British Labor’s Defeat

British Labor’s Defeat

The British elections have created only a faint stir. For once, the expected took place largely as expected. A million and a half voters who in 1945 had supported the Labor Party simply abstained from the ballot, thus allowing the solidly mobilized Conservatives to treble their margin in the House of Commons.

Within a decade since its exhilarating victory of 1945 the leading socialist party of the world has lost its political dynamism. Why this should be so has been discussed in articles that have appeared in DISSENT over the past two years; the note by William Newman in this issue, whether one agrees or disagrees (as I do) with its political emphasis, similarly points to some of the difficulties facing the British Labor Party. Here only a few words are necessary about the more immediate aspects of its defeat.

British Toryism clearly outmaneuvered Labor on all fronts. It skillfully picked both the time and the issues of the campaign. It chose a moment when the issues were blurred not only by a decided if temporary stabilization in the British economy itself, but also by an apparent world trend toward a stabilization of power relationships which passes for peaceful coexistence. What is more, Labor itself dulled the issues by its continued acceptance of what is tantamount to a bipartisan foreign policy (a meeting “at the summit,” manufacture of the H-Bomb as a deterrent to war, etc.) This may have been calculated to win the praise of American journalists as a token of “responsibility,” but was hardly a means of staking out clear issues upon which to arouse the British voters.

Still, this lack of fighting campaign material cannot by itself account for Eden’s victory. Another, perhaps more decisive element must be mentioned: the split within the Labor Party itself