CONSERVATIVE OR LABOUR?
On 23rd February, England elects its new House of Commons. On these pages, Bob Muller, the HEUTE correspondent in London, reports from the election campaign in Dartford, one of the largest constituencies.
Young Lady with Charm
It would actually have to count against Margaret Roberts, the Conservative in Dartford constituency, that she is twentyfour years old, pretty, and tall. The English voter does not so easily allow himself to be influenced by external appearances—on the contrary, it makes him mistrustful when a party candidate appeals even to his sense of beauty. Anyone who thinks, however, that Margaret's political abilities could not be on a par with her looks will quickly learn better in conversation with her. As a true Englishwoman, she has her own opinions, very healthy and sensible opinions, which could be presented even before the experienced politicians in Parliament.
Margie [sic] had already shown at nineteen that she was an expert on things which were rather outside the interests of her female contemporaries. She canvassed then in the slums of Oxford for a Conservative candidate, a rather difficult task in the election of 1945, and helped finally to ensure that he was elected. Today she is herself a candidate, and no easy opponent for the Labour candidate, Norman Dodds, who lives only a few steps from her home.
While Dodds readily falls back on personal experiences of the Great Depression as an admonition, she knows about it only from books. Therefore she is equipped with good arguments from her own party's rich treasury of experience. And the five years of Socialism, which England has behind her, provide a number of starting points for Conservative attacks. “My election speeches proceed on the basis that nationalisation was a failure, that the [end p4] Socialists have got us into a financial mess, and that Socialism restricts personal freedom too considerably.”
For other questions, she calls into play the political experience of the Conservatives. That applies especially to foreign policy. “Great Britain can only win the respect of the world again when the Foreign Office is headed by a Conservative.” She considers an early peace treaty with Germany to be important and supports a sharper policy towards Russia. All these things seem evident to many English voters, naturally, but she also boldly attacks the Labour Party's trump cards: “The health laws are extravagant. They should have been introduced gradually and economically” . About the almost complete absence of unemployment, one of the main arguments of the Labour Party, she says, “That can quickly change once Marshall Aid comes to an end. And then the Conservatives will know better than the Socialists how one handles public finances and can avert the danger.”
It will not be easy for Dartford's voters. For whom should they decide? For the experienced Socialist Dodds or the charming young lady from the solid middle class, who makes up in spirit for what she still lacks in experience? Margaret confidently hopes for a seat in Parliament— “and indeed on the side of the majority.”
A Man with Experience
At the last parliamentary election, when the count ended in the constituency of Dartford, the Returning Officer made known the following result: Conservative 16,951 votes, Labour Party 36,665 votes. The victorious Socialist candidate, who was thereby elected to Parliament for the first time, was Norman Dodds; and the same man is being put up as a candidate by his party this time. The strong athletic tradesman awaits things calmly: “If they want to have me, I'll return to Parliament,” he says. And he makes no secret of the fact that, in the event of his defeat, he can again take up his old management post with a co-operative retail society, where he would be better off than on a MP's allowance.
As a convinced Socialist, who learnt in his youth all the needs of the industrial worker, he fully supports the domestic [end p5] policy of the Labour Party; he does not always share Bevin's foreign policy views. “I know the Continent,” he often says when speaking to the people of Dartford, “and I was recently again in Germany. It is high time that Germany and Austria had a peace treaty … Western European union? We must powerfully support it, if it comes about—but I fear that is still a Utopia.” Since rationing in Germany has been abolished, Dodds is showered with questions about development in this country above all. “I was astonished by the shop-window displays in Munich and Hamburg,” relates the candidate, “and the healthy vigour with which the Germans are building up their country again seems to me to be a typical trait of their character. But they must not forget unemployment and the unjust distribution of the burden.” This argument is important to him, and with it he underlines the Socialist policy of the Labour Government.
In his constituency, Dodds concerns himself especially with the creation of proper jobs for disabled ex-servicemen. “They should not have the feeling that they are receiving charity.” And he is proud of the 1,368 new houses which have been built in Dartford since the end of the war.
Dodds has a flair for publicity. During his time in Parliament, he has used every means of advertising up to a helicopter in order to make the Labour Government popular, and he awaits polling day with quiet confidence. “The people of Dartford must now already know what they want,” he maintains. “If they want to elect the Conservatives, I can no longer do much about it.” As an Englishman and a sportsman—apart from his political work, he is also President of Dartford Football Club—he has a strong sense of fair play; and when the HEUTE-reporter asked him if he believed in his victory in Dartford, Norman Dodds simply answered, “If Miss Roberts won, there would certainly not be many Labour MPs in the new Parliament.”
Electoral Rules of the Game
In England, one votes, not for a party list, but for a person. Each constituency sends to the House of Commons that candidate who receives the most votes, even if he does not have an absolute majority. In order to deter hopeless applicants, [end p6] every candidate has to put down a deposit of £150, which he loses if fewer than an eighth of the electors vote for him. The crucial element in the election campaign is personally making oneself known to the voters—in private conversations, in meetings and public debates with other candidates. The pictures on this page show Mr Dodds and Miss Roberts at one such debate. Both spiritedly put forward their standpoints, but even the most heated debate remains within the boundaries of good manners. Insults and slanders are forbidden by the electoral law. Even blasphemy is expressly mentioned among the forbidden utterances. The candidate will hardly feel hindered by that. Greater difficulties are caused for him by the regulations about election expenses: perhaps even a very rich candidate does not have the possiblilty of ‘bombarding’ the voter with unlimited propaganda through hundreds of thousands of posters, loud-speaker vans, newspaper advertisements, and countless other means. Precisely for that reason, the law places narrow limits on publicity expenditure: no candidate may spend more than £450 plus one and a half to two pennies for each voter in the constituency. In an average constituency that is about £1,000, from which hall rental, leaflets, travel costs, and other expenses must be paid. The candidate must verify these expenses with an accredited accountant. If he has exceeded the maximum amount, his election can be challenged. Captions attached to photographs of the debate between Miss Roberts and Mr Dodds.
1. Mr Dodds: “The Labour Government has taken care of full employment for the entire workforce. The Conservatives could not have achieved that.”
2. Miss Roberts: “England needs three million houses, and the Labour Government has set aside huge amounts for festivities in 1951.”
3. Opposition does not extend to private life. Miss Roberts and Mr Dodds shake hands in a friendly fashion after the debate.