October 1952

on the World today

At the new end duties of July, as Soviet Andrei ambassador Gromyko to assumed the Court his of St. James’s. Gromyko has not yet revealed his hand, so the mystery of why so important a figure as the second-in-command of the Russian Foreign Office should be made mere ambassador to a country hitherto considered second-rate (“Has Stalin demoted Gromyko or promoted Britain?” was the Manchester Guardians neat formulation of the riddle) remains without certain solution. But most speculation leans toward the conclusion that Britain has been promoted and is to be subjected to courtship.

Many minor signs are cited by commentators for this conclusion, such as the wining and dining of the British by Soviet coaches and trainers at the Olympic games. But a more solid basis for this trend of speculation lies in the simple potentialities of the world situation. Britain’s export sales, on which her life depends, have been falling with each passing month, owing to the revival of German and Japanese competition and to the growing reluctance of buyers generally. Russia, dominates a market containing half the world’s population. When or if Britain’s position grows acute, Russia could place a severe strain on Anglo-American relations by attractive and well-timed offers of trade bargains requiring Britain to violate the American Battle Act (which forbids the granting of American aid to allies who sell “strategic goods" to Communist countries).

Another dangerous potentiality lies in the liberation of Germany from Allied controls by the recently signed treaties. Germany has no far-flung imperial commitments among which to scatter the armed forces she is about to create, and can therefore concentrate them in Europe. Thus it is very possible that Germany will in time become the dominant power in Allied counsels in Europe. Or, at least, this is what is increasingly feared in London. This fear may make Britain more receptive to Russian suggestions to open negotiations on the German question. America has already demonstrated her reluctance to enter into such discussions. It would be to Russia’s advantage to have a top observer on the spot, able to time Soviet moves in such a way as to put the greatest strain on AngloAmerican relations.

During the summer, relations between the English-speaking partners were somewhat improved. The clear indication of this has been the fortunes of Aneurin Bevan, who represents cleancut opposition to American policies. When America bombed the Yalu River plants in Korea last June without advising Britain, the Gallup poll recorded that 32 per cent of Labor voters favored Bevan’s position against the pro-American stand of Clement. Attlee. By late summer, however, the poll recorded the Labor rebel as enjoying the support of only 26 per cent of Labor voters, and Attlee’s stock had risen accordingly.

This happy change probably came about as a result of such incidents as Secretary Acheson’s handsome “apology" for our failure to let the British know about the Yalu bombings, the subsequent appointment of a British officer to General Mark Clark’s staff in Korea, Russia’s ruthless sealing off of Eastern Germany, and Red China’s virtual eviction of British trade groups.

Another helpful episode was the performance of Dr. Hewlett Johnson, the “Red Dean” of Canterbury. Dr. Johnson was escorted on a long tour of China, and returned to give a much publicized press conference on the very same day that General Ridgway paid his first visit to Britain. Here was the Communists’ ideal opportunity to convince Britain’s waverers that the germ warfare charges were true and to discredit the new commander of the Atlantic armies. The Dean’s inability to show anything but the old inconclusive propaganda documents and photos pretty well ended the wavering in London and discredited the charges.

Britain’s view of the candidates

What has probably done as much as anything else to improve the atmosphere has been the outcome of America’s presidential conventions. The long prologue to those assemblies caused the gloomiest forebodings here. Senator Taft seemed likely to best General Eisenhower for the Republican nomination; and the Democrats seemed likely to emerge from Chicago a divided and blemished party with a candidate not sufficiently inspiring to beat Taft. An ugly presidential campaign, in which Britain would be a foreign whipping-boy, was expected to be followed by a triumph of the Republican right wing and chaos in the Allied camp. Europe’s overburdened economies would have no certainty of American aid and would be unable to plan ahead; the threat of higher American tariffs, deepening the dollar crisis, would make it impossible to plan export production.

When, instead of this, there emerged two such magnetic and thoroughly international-minded candidates as Eisenhower and Stevenson, what had been here a desperate roar of comment subsided into a contented purr. Continuance of current American policies seems assured no matter who wins; there is much increased respect for responsible American leadership in the West.

Churchill’s first year

This autumn marks the end of the first, year of Winston Churchill’s new Government, and commentators have been busy drawing up scores in an effort to determine who has won it.

At the general elections in October last year Conservatives and Labor were within one per cent of each other in the shares of the electorate each captured. By January this year, according to Britain’s highly reputable Gallup poll, the Conservatives had fallen nearly 5 per cent behind Labor, and by late July they were 10 per cent behind. In an election, it is reckoned, this last figure would give the Labor Party a majority over the Tories of more tlian a hundred seats in the House of Commons and would without exaggeration qualify as a landslide.

The reason most often given for this decline is: too many unkept election promises. This may be so, but it can be argued that the explicit Conservative pledges so frequently cited in the critical press have had far less to do with the disenchantment than the implied pledge of Churchill’s personality. It was doubtless unfair to the Tory leader, but his supporters expected that the “old Churchill magic” of wartime would somehow produce dramatic new approaches to t lie stale issues of the cold war, would induce America to show more respect for Britain’s too often neglected sensitivities in Allied relationships, and would provide Stirring new responses to the national problem of paying Britain’s way.

In the event, of course, the cold war has remained as intractable to Churchill’s near poetic oratory as it was to Attlee’s pedestrian prose; America has bombed the Yalu without consulting the Conservative Government much as she advanced to the Yalu without consulting the Labor Government; and the national bank balance perversely continues in the red. A case can be made that the Tories’ most important achievement has been the unsought one of making it clear that Britain’s problems are national, and not due to t he wrongheaded ness of any one party.

The Tories at cross-purposes

The people, then, have had to compare the parties, not on their command of ready solutions — for neither has any — but on the vigor and coherence of their approaches to problems. In this respect, the people cannot be charged with unfairness in feeling some disappointment with the new Government, for there have been far too many and too flagrant cases of incoherence and crosspurposes.

For example, shortly after Churchill’s Minister of Transport had publicized the inescapable need to raise railway fares, and shortly before the announced date was upon the nation, Churchill abruptly one night announced that the increases were unnecessary and would not take place. This was done apparently without consultation and out of fear of the political consequences of a new rise in the cost of living; for the Minister of Transport immediately fell victim to illness—the diplomatic variety of virus, it is generally thought — and left the cabinet a short while later.

With bewildering regularity the Prime Minister’s dire warnings of economic collapse have alternated with his associates’ assurances that things are not too bad. A recent case — when Churchill braced the nation for a blow with warnings of “grave and far-reaching measures” to meet the crisis, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Richard A. Butler revealed the measure to be one more small cut in imports — caused the loudest uproar the Commons has seen this season. Labor members were able to cite figures showing that Churchill’s apparently unnecessary alarm had caused a large flight of capital from the country, and so soft-spoken a commentator as the Times accused him of damaging the economy.

As happened to him on one notable occasion in history before, relief reached Churchill just at the moment of his lowest fortunes. Three days before Parliament adjourned for its summer recess, he was forced to tell the House of Commons that Britain’s arms program would have to be reduced in order to make more goods for export. The press geared itself up for another angry blast at this default only to have its attentions diverted to a display by the Labor Opposition which was equally reprehensible and certainly made better copy.

Bevan rises to the challenge

The Prime Minister’s justification of the arms cut was, perhaps on purpose, couched in language almost identical with that used by Aneurin Bevan when he resigned from the Labor cabinet on that issue last year. Bevan could therefore not resist acknowledging the implied accolade to his powers of prophecy. So he rose and reminded the House how he had foreseen the danger of too large an arms plan, and referred to how he had unsuccessfully attempted to convince his cabinet colleagues at the time.

Attlee, who had been first of those erring colleagues, was stung by the rebuke. So next day Attlee claimed the floor and made a formal statement to the House accusing his right honorable friend of violating sacred tradition by revealing confidential cabinet conversations. Thinly veiling his barbs in the language of parliamentary propriety, Attlee gave public notice that Bevan no longer enjoyed his confidence, and thus presumably might not be a member of any future cabinet Attlee might head. The following day, the day of adjournment, Bevan in turn made a formal statement to the House vigorously rejecting the chiding by his leader and indicating that Attlee did not enjoy his confidence either. The Tories roared with joy, as might the inhabitants of a city whose besiegers had begun to fight among themselves.

How deep is the split?

Bitterness was so great in Labor’s ranks that it could not be restrained from one more public display in the last hour before adjournment. The Government asked the House to ratify the treaties permitting Germany to rearm. In a previous private meeting of the Labor members, Bevan had induced a majority of the opposition MPs to reject ratification — a bitter moral blow to Attlee and Morrison, who had originally negotiated the treaties and now, as disciplinarians, had to bow to the will of the party majority and deny their past policy in public. When, in the ensuing division of the House, they followed Bevan through the negative tellers’ door, and the Tories shook the rafters with shouts of “Shame!” at them — Churchill himself joining lustily in — it must certainly have cut deep.

In any case, the party’s aboutface was too much for the angrier anti-Bevanites; twenty Labor members refused to follow Bevan out, and refrained from voting — the first right-wing rebellion a party so often racked with left-wing rebellions has suffered.

A right-wing former Labor cabinet minister has since in a public speech accused Bevan of “building a party within the Labor Party” and hinted that the rebel should be expelled. Bevanites and their opponents have both organized themselves against one another for the first time and launched acid propaganda campaigns.

The party is in fact a “coalition” of two different Labor Parties liable to collapse into two minorities in any test with Churchill on any important issue. The old warrior can utter with much deeper fervor than ever did Hamlet’s sentry on the ghostly tower, “For this relief much thanks.”