” and said that present day shortages were due to their inefficiency and bungling. Barbara Castle not in the least discomposed nattered away and told us several times over in various ways that the shortages were due to more of the people having more under “Socialism.”

At their third meeting they discussed that “very important subject, should W. Germany be re-armed now?” Barbara Castle gave a decided negative and Hailsham dramatically posed the question, “How long will it be before you forgive them?” (The Germans.) He then got around to the necessity of arming against Russia, and sounding very blood thirsty he averred that we should “arm and arm and arm,” whilst having talks with Russia. The lady was of the opinion that we should have talks first. Their fourth and last argument was an inquest on the “Dark days of Tory misrule,” the period between the two wars. To do Barbara Castle justice, she said she would have preferred not to dig into the past but to argue on a topical subject. However the inquest went forward and unemployment figures were quoted for that period as 14 per cent., against 1 per cent, to 1½ per cent. present day, which according to Barbara Castle was entirely due to Labour planning. Lord Hailsham begged to differ and said the lee-way of the war has taken up the slack so no credit was due. He also attacked the Government as being responsible for the “steadily deteriorating international situation.”

The first foray between Tom Driberg and Randolph Churchill posed the burning question (which is keeping us all awake at night!), whether it was right that an American Admiral shall have supreme command over the Atlantic Fleet. Tom Driberg defended his Government’s policy in this matter and agreed that it was of “ vital importance.” He pointed out that the Western operational part would be under a British Admiral, and recalled that Winston Churchill put “our” Pacific Fleet under an American Admiral during the last war. Randolph Churchill scrubbed round that one and instead sobbed over our present day small Fleet which he said was entirely due to the Labour Government’s lack of planning. He also deprecated Attlee’s leadership as “not good enough” with America, and Driberg pointed out that he (Attlee) had succeeded in moderating American policy regarding the branding of China as an aggressor. The Chairman called the controversialists to order for making it a duet and Driberg informed the world in general that he was not going to lose his temper. However all was calm and serene at their next meeting which posed the question, “Are we better fed under Labour Government than we were before the War”? This gave Randolph Churchill a chance to take a pot shot at that sitting target, the meat ration, which he said was due to the Government’s mismanagement. He admitted hardship before the war, but said it was not due to any one Party. He attacked bulk buying and said that Webb had been “unlucky” but that he had also miscalculated. Driberg said that stock piling in America, due to the Korean War, caused the meat muddle and pointed out that the world population was increasing at the rate of 20 million a year and that food production was only just making up lee-way after the destruction due to the war. Randolph Churchill put in a plea for private traders, not bulk buying and sang Lord Woolton’s praises as Minister of Food during the war. He also fired a final shot at the Government by pouring scorn on their payment of millions of pounds in compensation to butchers.

Taken by and large the arguments are becoming progressively more genteel. The slight differences in policy of the two Parties become more apparent with each broadcast and this must be obvious to Labour supporters. As their first uncritical enthusiasm has died down it must become increasingly clear that however much the Government may wish to consider the interests of the workers, Capitalism is too strong for them and in addition to Party differences they are drawn into international disharmony along the road that eventually leads to war. The worker who understands the socialist position is not distracted by the stew pot of Party politics or international rivalries. These fat red herrings across the trail of politically ignorant workers postpone the day of true understanding when all workers will tread the only road that leads to peace and security for all.

F. M. R.

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