it was a cynic who last November said to a Campaign for Unity supporter: “I am more politically advanced than you; I’ve got a petition ready which says ‘Wilson must go’.” Behind the cynicism lies a problem which has to be frankly faced if present favourable circumstances are to lead to a decisive shift to the left in the Labour Party.
Amongst the politically sophisticated on the right and the left of the Party it is now understood that the left are not asking for a “ratcheteffect” which would ensure that every leftward move of the party cog-wheel was irreversible. What is being asked for is a leadership which does not fight against majority opinion, does not dampen down and obstruct the current trend in party opinion and policy. Ideally a leadership in step with rank and file activist opinion is what is needed. But with the peculiar structure of the British Labour Party, and the present balance of power within it—in terms of personalities as well as of votes—the ideal will probably have to wait. A leader closer to the trend of Party opinion and responsive to it, who would give loyalty to as well as expect loyalty from, would be a great improvement.
At this point we return to Mr. Wilson who probably sees himself and is certainly seen by many in the Party as filling this bill. His decision to run for Leader in the Parliamentary Party stakes must be taken to mean that if elected he would not have fought against the defence policy adopted at Scarborough. (He might have tried for a change of emphasis at Blackpool, and even used his influence circumspectly before then to try to get his point of view accepted. But meanwhile he would not have put himself at the head of a campaign to frustrate the application of Scarborough policy and ultimately to reverse it.) And if Blackpool reinforces Scarborough, with Mr. Wilson as Leader it would have been possible to hope that he would have led the Party in a campaign to convert the country to unilateralism.
Of course all this is speculation, but not entirely idle. A larger majority at Blackpool for unilateralism must re-open the issue of leadership. Even Lord Pakenham has suggested that the qualitative change in party democracy must come when the second conference goes against the Leader. Mr. Wilson will fight, fight and fight again
Meanwhile a special interest attaches to Mr. Wilson’s Four-Year Plan (New Statesman, 24 March) which looks like being a preview—or tactical leak—of the industrial policy being prepared by the Home Policy Sub-Committee under Mr. Wilson’s chairmanship, and with the help of Messrs. Gaitskell, Brown and Crossman. A successor to Industry and Society had to be found. It had antagonised the unions and the Party, presented Aims of Industry and the Institute of Directors with a quite unnecessary propaganda victory and left even the solid labour voters quite disinterested. The policy objectives of the Wilson Plan are full employment, steady growth of twenty per cent in production over the first four years, stable prices and “real social justice”. His means are “a dramatic and selective increase in investment”—in the first year an additional two per cent of national income would be switched to investment; government purchasing policy; taxation; and selective and competitive public enterprise.
A first reaction to the Plan, with apologies to Roy Campbell and to Low, is “Where’s the bloody horse?” A socialist four year plan with no place in it for the TUC far less for more earthy trade union activity comes as a surprise, especially as it is pretty well agreed that some form of wage planning is a necessary part of any broader economic and social plan. Of course Mr. Wilson is due a little sympathy for the unions are so far in their own thinking from seeing what is necessary, that if he had faced the problem he would probably have stirred up antagonism and opposition in what are, for both his future and that of his Plan, areas of crucial political authority. But sympathy aside it is a pretty useless and dangerous political exercise under present circumstances to put forward a Plan which funks the central issue.
This failure of nerve—Mr. Wilson knows much too much for it to be a failure of understanding— is made worse by the way in which the relationship between investment, rising output and rising consumption standard is treated in the Plan. Tory policy is castigated for having led (in 1954/55 and 1958/59) “to an unbalanced and unco-ordinated expansion of consumer goods for the home market.” Planning is to produce a surplus “to be applied to national purposes, overseas investments, aid to underdeveloped areas, social services or consumption”. The strategy of taxation must relate to the principle that consumer demand is the residuary legatee. The trade unionist who has hopes that under a socialist plan he could expect living standards to rise more rapidly than under Tory “laissez-faire” gets small consolation here. The trade union official who spends his time arguing that a larger share of the product should go to labour will wonder what this is all about.