Prepared by Richard E. Neustadt July 6, 1964
Everyone I saw in London during June brought up ‘mlf’, usually with curses. I looked sympathetic and listened hard, trying to judge whether we might have another ‘Skybolt’ brewing if Labour comes in: another situation where the differences of interest are compounded by each side’s misreading of the pressures and procedures on the other side. I think we might. I also think we have a good chance to avoid it. On both scores, here is why.
What follows has been drawn from conversations with politicians (mainly Wilson, Gordon Walker, Healy, Brown, Mulley, Jenkins—and Heath), with officials (mainly Hardman, Cary, Palliser, Armstrong, Bligh), and with spectators (mainly Gwynn-Jones, Buchan, Beedham, Duchene). Before I left I swapped appraisals at our Embassy with Bruce, Irving and Newman. They will speak for themselves but I think we agree.
Regarding Labour’s look at us if they win in October and we in November, I think it safe to say that as of now both the prospective ministers and the civilian
When Wilson raised the subject at our first talk in mid-June I told him that I understood the President himself did seek to see the mlf brought to fruition, for good reason from his point of view considering where he took up the issue, and that after the two elections Wilson, if in office, might want to ponder Johnson’s Senate record. ‘Oh’, said Wilson, ‘a deal.’
But while these things are seen, it does not follow that a Labour Government will promptly seek a ‘deal’. No member of the frontbench is impressed with mlf in its own terms; none really buys our line on Europe or on Germany; the best of them still pursue McNamara’s line of some two years ago; the others flounder. Also, most of them worry about Eastern European reaction. Moreover—more important—all the internal forces in their system press the other way, to put off the issue, or better still (were Johnson willing) to evade it altogether. As viewed in June the pressures for delay after a Labour victory include the following:
1. Transition bureaucratics: Wilson’s first cabinet will be nothing to brag about in terms either of intellect or of experience. He is aware of this and means to take all key decisions into his own hands. He wants not merely to make ultimate decisions but to pass issues through his own mind early, sitting at the centre of a brains-trust, with himself as first brains-truster on the model, he says, of jfk.