Britain's New Government
AN AMERICAN POLITICIAN LOOKS AT THE BRITISH ELECTION
By ALFRED M. LANDON, Ex-Governor of Kansas
Delivered before the Kiwanis Club, Topeka, Kansas, August 6, 1945
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 649-651.
I AM tempted to start with a personal note—in a light vein. I was somewhat distressed to have good editorial writers refer to my first year in the major league as an inept campaign. Some of those same papers are now calling Mr. Churchill's campaign inept.
1. Some see in the result a great danger and threat to democracy.
2. Others see it as depriving the world and the British Empire of leaders—valuable leaders particularly needed in the reconstruction period immediately ahead of us.
3. Others view the result with apprehension as inciting a world-wide leftist movement—just as Russia is abandoning the pure communism of Lenin and Trotsky and is following the line of Peter the Great.
4. The question is large in the minds of many as to whether the traditional foreign policy of the British Empire will be carried out or not.
As for number one, we will see for the first time an attempt to apply the principles of socialism—in a limited way—to a great democracy.
The domestic policies the labor party advocated in this last campaign have been in use in part in many countries. Canada has a government owned trans-continental railroad operated in competition with privately owned railroads. France has had a government owned telephone system and is headed towards a communal ownership of all industries.
No country, however, except Russia—has embarked on as nearly a completely government owned program as Britain has committed itself to in the last election.
We will now see—from the bleachers—how the principles of socialism will work in a democracy.
The arena is as vastly different from Russia as the policies. England, the home of the Magna Charta—the mother of parliaments—the land of Shakespeare and Milton—of Puritan and Cavalier—the first country of the old world to recover from the dark ages a new sense of dignity of the individual—is a vastly different arena than Russia.
Russia never has discovered the power to a country in religious freedom and political liberty. Communal ownership is as old as time itself. But, it has never been found in place with religious freedom and political liberty.
So even a limited communal ownership in a land whose proud boast for centuries has been that every man's home is his castle, is vastly different than total communal ownership in the land of the Cossacks and the Czars.
The conception of a likeness of the policies of the Comintern and the British labor party comes rather from a somewhat similar background rather than a direct connection.
A vast social gulf exists between the labor scale in Russia based on piece work and the labor scale in Britain and America based on a common level.
Britain has decided to graft a socialism on an ancient system of individual enterprise without disturbing the fundamental rights of the individual. A labor government must now cease to speak for labor alone and must speak for all Englishmen.
We have a valuable opportunity to see how it works in an Anglo-Saxon democracy. The observant citizen has always been bothered by the question of how the authority and control necessary to the state in socialism can be reconciled with the fundamental principles of freedom. It will now be demonstrated in practice instead of in theory.
However, one fundamental difference between American labor unions and British labor unions must be kept in mind. American labor was always willing to accept the introduction of new machinery, increasing the efficiency and volume of output.
It only asked for an increased share of the increased profits resulting from the new machines. But British labor always resisted technological progress. It will be very interesting to watch their record as manager of their antiquated coal mining, for instance. As you know, the English record of production per man hour is far below the American record.
Now as to number two—will the world be deprived of valuable leaders? The new men will be just as able administrators as their predecessors.
As to number three—will there be a world-wide leftist movement? The British election unquestionably means a new-high-pressure area has been formed. The American New Dealers are feeling their oats.
Either Mr. Truman will yield to them or the Left-Wing New Dealers will form a third party.
I don't think after this British election that the Left-Wing New Dealers will stand for any middle-ground position. Political parties mean nothing to them. In politics, it is easy to confuse personalities and policies. There are too many high-ranking New Deal casualties already to make them very happy with Mr. Truman.
Now the third party financed and smartly handled by the P.A.C. does not necessarily mean the election of the Republican ticket.
We may see a duplication of 1924—with the shoe on the other foot.
In that campaign, the Republicans changed a good many votes the last few weeks by saying the LaFollette-Wheeler ticket might cause a deadlock in the electoral college. Therefore vote for Coolidge.
In 1948—if there is a third-party ticket backed by the P.A.C. we may see the Democrats make the same plea for Republican votes for Truman—and getting them.
But it's number four—the foreign policies of the British labor government that holds the biggest potentialities for all the world.
Their domestic platform raises a big barrier to the American program of removing obstacles to world trade. It definitely increases the trend towards bilateral trade treaties.
That the labor government will be friendly to Russia goes without saying. But will Russia be friendly to the labor government?
As is well known, the conflict without a war that went on between the Lion and the Bear for over a century, is almost a cardinal point in the foreign policy of both countries.
The question before the house is:
1. Is Britain strong enough to carry on its traditional foreign policies?
2. If so, is the labor government willing?
Britain has been unquestionably weakened. The British Empire is right on the verge of breaking up just as did th Roman Empire and the Spanish Empire. If the labor gov ernment drastically pushes its communal plans, it will be the straw that breaks the lion's back.
If the labor government is willing to pursue the empire policy, what of Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran Iraq, Palestine, India, and Spain—where friendly and pro-British governments are vital to her life line—where Britain and Russia are carrying on their traditional undercover conflict. Russia is looking down on India from Khyber Pass and is now trying to establish a dominant position in the Mediterranean.
Will Russia now join Mr. Attlee and recognize "in the era of the common man," the ancient British position in all of the Near East, and accept their spheres of influence? Or will her policies be the same in relation to the labor government as they were with the conservative government?
If she doesn't join "in the era of the common man," Mr. Attlee's government must be prepared to surrender without a struggle to Russia—or give up their domestic program He cannot carry on a titanic movement on two fronts at the same time.
It's not a question of the ultimate soundness or unsoundness of the labor party's program. It's simply a question that Mr. Attlee is like a general on the battle field who tries to reverse his position in the face of the enemy.
Mr. Laski says the labor government is against all monarchies, but the Kings of Greece, of Yugoslavia, of Saudi Arabia—to mention a few of the key spots vital to the British Empire—are British friends and allies. If Britain loses position and prestige with these countries, Mr. Attlee may be like Little Red Riding Hood, and the British will find out how big grandma's teeth are. Or will the two sympathetic governments of Russia and* Britain work together
in foreign affairs? If they do, will it mean one more government taking its orders from Moscow and thus the liquidation of the British Empire? Will the common bond be maintained at the expense of the British Empire? Or will the Lion and the Bear really lie down together m a truly "hands off" policy for all countries? Or does the continuance of the British and Russian Empires mean a conflict that is irrepressible, regardless of the government in power in Britain.
The pattern of world peace depends on the grower to these questions.
In any event, as it stands today—despite our great military victories—our American system of government is practically isolated to the Western Hemisphere.