Head and heart at the ballot
THERE IS STILL time for what Charles Morgan used to call a "creative pause" before the votes have to be cast after a General Election campaign which has slipped into sudden vehemence and passion during its last full week. This, almost inevitably, climaxed what had been up to then a relatively low-key campaign.
The general impression is of the most topsy-turvy party position since at least the early thirties with the bitter splittings of ranks on the left and in the centre. The electorate "played safe" and voted in a National Government, but with generally disastrous results.
The Churches have been saying, to paraphrase their attempts to bring compassion into a materialistic approach to voting, "vote with your heart as well as with your head." This, for most people, is extremely hard to do.
There is talk meanwhile that we may be going back to a 1906 landslide sort of situation. But the effects of that were not as devastating as had been expected and it brought about, ultimately, a new alignment of political ideas and ideals the main net result of which was a thorough-going reform of our whole socio-political life.
The House of Lords had repeatedly wrecked ail chances of peaceful Home Rule for Ireland — and what an evil legacy they thus bequeathed us — came to see its powers drastically curtailed. But today we seem to be faced with an almost invisible type of danger to our democratic system: the secret committee, the backstage report, the "draft" document that might be "used as background" for future action, and so forth. Compared to these, even the House of Lords, at its worst, was fairly innocuous.
It was revealed, for example, through an alleged "leak", that a Cabinet committee had discussed the possibility of an employers' anti-strike fighting fund, the use of the military to break strikes and the scrapping of unemployment benefit in favour of some form of private insurance scheme. When the corresponding documents became publicly known, the only reply given was the angry one that they "were not leaked, they were stolen."
Has the opposite reaction to such timebombs been excessively zealous? Scaremongering may well have increased general fears of extremism from the left just as much as from the right.
During a creative pause, then, the thoughts of some may well go back to a political slogan of the past: "peace, retrenchment and reform". No peace is possible without the right kind of retrenchment, that is to spend money on people's real needs. This applies as much to peace at home as to pfttee in the world.
As for true reform, we can never expect any very deep measure of this until the electoral system has itself been reformed. This election, as already pointed out in many places, gives a unique opportunity to set the stage for a vital reform at the very heart of our political system.
The objection that this might "spoil things" for the party of one's own pet choice is humanly understandable but not in line with such norms as reach us from Christian circles.
To the extent, therefore, that there can be a moral element in this particular, most unusual and highly unpredictable election, it must surely be looked for, by those who hate all kinds of extremism, in the realm of reform. And by this we mean genuine reform, not a tinkering about with the rules in dogmatic ultimately divisive fashion.
If, as some say, this is our "last chance", let's take it.