The last two days have seen a fundamental change in the political situation.
From now on the Wilson Government exists on the sufferance of the Tribune Group of MPs, a group of self-confessed, extreme Left-Wing Socialists.
On Wednesday evening, the Conservative Opposition voted against the proposals contained in [end p1] the Government's White Paper on Public Expenditure. In doing so, we voted against the Government's economic strategy for the next four years-if they were to stay in office that long. We do not believe that that strategy offers any prospect of restoring essential freedom and prosperity to Britain.
Those members of the Tribune Group who abstained in the vote were, on the contrary, expressing the belief that the Government were insufficiently Socialist, insufficiently doctrinaire, insufficiently profligate of the taxpayers' money. [end p2]
If their action shortens the life of this Government, I welcome it.
But what is deeply worrying is that Mr Wilson, the British Prime Minister, may go still further down the road on which he set out two years' ago: that in a desperate attempt to maintain an impossible unity, and thus gain a little extra time in office, he will make further compromises with the Marxism which the Tribune Group represents.
I should say that I have often called the Tribune Group Marxist. [end p3]
But in Thursday's confidence debate, what was surprising, and even alarming to many MPs, was that Mr Wilson himself called them Marxists.
But there is this at least to be thankful for: Labour divisions are now out in the open. The Prime Minister can never again say that he is sure of the support of his own Party; let alone the support of the House of Commons.
Leaders of the Group have made the position crystal-clear. Mr Arthur Latham, who is Chairman of the Tribune Group; Mr Eric Heffer, [end p4] who in resigning from the Government won the devotion of the Left, Mrs Renee Short: all have issued their challenge. All have said, openly and categorically, since Wednesday night, that their intention is to use every opportunity that arises to frustrate the Government's general economic policy, unless it is changed to meet their wishes.
At the same time, they are willing to keep the Government in office—because they know that Harold Wilson is their prisoner. [end p5]
Mr Heffer has said—and I quote him:
“The position is that this White Paper as far as we are concerned will not become operative until well over a year. This gives us a year in order to get these cuts restored or partially restored, and a change in direction.”
Nothing could be clearer than that as a declaration of war, or guerilla warfare perhaps against the Government. [end p6]
For what has the Government said?
In the very first sentence of its White Paper, it was stated that:
“This White Paper sets out the Government's plans for public expenditure until the end of the decade.”
And in the House of Commons Debate on the Paper, the Edmund DellPaymaster General said a few minutes before the crucial vote,
“I believe we have no choice other than to follow [end p7] the policies set out in the White Paper” .
And he added:-
“I do not believe that in the present circumstances there is any alternative.”
There are, of course, two alternatives.
The first is the Conservative alternative. We would follow an economic policy radically different from that advocated by the Government; and radically different from that [end p8] abstained from by the Tribune MPs.
The second is a policy of steady and regular concession by the Harold WilsonPrime Minister to the extreme Left wing of his Party. Such concessions will be extorted from him in vote after vote.
And which course do you think he will choose?
The course of the national interest?
Or the course of clinging to office, even if his office gives him no real power? [end p9]
After the by-election results at Coventry, Carshalton and the Wirral, I have very little doubt.
Mr. Wilson fears the verdict of the people as much as he fears the wrath of the Labour Left.
But, while the people would certainly destroy him, the Left will at least allow him to stay in office.
I have already quoted Mr. Edmund Dell, the Paymaster General. [end p10]
But there is something else he has said of which I want to remind you.
He was commenting on an article by a prominent Tribune Group member, Mr. Norman Atkinson.
Mr. Atkinson suggested that, in order to bridge the huge gap between this Government's spending and its income, Britain should borrow—yet more.
Mr. Dell said—and I quote him again:
“If borrowing is a test of Socialism we have been very Socialist.”
Which proves once more, if proof is needed, that Mr. Atkinson and his [end p11] friends are more Socialist still!
But where is the Prime Minister going to borrow enough to meet the demands of the Left wing?
More borrowing at home would take us still nearer national stagnation and bankruptcy.
And under Socialism, Britain's credit overseas is hardly good.
Indeed, if the declining rate of the £ is anything to go by, it is disastrous.
And when the Chancellor of the Denis HealeyExchequer travels abroad for his next [end p12] international economic conference, when he confers with other Finance Ministers, what can he tell them about his future economic policy?
He cannot say that he will do this, or that. He can only say that he will try to get the Labour Left to support him; but that he is as likely as not to fail.
What do the Left seek to achieve in keeping the Prime Minister in Office? The object of their operation is to move an already Socialist Government even further in their direction. And [end p13] they know that the best way of doing that is to apply the whip, not always, but from time to time.
The Government will always come to heel.
Let me remind you. For two days, the House of Commons debated the question of public expenditure. The vote at the end of that debate was a vote on the economic strategy of the elected government; not a vote on a detail, not a vote on a single issue—but a vote on a matter fundamental to the Government's policies. [end p14]
There is no precedent whatever for a Government staying in power after its economic strategy had been repudiated by a majority vote of the House of Commons.
Balfour in 1905, Baldwin in 1923 and 1924, Chamberlain in 1940; they resigned office after far less emphatically critical verdicts on their stewardship. [end p15]
They were all Conservatives; and they all subscribed to a finer sense of constitutional democracy than the present Prime Minister.
And Mr Wilson has, of course, the best reasons for fear.
Last week, he was repudiated by a George Brownlifetime colleague who put love of freedom before his love of the Labour Party. [end p16]
This week, on Wednesday night, he was repudiated by the House of Commons, sovereign parliamentary assembly that it is.
On Thursday he was repudiated even more decisively by the people of Carshalton and the Wirral. [end p17]
He is a sorry figure, heading a disunited and discredited Cabinet.
His is a dying Government, creating only uncertainty and confusion, living on borrowed time and borrowed money.
We can visualise the sort of demands our overseas creditors will place on the Government in return for shoring up our economy. [end p18]
But what conditions have the Left extorted as the price of their support?
What further concessions to Marxism has the Prime Minister made so that his government may survive a little longer.
Are we going to witness a battle between our overseas creditors, demanding crisis action to safequard their money; and the Left trying to force the Government down the spending road to ruin. [end p19]
It is a battle which we cannot afford. The Prime Minister must put the country first.
He has heard what the electors of the Wirral and Carshalton have said. They have shouted with a mighty voice. He has failed them, as he has failed the Nation.
He must go—and go now.