the centre-piece of the Scarborough Conference was, of course, the defence debate: everything before led up to and foreshadowed that. But it is useful to begin elsewhere. When Mr. Gaitskell chose his ground last year at Blackpool, the issue which he projected on to the Party—Clause 4 and public ownership—was not a simple question of the revision of the Constitution. He saw, in this text, an opportunity to redefine the nature and goals of the Party itself for a very long time to come. That battle is still on—and the clue to the coming controversies lies in the difference of tone between Mr. Gaitskell facing the “unilateralists, pacifists and fellow travellers” on Wednesday, and Mr. Gaitskell placating the anti-revisionists and fundamentalists on Thursday. He yielded to the “sentimental” attachment of the Party to the Constitution, in a moderate and apologetic speech on Clause 4, only because, in a well-argued and comprehensive but occasionally aggressive and abusive speech on defence, he had taken his stand elsewhere.
But we have not finished yet with Clause 4. For Mr. Gaitskell bowed out in favour of one of the vaguest and weakest restatements of public ownership to which the Party has ever been committed. His retreat, it is true, was evidence of the widespread debate about “affluent capitalism” which has developed in the months since Blackpool. The Party has begun to mark the contrasts between “private opulence and public squalor”, to learn the catechism of complaints which it must learn, if socialist theory is to deal with the realities of mid-century capitalism. Mr. Crossman made an important contribution to that debate—his Fabian pamphlet, Labour And The Affluent Society. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Gunter (speaking on Morgan Phillips’s pamphlet, Labour in The Sixties) gave instances of the “double standards” between private consumption and community needs. All this represents an advance in the face of “revisionism”—rather than (as it seemed at one point last year) a retreat to theoretical positions taken during the last half-century. Nye Sevan’s phrase—“the language of socialism is the language of priorities”—is the one around which, in future months, Labour could re-organise its general case.
On the other hand, the connection between “getting the priorities right” and “extension of public ownership” has yet to be made. If we were to spend the next year clearing the cobwebs of Industry And Society and revisionism from our minds, setting out the programme of advance, relating the general case in each field to existing and visible points of discontent in the community (roads, housing, comprehensive planning, speculative building, the attack on welfare, health and public transport, the unplanned surge in the consumer goods sector, etc.), it would provide us with the most valuable preparation for the long haul to the next election. Alas, this is not to be so.