1960s >> 1960 >> no-673-september-1960

A New Foreign Secretary

Somebody, somewhere, must have been rather disappointed. We were promised a hell of a fight if it happened; but the whole thing went off with hardly a murmur. Mr. Macmillan got Lord Home as his Foreign Secretary and, as usual, he got away with it.
For a long time the appointment had been common leakage, with Mr. Gaitskell, like Ancient Pistol, striking threatening poses; the Guardian, on 25th July, reported him as saying that . . . the Opposition would object most strongly to the appointment. . . .” He went on to say that it would be “. . . most undemocratic and entirely inappropriate in modern conditions ” to have a peer as Foreign Secretary. To some, this may have sounded like a champion of the common man standing up for his rights against the dominance of the upper class. Is not Lord Home a smooth, amiable aristocrat, Eton (president of Pop), Oxford (cricket Blue failed, undistinguished degree), and so on? Is it not undemocratic to have such a man in control at the Foreign Office?
In fact, Labour’s objections do not have even this flimsy foundation. For the whole business of government in capitalist society is undemocratic. In particular foreign policy, with its secret conferences and agreements, its double dealing and betrayals, cannot be openly discussed and decided. This has always been so, no matter who has been Foreign Secretary—when Labour were in power they played the game with the rest. They swallowed the camel of capitalist diplomacy, but now they strain at the gnat of the administering of that diplomacy by a member of the House of Lords. And there are other camels lurking in their digestive tract. The House of Lords itself is one, which is so well supported by the presence of Labour peers. What is democratic about that? In this House, Labour even managed to swallow the gnat of Lord Home. Lord Alexander said, on July 28th, that the Labour Party, although of the opinion that the Foreign Secretary should come from the House of Commons:

  . . . could not fail to admire the stature of the Leader of the House, who is now Britain’s Foreign Secretary. Mixed with our desire to congratulate him . . .  we must regret most sincerely the loss to the House in not having him to continue as our leader.

Anybody who has been following the recent history of the Labour Party may well be surprised at their concern for democracy. Consider, for example, the interesting case of the disarmed Annual Conference. In the past, when the voting has been acceptable to the party’s leaders, they have taken the Conference decision as conclusive. But now, with this year’s conference threatening to upset the Labour Executive’s policies on such issues as nuclear armaments, Labour has suddenly discovered, with the help of papers like The Economist. that their Annual Conference is not so important after all. It can express an opinion, yes. But settle future policy? No; unless it also happens to be the policy of the party leaders. The Labour Party Conference has never been a democratic affair—the pyramidical sifting of resolutions, among other things, has seen to that. But the fact is going to be agonisingly obvious when the leaders start openly ignoring the wishes of their delegates.
The Tories may not have to worry about such things—their conferences are much more predictably docile. Even so, some of them kicked up rough about Lord Home. More than one Conservative back bencher, when the rumour got about, threatened trouble, but they all’ fell into step under a three line whip. So MacMillan got his way, although he did arouse a rather hostile press. One newspaper suggested that the result of all the changes was to promote MacMillan himself—another was unkind enough to recall that the new Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Soames, had once managed Sir Winston Churchill’s horses.
MacMillan’s sternness with his own back benchers is easy to understand. He is the leader of a party which, before anything else, means to run British capitalism. This is impossible if his government must continually be fuming aside to deal with squabbles and mutinies among its supporters. The Labour Party learned this in the nineteen-fifties. They also learned how costly in votes such dissensions can be, for workers usually insist that the party which governs them is united in its policies for the running of capitalism. The Tories can stomach one or two rebels—occasional Nabarro does them no harm—but further than that they will not go. And here their traditional contempt for political theory, such as Labour has always dabbled in, helps their leaders to assert control. For the Labour government tried to justify its day-to-day administration of capitalism by calling it Socialism in practice. Many Labour M.P.s opposed inconvenient aspects of their government’s actions—and said that they did so because those actions were anti-socialist. Beside these theory-stuffed rebels, the floggers and hangers of the Conservative Women’s Conferences are easy meat.
Whatever the end of the Lord Home affair, one thing is certain. He will not basically change Britain’s foreign policy. Whatever decisions he makes or implements, he will carry on the business of promoting the interests abroad of the British capitalist class. This may mean that Lord Home will have to bargain fiercely and long, or coerce some weaker power, or surrender or betray. All of this has happened in the past, when capitalist interests have demanded it. There are many distasteful jobs to be done in a capitalist society, which are necessary for the running of that society. Some of them are prosaic and unexciting. Others arc extraordinary and absorbing. One of the most distasteful and exacting is that of Foreign Secretary. Just now, the relations between the Russian and the Western ruling classes are uneasy. The elegant, charming Lord Home has landed himself quite a job.

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