This has been the silly season when the British indulge in their annual follies and eccentricities. In the House of Lords, the Tories chose to defeat the government over the matter of sanctions against Rhodesia. This was an ill-chosen issue since most people in the country neither knew nor cared about the implementation of the statutory order in dispute, whereas the Transport Bill, which was also going through Parliament, provided an opportunity for constructive opposition with the promise of widespread support from the electorate.

The derisory majority of nine that the Conservative peers had over their opponents only served to show the unimportance of the whole affair, for the upper House is heavily Conservative. However, the Wilson government, responding to the opposition’s gambit in kind, decided that an attack on the House of Lords, with its built-in Conservative majority, would be appealing to the disillusioned left wing and might also do something to ginger up Labor’s lamentable electoral performance. For this reason, Roy Jenkins — the biographer of Asquith reliving his subject’s past—spoke in threatening terms of the dire constitutional consequences of the recalcitrant peers’ action, but it is doubtful that the whole affair did anything other than bring mild discredit upon both sides.


From the press, we have had to endure saturation coverage not only of a polar trek and a transatlantic yacht race, but also the return of yet another octogenarian around-theworld lone yachtsman, met at Portsmouth by 200,000 cheering enthusiasts who were unfortunately unable to hear one word of his address as the loudspeaker system broke down at the crucial moment.

On the serious side, BBC Television, to its credit, gathered together a heterogeneous collection of “student leaders,” including, to the disgust of certain Tory MP’s, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. But they were not given time to expound their views at all coherently, and this attempt to discover for British viewers a common thread among the various revolutionary movements throughout the Western world faded out rather pathetically to a tuneless and faltering rendering of the Internationale.

But it would be a mistake to think that preoccupation with trivia was indicative of a vacuous political situation. There are signs of the disintegration of the Labor government. It would seem that not even Harold Wilson will be able to galvanize the Labor Party sufficiently to win the next general election in 1970 or 1971. And it is even possible that he may find himself ousted from 10 Downing Street before next January, though it is far from clear who his successor might be.

Sock in the eye

There is, first of all, the question of the economy. Britons were assured last November that devaluation was going to “work” — whatever that might mean. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said it would “work” fairly quickly, and promised a surplus in the balance of payments of $4.8 million for the second half of 1968. Others, such as the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, were more skeptical and spoke of a surplus in 1969. Most of the economists, at least, were agreed that the pound was overvalued, and that given the right accompanying measure of deflation and expenditure reduction, devaluation should produce a substantial surplus. The main question for debate was not so much the magnitude of the effect, but the time it would take to appear. The first sock in the eye for the economists was the new Chancellor’s lethargy in cutting back domestic consumption. By the end of March when Mr. Jenkins imposed the toughest budget in the history of the country, consumers had been indulging in a much advertised spending spree for a period of four months. Furthermore, having got into the swing of things, they showed some reluctance to stop: the consumer boom persisted and imports shot up to a record level. Whether this was a temporary phenomenon, an effort to beat an increasingly erosive inflation, or whether it marked a permanent increase in the propensity to import is at present impossible to say. However, coupled with no significant fall in government expenditure (the defense estimates for 1968 are $240 million higher than ever before, despite efforts to hold back), the buying boom has had serious effects on the trade figures. Exports, to be sure, have gone up faster than was anticipated. But the whopping increase in imports, along with the pressures on sterling thanks to the troubles of the franc and general shortage of world liquidity, has made the short-term economic outlook at best uncertain and at worst disastrous. A deficit is certain for this year, and it is doubtful that next year’s surplus will be more than $600 to $840 million, which still falls short of the $1.2 billion target.

Not all the blame for this situation is to be put on the Labor government. The problem of the sterling balances has been largely beyond its control, being dependent to some extent on foreign confidence in other currencies such as the franc and the dollar. The Basel agreement, however, has somewhat mitigated this situation. But looked at as a problem over the next few years it is difficult to see how Britain can achieve the economic miracle of which Prime Minister Harold Wilson confidently speaks, unless the crucial problem of liquidity is resolved. Since the Labor government came to power in 1964, Britain has borrowed something approaching $4.5 billion. If this money is to be repaid, it must run surpluses of more than $1 billion for a period of at least four years. This in turn means other countries must run deficits. But if the United States is going to run a balance of payments surplus and if foreigners remain unwilling to hold sterling as a reserve currency, then there is no chance of Britain being able to repay its debt. Britain therefore seems doomed either to declare a moratorium or else stagger on under a heavy interest burden which would certainly deter economic recovery.

Over the next few years, therefore, the outlook for any British government is hardly encouraging, as Mr. Heath seems to have realized, judging from the guarded gloom of his recent statements. And there is no shortage of problems for the more immediate future. Unemployment is currently at its highest summer level since 1940; the country has been convulsed by a series of strikes, some of which are in direct defiance of the government’s Prices and Income Policy, on which so much hangs; and the pressures on sterling are still very severe. Harold Wilson, therefore, has plenty with which to occupy himself. Throw in a series of by-election disasters and a couple of Cabinet resignations and one may well wonder how he has the strength to carry on. It has been said that the swing to the Tories at Nelson & Colne of 11 percent in June as opposed to that of 17 percent at contests held two weeks before marks an upturn in Labor’s fortunes. However, such a swing, if reproduced nationally, would give the Conservatives a majority in Parliament that would make General de Gaulle’s appear imperceptible. And the departure from the government of both Foreign Secretary George Brown and Minister of Power Ray Gunter rather suggests that this is not yet the turning point of Labor’s fortunes. With these two figures no longer in the Cabinet, the government is in grave danger of altogether losing touch with its traditional supporters, the unions. Their replacements in the Cabinet, Michael Stewart and Roy Mason, cannot pretend to command anything of the authority of their predecessors, and even Minister for Employment and Productivity Barbara Castle is in danger of losing her popularity unless there is some casing of the wages policy.


There is, then, a strong possibility that the unions will be permanently alienated. At the same time, the government has lost almost all the goodwill of the uncommitted but sympathetic opinion that helped to bring it to power. This does not include the left-wing intellectuals. The government never seemed likely to get their approval from the moment it took office, but in the last resort Labor can always be assured of their support, for there is nowhere else for them to go. But there is a considerable body of liberal opinion, disillusioned with thirteen years of Tory rule and reluctant to vote for a Liberal Party seemingly doomed to impotence, which therefore voted Labor in the hope that it would lead to the revitalization of the country. This support has been removed from the Labor Party, not so much over a pocketbook issue like the reintroduction of prescription charges, but more because of matters like the government’s inept handling of the Rhodesian situation, its continued sending of arms to Nigeria, and its surrender to the racist Commonwealth Immigration Act.

Many Englishmen, punch-drunk from hearing about their economic problems, were further battered by the reaction to Enoch Powell’s remarkable speech decrying colored immigration (in Britain, “colored” means Indians and Pakistanis as well as Africans and West Indians). And so the last meager cause for condescension toward Americans and their tawdry concerns was thus removed, and Britons could be thankful only that British blood was not flowing in Vietnam. This was of course an exaggerated reaction: the racial situation did not change overnight with Mr. Powell’s speech. Certainly it was a shock to see London dockers marching in support of him — some people were reminded of the 1930s, and it is true that he received 40,000 sympathetic letters. But little publicity was given to the dockers who spoke out against him, and it was not pointed out that 40,000 was also the number of letters that Chamberlain received on his return from Munich.


The colored population in Britain is very different from that of America. To begin with, it comprises less than one million people, or about 2 percent of the population today, and it is estimated that by the end of the century it may have increased to some 3 million, or over 4 percent of a total population of 70 million, The figure of 10 percent that was quoted by Powell in his House of Commons speech was given in a parliamentary reply to a question by Powell’s colleague Sir Cyril Osborne, who stipulated that the forecast should assume that the current level of immigration would be maintained. However, only 5000 vouchers were issued in 1967, and these now go only to skilled colored immigrants such as doctors, nurses, and mechanics. It is true that dependents are still allowed to enter and that these numbered 56,000 in 1967. But the process of reuniting families in Britain is now almost complete, and it is therefore estimated that the total inflow of immigrants will soon fall heavily to a level of perhaps 20,000 a year. Although the colored birthrate is higher than the English (it is lower than that of Irish immigrants), any increase in population will be due not so much to a higher birthrate as to the fact that the majority of the colored population fall within the childbearing age group— to be expected with an immigrant community.

About a third of the colored population is West Indian, over a quarter Indian, nearly a fifth Pakistani, and there are some Africans; the majority, however, come from poor rural areas and have moved into the industrial centers of the United Kingdom such as the Midlands, lo this extent they may be like American Negroes who have migrated from the South to the Northern cities. but they are different insofar as they have had to do more than adapt to industrialized urban life after a primitive agricultural existence: they have all moved from one country to another, and many of them have had to learn a new language.

“Foreign invaders”

Many of the problems facing the colored Briton are the traditional ones facing any immigrant, and the history of Britain is a long story of immigration — Angles, Saxons, Normans, Danes, Dutchmen, Belgians, Irish, and many others have over the centuries chosen to settle in this country. And most of them have probably met with the same kind of reception. It is interesting that the headquarters of the Pakistani Friends League in Fournier Street, Spitalfields, is an eighteenth-century house originally associated with a French Huguenot church and school and later with the synagogue and strict Jewish school which succeeded them. The very same criticisms that are made of colored immigrants today have been made of others in the past; it is said that the country will be overrun by the blacks, that they are responsible for the housing shortage, that they take more than they contribute in welfare benefits, that they are criminals, and worse. But in January, 1902, the Tory MP for Stepney, Major William Evans Gordon, moved an amendment to the Queen’s Speech demanding immediate immigration control. In this speech he said, “Not a day passes but English families are ruthlessly turned out to make room for foreign invaders. . . . It is only a matter of time before the population becomes entirely foreign. . . . The rates are burdened with the education of thousands of children of foreign parents. . . . Among the thousands who come here there is a considerable proportion of bad characters. . . . These are the haunts of foreign prostitutes and souteneurs, of gambling dens and disorderly houses. . . . The working classes know that new buildings are erected not for them but for strangers from abroad. ... A storm is brewing which, if it be allowed to burst, will have deplorable results.”

In order to look into these charges, a Royal Commission on the Aliens Question was set up, with Evans Gordon as a member. The commission reported in 1903 and in effect dismissed all the charges as wild and inaccurate. The same is true today: it has been shown that by the year 2000 the colored population will only number 3 million. As for its having criminal tendencies, studies suggest that “crime among Commonwealth Immigrants tends to be generally low, except in crimes of violence where domestic disputes play an important part.” Another study came to the conclusion that “largely because they are a working and predominantly young age group, colored immigrants already in Britain in 1966 put more into the community than they got from it.” While they cost 15 percent more per head than the national average for education (largely because of the special language problem), they cost 5 percent less per head for health and welfare services, and made 45 percent less demand on National Assistance facilities. All in all they cost $115 per head compared with $150 per head of total population.

Much of what is said about immigrants is therefore myth, and old myth at that. The little old lady who is the only white person in her street, depicted by Enoch Powell in his speech, has never been discovered; even when challenged, he has failed to offer any substantiation of this story. Similarly, another anecdote of Powell’s about a constituent’s daughter being the only white girl in her class has been categorically denied by the education authorities in Wolverhampton. But it would be wholly irresponsible to suggest that there are no problems; quite the reverse is unfortunately true.

Ghettos in the making

Experience has shown that the most important areas in which to combat prejudice and discrimination are in education, housing, and employment. With this in mind it has been laid down by the Department of Education that local authorities should attempt to keep the immigrant population in any one school down to a third. This limit has now been exceeded in 444 schools in England and Wales out of a total of 33,500, with 113 of them having more than 50 percent of their children immigrants. In Birmingham there is one school where 92 percent of the children are immigrant. Furthermore there has recently been a disturbing research report on the performance of immigrant children in London schools which seems to indicate that they are doing consistently worse in school than their English counterparts. It does, however, suggest that English children in schools with a high immigrant intake perform no worse and no better than children in schools with very few, or no, immigrants. But difficulties will inevitably build up unless more schools are built to ensure a suitable racial balance, and unless more teachers are found who will teach in these schools.

Much of the problem centers on the high concentration of immigrants in certain parts of the country, notably Tyneside, West Yorkshire, South East Lancashire, Merseyside, the West Midlands, and London, toward which they moved because jobs were available and labor was short. Within these areas the problem is further aggravated by the fact that immigrants have tended to live in the same district as others of their race, and since these are generally poor areas with inadequate housing, “twilight zones” have grown up with a large, predominantly colored population living in overcrowded conditions of some squalor. There is therefore a danger of de facto segregation, though there are as yet no true ghettos, and there is thought to be no voting ward in Britain with a colored majority. Nonetheless, the question of housing is clearly crucial, and it seems likely that if anything comparable with American racial conditions is to be avoided, steps must be taken to ensure that the colored population is adequately housed in areas which are not ghettos in the making.

As far as employment goes, it is difficult to assess the problem. A survey undertaken by Political and Economic Planning showed beyond all doubt that discrimination occurs in employment, particularly at the stage of recruitment, but it is of course more difficult to identify discrimination in promotion, where individual judgment plays an important part.

Perhaps the most encouraging feature of the general situation is the growing awareness that the problem will not right itself if just left alone. Sir Charles Dilke, moving an amendment to a Conservative anti-immigration bill in 1902, pointed out that each wave of immigration had in the past met with initial hostility, which after a generation or two had dwindled to nothing. But even some Conservatives now appreciate that the laissez-faire attitude implied in this kind of approach will not be sufficient to combat prejudice where the immigrants, because of their color, encounter discrimination never experienced by Flemings, Jews, or Irish.

The weapon of hypocrisy

Enoch Powell’s speech had bad effects: it distorted a serious situation, it encouraged people’s irrational fears, and it gave a veneer of respectability to the expression of prejudiced views. But it also had good effects: it brought the subject under serious analysis and discussion and impressed on people the need for action. Above all, it removed the weapon of hypocrisy beloved of the British. In the past we could say, “This is a free country; all men have the vote and all men are equal before the law.” And in a sense this was true. No colored person has ever labored under the burdens and civil disabilities of the Negro in the American South. But at the same time, Britain’s colored population has clearly suffered humiliation, discrimination, and prejudice, and this has now been brought home to the British public.

The Race Relations Act currently going through Parliament, though it is weak in enforcing the law, is very wide in scope. It covers all professional services, employment, public and private housing, places of public resort, and more. Its passage is clearly essential to the success of other government policies to alleviate the problem. It is possible that this is appreciated by most Tory MP’s, though by their lack of support for the bill in the House, they sacrificed principle for unity with the result that neither has been achieved.

The Labor Party, by contrast, has behaved well, though some, such as Ray Gunter, have their reservations. In the country, however, opinion is less liberal, particularly among those sectors of the population (such as the dockers) who feel most threatened and whose jobs are most insecure. The outlook is therefore far from auspicious, and it is certain that the Labor Party’s stand on the issue will win it few votes in an election. —John Grimond