1960s >> 1961 >> no-683-july-1961
Editorial: Britain and the Common Market
The Common Market has become a burning issue for British capitalism. After being convinced for years that it would fail, the Government has now belatedly realised that it may after all be here to stay. But so late have they left it, and so long have they dithered, that if they are to do something about joining they must do it quickly. Otherwise, it will be impossible for them to jump on the bandwagon at all.
Hence Mr. Macmillan’s somewhat panicky efforts to get matters straight with the Commonwealth and his undignified haste to prepare the ground at home.
For it is clear that the issue of whether Britain should go into the Common Market is causing a lot of heart-searching in many quarters. Not only is the Government worried, but industry, the Commonwealth, the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, even the trade unions. And not only worried, but very much divided. Even allowing for the fact that the Labour Party has long abandoned all pretence of being anything but an appendage of capitalism, it is indeed strange, for example, to see Mr. Michael Foot and Viscount Hinchinbrooke lined up against Britain’s entry, at the same time as Mr. Shinwell vies with the Daily Express in concern for the Commonwealth. And on the other side, Mr. Woodrow Wyatt, Rev. Donald Soper, and Lord Home certainly make an odd collection!
As far as industry is concerned, to the giants like l.C.I. the whole question is academic. They are going into the Common Market regardless of what decision the British Government may take. Confident of being able to compete on equal terms with the Europeans, the only thing they are afraid of is being left outside. On the other hand, there are many industries and firms that are very much afraid of meeting European competition and who are consequently violently opposed to going in.
The majority of the agricultural interests share this view, worrying whether their system of protection will disappear once the British market is thrown open to efficient Dutch production and the fast rising food surpluses of France. These anxieties are also shared by Commonwealth countries like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand whose agricultural outlets in Britain would be seriously threatened and who have nothing to gain and everything to lose in a unit which is largely self-sufficient in foodstuffs save for those of tropical origin.
These are only some of the conflicting economic interests which the Government is being called upon to resolve. Unfortunately for Mr. Macmillan on this occasion, however, the usual policy of British Governments when conflicting interests are at loggerheads to make a show of compromise that is really only a temporary camouflage for the dominant capitalist interest to have its way in the long run is a non-starter since the Common Market is itself in no mood for compromises. To them, it is either in or out. For the British Government, then, the long prevarication will soon have to end—a decision must be made one way or the other.
Strong rumour has it that the decision has already been made and that British capitalism is in. But this may be only part of Mr. Macmillan’s softening-up tactics and the opposition may be stronger than he thinks. Whatever the outcome, it will throw interesting light on the political strengths of the various sectional interests in present-day British capitalism.
But much more interesting will it be to watch how the economic forces of capitalism, driving society’s development towards ever larger units, will eventually win the day—whatever the decision.