Rocking the Boat

Is everything quite well with Mr. Macmillan? Governments, we know, are bound to become rather unpopular at times: the working class has a nasty habit of suddenly turning against the very men whom they have just elected to power, and for no apparent good reason. Perhaps that is why we are hearing so much about trouble in the Tory ranks. Or is there something more?

The April issue of The Director, which is the mouthpiece of the Institute of Directors, carried an article which speculated upon the possible successors to the leadership of the Conservative Party. It is strange, as the article pointed out, that there is at the moment no immediately obvious choice to take over from Mr. Macmillan. When Churchill was Premier, everyone knew that he would one day hand over to Eden. And Eden, it once seemed, would pass on the burden to Butler, But Macmillan has not brought on any bright young man as his heir apparent—there are many who look as if they have a chance of one day stepping into his elegant shoes,

Now the interesting thing is that The Director should bother its head about the matter of the next Prime Minister at all. Mr. Macmillan is still young, as Premiers go. He has been in the job for barely four years and is hardly cool from his last smashing electoral victory. His government seems to have given satisfaction to large sections of the British capitalist class. Why, then, should some of them want to dwell upon the awful day when he must leave the stage to lesser lights? What are the causes of dissension in the Tory benches?

Well, there is Africa, for a start. The government’s policy of giving in so easily to the demands for independence has upset the tea-planting element in the Tory Party. Lord Salisbury spoke for them all when he castigated the Colonial Secretary as being ”too clever by half.” Some political correspondents are saying that not only Mr. Macleod is a sharp boy; Macmillan himself has shown a crafty hand over Africa. The Prime Minister’s problem is to bring his wilder and woollier supporters to accept the realities of modern British capitalism, on issues like Africa. Gaitskell, who has a similar problem over nuclear armaments, has not shown up half as well as Macmillan. The recent history of colonial nationalism must have convinced many influential sections of the British capitalist class that the most economical way of dealing with the nationalists is to give them what they ask and to make the best of it Then, they should be able to continue to invest money in the newly independent territory and so keep their influence with the native government.

This policy is much less ruinous than the sort of warfare which the French have waged over Algeria and the British over Cyprus. The sharper British statesmen must shudder when they recall the famous “never” speech of Lennox-Boyd in a debate on Cyprus. They must realise that it is better for the colonial powers to do a deal with a rising nationalist movement rather than to attempt to suppress it. This is one of the reasons for the sudden changes of front which we have seen recently over colonial affairs, changes which have transformed men like De Valera and and Makarios from terrorists, reviled by every popular news-rag, into respected politicians who are welcomed to the conference table. Soon, perhaps, Jomo Kenyatta will be similarly transformed; and Ferhat Abbas and the other leaders of the F.L.N.

Willingness to come to terms with the independence movements may be, for the capitalists, the saner course, but the Tory Empire men do not appreciate it. These are the men who are roasting Macmillan over Africa.

Then there is the matter of the spies. First the Lonsdale case, then George Blake. Macmillan did his best to soothe everyone, saying that Blake’s espionage had done no irreparable damage. This is impossible to reconcile with the words of Lord Parker, when passing sentence, that Blake had brought a lot of British intelligence work to nothing. This sort of thing must be very disturbing to the people who are charged with keeping the secrets of British capitalism—and the Labour Party, who are as worried about this as the rest, were quick off the mark with some pointed questions to Macmillan and were glad to see that Gaitskell went along to secret discussions with the Prime Minister.

No member jeopardised his majority by pointing out that all nations have their spies. (There are reports that Blake gave away some British spies in East Berlin). Nobody said that spying is one of the results of the involved diplomacy of the various capitalist powers., who are all the time working to extend their influence and power. Not one honourable member suggested that, whilst armed forces exist, they are bound to need powerful weapons, and to keep their latest methods of organised murder a close secret. There was not. in other words, one voice, however small, raised to say that espionage is part of the sordid way of capitalist life, that most capitalist nations have their own spies—whom they regard as heroes, whilst scourging their opposites as dirty snoopers. All sides of the House were united in defence of British capitalism; the only discordant note, in fact, was struck by a few Labourites and Tories who think that perhaps the government is not vigilant enough in this defence. Some government supporters may even have been a little irritated with Macmillan over the matter. There he was, so smooth and assuring, so full of honeyed words and all the time letting all that scandalous espionage go on behind his back.

If the Tories are a little down in the mouth, they can have found little in the Budget to cheer them up. We all know that Budgets can often win a few votes, even for an unpopular government. That can hardly be said for Mr. Selwyn Lloyd’s first effort. One aspect of the Budget which escaped notice was that it contained a lot of measures which are popularly supposed to come exclusively from the Labour Party. This year’s Finance Bill gives the government power to introduce, as it likes, a payroll tax and to vary certain excise rates by ten per cent. either way. These are typical of the powers which the last Labour Government used to take, in the days when it was absorbed in planning the recovery of post-war British capitalism.

At the time, the Tories attacked such non-Parliamentary powers as undemocratic (quite right—they are). They called them examples of Socialist dictatorship (quite wrong—they are nothing of the sort). Now that a Conservative Government is taking similar powers, is there a word of apology or a hint of diffidence about doing so? There is nothing of the sort. This is not surprising: the policies of capitalist political parties are determined by the emergencies which they encounter in trying to organise the affairs of the ruling class. Because they are all basically working to the same end, there is every reason for them occasionally to swap policies. It can be amusing to observe them doing so. But let us always remember that there is no concern for high flown principles of democracy and freedom in this. It is simply a matter of national housekeeping for their capitalist class.

These, then, are some of the worries which beset Mr. Macmillan. A short time ago he had the unusual distinction of stroking his eight to a third consecutive victory, but there are some signs that the tide is not running so well for him now. True, the Tories won a lot of seats at the recent local elections but, as The Economist has pointed out, they did not do as well as they might have hoped and expected. We all know that Dapper Mac is a clever political oarsman, who is well capable of pulling his crew together. In any case, the other possible eight is squabbling on the bank about nuclear disarmament and doesn’t seem able to agree on who they want for their captain. With all this excitement going on, who cares if the river is full of people struggling to keep their head above the water?


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