by IAN WALLER
THE Labour Party confer encc was to have been. like the Liberals the week before although for very different reasons. a non-event and, tip to a point. . the strategy laid down by Mr Wilson succeeded.
There were no hitter recriminations about who had lost the election. no outbreaks of ideological feuding; above all and, needless to say, of some interest to Harold himself. scarcely a nasty word said about him. Ray Gunter had a go from the safe distance of an "exclusive" statement to the Sunday Exprrss on conference eve ("Labour will never win again tinder Wilson") but it never got off the ground; the Leader was warmly cheered by the faithful and mobbed by holidaymakers whenever he walked out in the Blackpool streets. He looked, in fact. a good deal happier at the end of the week than the beginning for Harold has been. let us say, a trifle withdrawn since he unexpectedly found himself evicted from 10 Downing Street. As an ()Id hand in the art of political infighting and a man inclined by temperament to sec plotters around every corner, he knew as we all gathered in Blackpool that it was precisely the situation that is apt to make people have unkind thoughts about their Leader. But it did not happen. 1 am not suggesting that Roy Jenkins, Jim Callaghan and Denis Healey. have not all got dark private thoughts about Harold (anti have sometimes let them drop) but they all know that the time is not yet ripe for putsch: more important, none of the trio will act toanake the other king: with three Crown Princes around him Harold can rest quite peacefully for a long time ahead. The unquestionable fact is that, as his major speech to the conference showed, he has lost none. of his touch; he is still also a popular figure both inside and outside the party. Rut what did emerge from the conference may well be just as significant and potentially damaging for Labour. as the troubles after the 1951 and 1959 defeats, and will test Mr Wilson's powers of leadership perhaps more fully than anything he has had to face since becoming party leader. It was the appearance of the militant industrial Left led by two heavyweights from the trade union movement. Jack Jones of the Transport and General. and Hugh . Scanlon of the Engineers These two men are not. so far as I can make out, particularly interested in the finer points of party theology; indeed they have a pretty profound contempt for politicians and the party leadership— except so far as the political wing of the party can be mobilised to support their ends : and those are to extract the maximum. amount of money in wage increases for their members in the "free for all" economy to which we now appear to be committed and to resist the Tory (as they did with Labour's) plans for trade union reforms. They want to embroil the Parliamentary Labour Party in the industrial battle with the Government that they believe to be inevitable. And that is something that Mr Wilson and most of his colleagues have no desire to do but which they uneasily fear may well happen; if not in practice certainly in the public mind. They well know that nothing could be more disastrous for Labour's electoral future than to be pinned even more than it is now (often very unfairly) with responsi bility for every trade union sin and every strike. Even if (and I am not suggesting they would) the Tories deliberately fomented a national strike it would almost certainly be Labour that collected the odium. The issue came out most starkly in the debate on incomes policy and in the powerful and courageous speech by Roy Jenkins with its touch of Gaitskell's "fight. fight and fight again" declaration. Some sort of incomes policy is essential to a Socialist society and, I believe. to any sort of society; not just in the narrow sense of holding back inflationary increases in the interests of the economy and the balance of payments but. and far more important, of maintaining some sort of justice; in trying to ensure that the rewards of greater national wealth do not just go to the strong. Mr Jones and Mr Scanlon made it nakedly clear that they are interested only in the Strong and are prepared to use every weapon at their disposal. They have the strike weapon—although before we get too indignant about that it is perhaps worthwhile recalling that some of the most ruthless uses of it in recent years have not been by industrial workers but by respect able middle-class airline pilots. who have twice stopped BOAC. and at this moment have £24 million worth of jumbo jets sitting idle at Heathrow over their claim for £15,000 a year to fly them. In political terms they have the power of the moneybags over the Labour Party—and at a moment when Mr Callaghan. the party Treasurer, is trying to double its £500,000 a year income : and there is the indirect and more subtle pressure on Labour MPs sponsored by trade unions—although it is im portant to understand that the financial backing the MPs get is not a personal benefit but a contribution to his constituency patty's expenses. Nonetheless, deprived of this he is a very much less attractive creature when the question of re-adoption arises. And what happens if the miners strike—with the Labour Patty's deep emotional and historical links with the mineworkers? Just how far will the Labour Party and Mr Wilson stand up to these pressures? It is an unenviable predicament: a headlong collision with the unions that split the Labour movement would be disastrous for the party and also, 1 believe, for the healthand balance of British politics. Whatever the passing aberrations or the troubles the unions may -cause, the historical reality is that the Labour party's roots in the trade union movement is what has distinguished it from continental Socialist movements and prevented Labour from degenerating into the typical continental Socialist party of powerless theoreticians. But to accept the JonesScanlon terms would he clectorally disastrous and almost certainly split the Labour Party for years ahead with substantial block opting for the Scandinavian Socialdemocratic pattern. But the future is not quite as black as it might seem. In the first place it is a mistake to think that because Mr Jones and Mr Scanlon wield great voting strength that they arc the TUC and the trade union movement as a whole. Apart from the personal distaste among many of their TUC colleagues for their strong-arm tactics. many of the smaller (as well as the larger like the Railwaymen) are very dubious about the political as well as the industrial wisdom of the ScanlonJones tactics. They suspect, and with good reason, that they and their members might end up by being the victims of it. There is another important factor too. Twenty years ago it was the constituency parties that made the running for the Bevanite Left; and the Bevanites at Westminster were wellled by outstandingly able people (Bevan himself, Wilson, Crossman, Mrs Castle to name only a few). with a cause, the ability to project it, and a sympathetic audience among the rank and file of the party. The Left today—Eric Heller, Norman Atkinson, Stan Orme are not only different in calibre but uncertain where they are going and. what they want.
Nor, judging by last week's conference. have they any real grass roots support. In theory there should have been no more propitious moment to get the Left going again. But they failed to make any impact on the conference and they dismally failed in elections to the National Executive—it was Denis Healey, with the arch revisionist Anthony Crosland running tip, who succeeded; the Left's' candidates tailed behind. All a striking contrast to the Left's coup in 1952 when they swept the board clean. There is going to be a long period of tension and trouble ahead for the Labour Party and it will test Mr Wilson to the full. But if he plays his hand courageously and skilfully there is. I think, enough ballast in the party to keep it on an even keel. The Labour party has matured a lot in the last six years. It has enjoyed power and is more interested in it than the luxury of Opposition. I do not think it is about to tear itself apart—or ready to let Messrs. ,Minas and Scanlon do it.