by KEVIN McNAMARA
Of all the unedifying, though necessary spectacles in British politics, probably the worst is the sight of a great political party seeking to find a new Leader when the present one refuses to bow out gracefully. The knives are out, old wounds re-opened. The place-men, wondering which way to jump, have forgotten Jimmy Maxton's dic tum "If you can't ride two horses at once then you don't belong in the b circus". It has the manners of a vicarage garden party and the gore of a municipal slaughterhouse. No wonder the Tories love the ritual of blood sports. By comparison the election for the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party is as orderly and sedate, though sometimes as surprising, as a Papal election. If it were not so important for the future of the country I would normally advise people to avert their eyes from the scene of half a dozen middleaged men and a woman lusting after naked power. Indeed I would not even venture more than an odd comment about the relevant merits of the candidates, insofar as they (being Tories) have any merits other than to say that there appears to be something caddish about some members of the gentleman's party waiting to see if grammar school boy Heath fails to do well enough in the first ballot against him, those "who dare to wound and yet afraid to strike." Sir Alec could not have invented a more exquisite method of taking his revenge upon the man who ousted him as Leader of the Tories than poor Mr Heath having to take on allcorners in all rounds of the ballot if he is to win.
But then Mr Heath has only himself to blame. He had possibly one great political triumph as Prime Minister, the Sunningdale Agreement, and he wantonly threw that away as one of the side effects of his confrontation with the miners.
Sunningdale apart, none of his initiatives have proved successful and all have been controversial. He filled his Cabinet with "yes men", who apart from Sir Alec, mirrored his suburban and shop-keeper attitude towards Toryism and Tory politics. The great Tory traditions of the Shires, of duty and of service, gave way to the opportunism of the asset stripper and the property developer.
In Opposition he has failed to draw his party together and what, as an opponent. one recognises are Some of the great traditions of Toryism are not represented within his Shadow Cabinet.
Now I am not seeking to make mere party points because the issue is too importarn for the country and for the nation as a whole to be trivialised in such a fashion. At the moment the Tories are Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, a possible alternative Government. Upon the Opposition, no less than the Government of the day, lies a duty to play its part and make a meaningful contribution to the Government of the nation.
For six months the Tories
have been in the throes of
getting rid of their own Leader, or looked at from the other side, Mr Heath has been in the throes of seeking to isolate and
defeat all possible rivals. While this internal conflict has been going on the Tories have manifestly failed in their job as the Opposition.
The role of the Opposition is
to examine the policies of the Government of the day in a constructive and not a mere partisan manner, to promote policies and ideas, to put forward useful alternatives, to make the Government prove its case, justify its actions and continuously be on its mettle.
At the moment this is done by
elements within the Labour Party as it ought to be done by the official Opposition. It is in the interests or the Government and the country, as well as the Tory Party, that it should settle its Leadership crisis quickly and sensibly,
their Yet choice
if they T e y are y not c a r euflui bi in e taking their party into endless opposition and not to future greatness. The Tory Party has suffered great reverses in the past year. It has lost Ulster and most of Scotland.
There are few Tory seats in Wales, and in England it is rapidly becoming the party of the south east and suburbia, the twin set and the expense account. If they are to prevent it becoming a party of English Poujadists, not even English Nationalists, and become again a National Party for the whole United Kingdom, the Tories roust take as Leader someone who can project himself and his party outside the Home Counties.
Of the named candidates at
the time of going to Press only Hugh Fraser, "a serious and modest candidate", who does not expect to win, seems to be aware of this very real problem.
The Tories owe it to the country, Parliamentary democracy and not least to the ; Labour Party to assert themselves as a great national party again — otherwise it will continue to be left to the Tribune Group to keep the Government on its toes.
Kevin McNamara, Labour MP for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central, is chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party Northern Ireland group.