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If, as the Labor Party hopes and expects, Britain will soon have its first Socialist Government since 1951, it may be of interest to know Labor's attitude to the Common Market-our attitude to the past negotiations which were suddenly ended by General de Gaulle's notorious press conference, as well as our attitude to the possibility of negotiations after the next general election.
But if I am to make our Socialist view of British relations to Europe intelligible to non-British readers, I must first sketch, in broad outline, the background of party politics against which our great debate on the Common Market has been taking place. In Britain as in the United States, great decisions in the sphere of international relations are not usually taken solely in terms of international relations; normally they are very largely determined by domestic considerations. It should cause no surprise, therefore, to discover the role played by internal political pressures in Mr. Macmillan's sudden decision to apply for British entry into the European Economic Community, and Mr. Gaitskell's decision a year later to oppose the Macmillan terms as completely unacceptable.
It is unnecessary here to resume the case which the Prime Minister, together with Lord Home and Mr. Heath, propounded for breaking the inhibitions of insular and imperial self-sufficiency and declaring entry to the Common Market to be a precondition of British economic and political revival. Since we are seeking to analyze not the Government's but the Labor Party's attitude, what concerns us are not so much the real deep-seated motives of the Government's sudden change of front, but how it appeared to the politicians who faced them on the Opposition front bench. Seen from this point of view, Mr. Macmillan and his colleagues seemed to be still staunchly attached to traditional Conservative policies, even when the Commonwealth Conference was summoned in the early months of 1961. Neither in the published account of that conference, nor apparently in its private proceedings, was any suggestion made that Britain should depart from the attitude to the Six which the President of the Board of Trade had propounded two years earlier on February 12, 1959:
We must recognise that to sign the Treaty of Rome would mean having common external tariffs, which in turn would mean the end of Commonwealth free entry, and I cannot conceive that any government of this country would put forward a proposition which would involve the abandonment of Commonwealth free entry. It would be wrong for us and for the whole of the free world to adopt a policy of new duties on foodstuffs and raw materials, many of which come from under-developed countries at present entering the major market duty free.
This completely unambiguous statement by Mr. Maudling-now Chancellor of the Exchequer-had been adopted as official Conservative policy in the election campaign which brought the Party its third consecutive victory in the autumn of 1959. And at first it looked as though the new Macmillan administration would continue to uphold the traditional Conservative attitude to the Commonwealth on the one side, and to Europe on the other, with the aid of which it had won its new mandate from the electorate. Then within a matter of months the Prime Minister tore down both these pillars of faith. His "wind of change" speech-delivered ironically enough while he was a guest of the South African Government-heralded the beginning of a process of disengagement from the defense of the White Settler which Sir Roy Welensky has recently described as the complete betrayal of all that Britain once stood for in Central Africa. It was soon followed by a second and equally sensational break with party tradition-the sudden proclamation by Mr. Macmillan and his Foreign Secretary of the quite new doctrine that in a world of giants Britain could not afford to stay outside the Common Market.
No one in the Opposition could doubt that these two breaks with Conservative tradition were closely linked. Though he has a great sense of history and an immense respect for the aristocratic tradition, Mr. Macmillan has never been an orthodox Conservative; but in practical politics he has long impressed his opponents as a highly successful gambler- a leader who, if things go wrong, can suddenly lose patience, cast round for a new idea, and having found it decide to risk all on a single throw.
And that in our eyes is what happened in the summer of 1961. For a whole decade successive Conservative leaders had sought to combine a return to the easygoing British form of laissezfaire economics, with the maintenance of Britain's status as America's closest partner and the third nuclear power. For the first five years of the 1950s, the effort was by no means unsuccessful. But then came the Suez fiasco-the complete collapse of Lord Avon's attempt to restore Britain's imperial power in the Middle East. This attempt to "go it alone" was ended ignominiously after less than a week by a surrender to American oil and financial sanctions. Six months after Suez, the Prime Minister resigned, a broken man, and the first act of his successor was to try once again to "go it alone," this time in the field of nuclear weapons. In the spring of 1957, Mr. Macmillan's new Defense Minister, Duncan Sandys, proclaimed a completely novel policy under which the large sums required for creating a truly independent British deterrent would be found at the cost of abolishing national service and ruthlessly cutting back our conventional forces.
Once again an initial success was followed by dramatic failure, when the abandonment of the Blue Streak project in 1960 indicated clearly enough that Great Britain did not possess sufficient economic strength to make her own missile. This "nuclear Suez" was soon followed by an attempt to "go it alone" in terms of diplomacy-the Macmillan journey to Moscow which foundered during the U-2 episode in Paris.
Twelve months later, in the early summer of 1961, Britain was hit by one of her recurring balance-of-payments crises, and the Government, which at first had complacently welcomed the efforts of the Six to get together, suddenly felt it was faced with a new threat. The Common Market was becoming only too demonstrably a political and economic success at the precise moment when it was impossible any more to disguise the facts of Britain's industrial stagnation and financial weakness. In the eyes of the Opposition leaders, it was the piling of an acute economic and financial crisis on top of a long series of military and diplomatic disappointments that finally persuaded the Prime Minister to stake everything on an attempt to halt Britain's decline by a speedy entry into the Common Market.
In order to give a faithful picture of the Opposition's attitude, I must add that many of my colleagues on the Labor benches were convinced at the time, and are still convinced today, that President Kennedy's intervention was the sole and sufficient cause of Mr. Macmillan's abrupt turnabout. But this seems to me one of the legends that oversimplify history. The President's talks with the Prime Minister may have provided the occasion for his change of heart; but they were not its cause. And although Mr. Macmillan was no doubt shocked by Mr. Kennedy's failure to recognize any special British connection with the United States, his decision to enter Europe had been prepared for by a lengthy process of disillusion which had finally driven him to the conclusion that the Commonwealth as an effective economic and strategic unit was finished, and that a nation state of 52,000,000 people was no longer a viable entity.
In this description of the motives that prompted the Conservative initiative in 1961, I lay no claim whatsoever to historical objectivity. My sole purpose is to describe as faithfully as I can the impression that Mr. Macmillan's completely unexpected reversal of policy made on the Opposition benches. For it is this impression which is relevant to an understanding of the Labor Party's attitude to the Common Market. Up to this point, both Government and Opposition had taken it for granted that whatever other policies might be considered, entry to the Common Market was a "non- starter" owing to its incompatibility with our Commonwealth obligations. So whereas foreign observers-particularly across the Atlantic-could regard the Government's sudden conversion as proof of Mr. Macmillan's statesmanlike vision, the Opposition in Parliament was bound to view it in the first place as a party political gimmick-an attempt by a most adroit and ingenious politician to extricate himself from his domestic difficulties and man?uvre himself into a situation where, having successfully negotiated terms of entry, he could appeal to the country posing as the greatest statesman since Disraeli.
In order to realize the hazardous nature of the enterprise, one has only to glance at the state of public opinion in the summer of 1961. The British public-above all the Conservative Party workers-were completely unprepared for Mr. Macmillan's initiative. Indeed, a Gallup Poll taken at an early stage in the negotiations revealed that a majority of the population thought Britain was already a member of the European Community. Even a year later, when the subject had been debated ad nauseam in Parliament and in the press, and when an annual Conservative Party Conference had unanimously accepted the terms provisionally agreed to and an annual Labor Party Conference had equally unanimously rejected them, public opinion was still both ignorant and lethargic. Obstinately, the British people still continued to regard the Common Market as the kind of complicated and remote political issue that the politicians could be left to mull over in the Palace of Westminster. A disastrous series of by-elections in November 1961 demonstrated that the Government's conduct at the negotiations in Brussels had not regained it any public confidence, and was almost certainly losing it farmers' votes in what had been previously considered true-blue Tory constituencies. Whatever the advantages or disadvantages that would accrue, once Britain became a member, it was already clear that Mr. Macmillan had completely failed to create a mass movement in favor of entry. On the other hand, Mr. Gaitskell's declaration of outright opposition to entry on the Macmillan terms had won him an unprecedented popularity within his own party, and for the first time compelled the general public to accept him as a genuine alternative to Mr. Macmillan.
That these facts were scarcely appreciated in the United States was very largely the result of the reports cabled by most of the American correspondents in London. So ardent was their enthusiasm for British entry, and so confident were they that the negotiations would soon be successfully completed, that they tended to write off anyone who opposed the Government as an embittered left-winger or a prejudiced reactionary. This misunderstanding of British public opinion was a pardonable mistake. For in no other country in the world do the opinion-formers constitute such a coherent oligarchy as in London. Whitehall, once the Treasury had come round, was in full support of the Government. So were Fleet Street (apart from The Daily Express) and most of the organized pressure groups of industry and finance. Apart from agriculture-whose political importance in Britain is in inverse relation to its economic strength-organized opposition seemed limited exclusively to the Labor Party. It was only too easy for a foreign correspondent to write off Labor's opposition as "party political" and conclude that "no fair-minded person of any importance was now against entry."
Yet in fact the British people had been scarcely affected by the sudden wholesale conversion of the Whitehall establishment; and the only important domestic consequence of Mr. Heath's activities in Brussels was a still further deterioration in the Government's electoral position, a swing to Labor, and a sudden and very remarkable rise in the standing of Mr. Gaitskell. Yet it was clear enough that if an agreement were signed in Brussels, Mr. Macmillan with the majority he possessed in the Commons would be able to obtain whatever legislation he required. It was equally clear that, despite the virtuosity of the Prime Minister's leadership, the Tory voters were not taking kindly to a New Conservatism which seemed to involve damaging the Commonwealth, selling the White Settler down the river and abandoning national sovereignty in order to enter Europe. If Mr. Macmillan had gone to the country in order to obtain a mandate for entering Europe, he would have conceded to the Labor Opposition the unprecedented advantage of presenting itself as the only party that still stood for the Commonwealth and for national independence, and that still believed in British greatness.
Any reader who regards this as a prejudiced judgment should reflect on the developments in British domestic politics since last January. The Conservative electoral fortunes which began to decline in the summer of 1961 have taken a slight but undeniable turn for the better. Of course I am not suggesting that either Mr. Macmillan or Mr. Heath wanted the negotiations broken off. Nevertheless, if General de Gaulle had been deliberately planning to save the British Government from electoral defeat, he could not have devised a measure more appropriate to his aim than his assumption of personal responsibility for excluding Britain from the Common Market. Whatever its long-term effects may prove to be, in the short term Britain's exclusion from the Common Market has proved a merciful deliverance for a Conservative Party which seemed to have doomed itself to certain electoral defeat.
I now turn from the background of party politics to a consideration of the issue itself. What is the Labor Party's attitude to the Common Market? What motives prompted its leaders to adopt this attitude, and what prospect is there of the attitude being modified in the event of a Labor Government being formed after the election?
Perhaps the most convenient way of answering these questions would be to start by stating my conclusions in the briefest possible form, and then substantiating each of them by references to official declarations.
1. Although it is completely opposed to the third-force policies of General de Gaulle, the Labor Party was not opposed to the ending of the Brussels negotiations by his notorious press conference. In its view, the main differences between Britain and the Six had not been reconciled when the negotiations were broken off; and the British Government could scarcely have reached agreement except at the cost of breaking the three pledges it had made a year before, and doing irreparable damage to the Commonwealth and to the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). In terms of British national interest, therefore, General de Gaulle's intervention was providential.
2. The breakdown at Brussels has not altered the Labor Party's belief in the value of the European Community and the advantage both to Europe and to Britain of changes in its structure and philosophy which would permit the admission of Britain and the other members of EFTA, and so transform it into an outward-looking part of the Atlantic Community. When the de Gaulle- Adenauer epoch is over, a Labor Government would welcome the opportunity for a new round of negotiations. But in any such negotiations, a Labor Government would start from the position described in the National Executive Committee statement of September 29, 1962.
3. Since, however, there is no immediate prospect of a change in the French attitude, the Labor Party believes that Britain should concentrate all attention on putting its own house in order and working out with EFTA, the Commonwealth and the United States an alternative to the enlargement of the Six.
There can be no question that the most powerful and moving statement of Labor's position is to be found in the late Mr. Gaitskell's address to the Annual Party Conference last autumn. This speech, however, was a highly personal and emotional declaration. It delighted the vast majority of the assembled delegates who were passionately opposed to the Common Market, precisely because in certain respects it seemed to go far beyond the agreed party line. What pleased the militant rank-and-filers caused deep distress to a number of prominent parliamentarians and trade-union leaders who had taken an active part in the Common Market campaign. When Mr. Gaitskell, after the conference, discovered the distress he had caused in these circles, he was careful to emphasize that the policy to which the whole party was committed was to be found not in his own speech but in the statement of the National Executive Committee which he himself had presented to the conference after the differences between Common Marketeers and anti-Common Marketeers had been reconciled at the end of a day and night of painful argument.
It was this statement, moreover, not Mr. Gaitskell's speech, that was later accepted by the Parliamentary Party, in which the Common Marketeers exercised a far stronger influence than they did in the party as a whole.
Since Mr. Gaitskell's death, Mr. Wilson has emphasized on more than one occasion that this statement remains a fair expression of the party's policy, and that this has not been affected by the breakdown of the Brussels negotiations. In particular, the key paragraph which lays down "the essential conditions for British entry" is still to be treated as the official party line:
While deliberately refraining from hobbling the Brussels negotiations by laying down in advance a series of rigid and detailed terms, the Labour Party clearly stated the five broad conditions that would be required:
1. Strong and binding safeguards for the trade and other interests of our friends and partners in the Commonwealth.
2. Freedom as at present to pursue our own foreign policy.
3. Fulfilment of the Government's pledge to our associates in the European Free Trade Area.
4. The right to plan our own economy.
5. Guarantees to safeguard the position of British agriculture.
The acceptance by the Six of these 5 conditions . . . would mean a conscious decision to liberalise their commercial policy and to become an outward-looking rather than an inward-looking community-one that recognises, in deeds as well as words that it has obligations not only to the 170 million people within the Common Market but to the hundreds of millions outside.
It has sometimes been suggested that these five conditions were deliberately constructed as a platform from which to oppose British entry. That this allegation has no foundation becomes clear as soon as we recall that the policy statement was accepted without objection not only by those members of the National Executive Committee who opposed entry to the Common Market but also by the large number who ardently desired it. If it is true that Mr. Wilson, for example, was among the skeptics who from the first predicted that General de Gaulle would torpedo the negotiations, it is equally true that Mr. George Brown, who made no secret of his ardent desire for British entry, accepted these five conditions as perfectly reasonable demands. Winding up the Brighton debate as deputy leader, he made his attitude clear:
We do not believe that these terms are extravagant or unattainable. We believe that these terms are not only necessary for us; they are the terms that the Six could grant without harm to themselves. We believe that they are the terms that our Socialist comrades in the Six and elsewhere in the world expect us to demand. Some ask, "Can you get these and be within the Treaty of Rome?" If the Six want to let us have them, they can be got. If we have a Government prepared to argue for them, not as supplicants needing aid, not as a nation negotiating from economic weakness, but as a strong and powerful nation with something to bring, they can be got.
The five conditions, therefore, were not a piece of anti-Common Market propaganda but a considered expression of the attitude to Europe adopted by the whole leadership of the Labor Party.
When we examine the conditions individually, we find that three of them-the safeguards for the Commonwealth, the guarantees for British agriculture and the pledge to Britain's partners in EFTA-were taken over from the Government. Only two-the demand for freedom to pursue an independent foreign policy and to plan the British economy-were formulated by the Labor Party. It has been suggested that these specifically Socialist demands were presented in such doctrinaire style that they were bound to repel the Six. A glance at Mr. Gaitskell's Brighton speech reveals the absurdity of this suggestion. True enough, he repudiated in the strongest language the idea that Britain should join an anti-American third force, and went on to denounce the "anti-American, anti-Russian, pro-Colonial" aspects of the European movement in words that caused deep offense at the time. But in the light of what has happened since last autumn, his remarks on this subject seem to reveal not an insular dislike of Europe but remarkable prescience about de Gaulle's designs.
As for the fourth condition-the right to plan the British economy-he put less emphasis on this than on any of the others. Indeed, he said, "I will not spend much time on this. There are, I must frankly tell you, many unsound arguments used in this matter. There is far more public ownership in Italy and in France today than there is in Britain, and more central planning, at any rate in France. And it is true I believe-I know socialists who do it-that they are anxious to introduce more central planning in Europe."
The idea, therefore, that unacceptable Socialist conditions of entry were deliberately spitchcocked into the policy statement can be dismissed as an invention; and we can now turn to consider the three conditions on which the most emphasis has been laid. As has been stated, each of these Labor Party conditions first made its appearance as a solemn pledge made by the British Government when the first request for entry was made in the summer of 1961. Maybe a British Government intent on achieving reasonable terms of entry should not have made such firm promises to the Commonwealth, to EFTA and to the British farmers before starting negotiations with the Six. Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand how any impartial observer could regard it as unreasonable that, once the pledges had been made, the Labor Party should insist on their being honored.
In the case of the Commonwealth, the Labor position is still the same today as it was when Mr. Gaitskell observed last autumn that "the vague promises made by the Six should be turned into precise agreements," and added the very important rider that this should be done "before we go in, before we start dismantling the preference system." The Labor Party's position on EFTA remains equally clear and reasonable. British entry must be conditional on the fulfilment of the pledge that other members of EFTA who want to come in as full members should be allowed to do so, while those who for special reasons want associate membership should also achieve their desire. As for the American objection that the admission of neutral Sweden would weaken the Western Alliance, Mr. Gaitskell's Brighton comment still holds good: "This is a profoundly dangerous argument. It is dangerous to treat people like this because they have decided on a neutral policy, a policy which maybe is far better for all of us than if they were to join NATO. You will not accuse me of being weak about my support to NATO, but I have never said that everybody should join it, all the same."
The Labor Party insists on safeguards for British agriculture not only because of its concern for a farming community which includes only 4 percent of the employed population, but also because it regards agriculture as an acid test of whether the Community is determined to remain inward- looking or whether it is prepared, as the price of British membership, to become outward-looking. This point was reëmphasized by Mr. Wilson in his speech at the National Press Club in Washington in April:
The Labour Party was prepared to accept a solution which would have been genuinely outward-looking and be a stepping-stone to a wider free trade area embracing the Atlantic Community and the Commonwealth. There was nothing in the Treaty of Rome, as such, that would have precluded such an advance. What we were not prepared to join was an inward-looking, autarkic Europe which would sever Britain from our traditional channels of trade with the Commonwealth and the wide trading world. The adoption by the E.E.C. of an agricultural policy based on restrictionism, of high prices policed by a penal import levy on imports from the outside world, was a sign that perhaps Schacht rather than Adam Smith provided the inspiration for the agricultural planners of the New Europe. This policy involved a degree of interference with established market channels, a degree of rigging of prices and production, of internal self-sufficiency, far transcending the wildest dreams of any British or American Secretary of Agriculture, of any part, who ever existed, and in saying this I am speaking the language of superlatives.
Later in the same speech, Mr. Wilson made it clear that a Labor Government under his premiership would not exclude the possibility of entering into negotiations:
We are prepared at the right time and given the right conditions to enter into fresh negotiations with the Six, provided this does not mean another 18 months with Britain sitting in the ante-chamber while the Six meet and wrangle about our fate, provided that no one regards the concessions made by Mr. Heath as an acceptable starting point. We have stated the five broad conditions which should govern Britain's entry, and we are prepared to negotiate on the basis of these conditions.
Nevertheless, it would not be fair to leave the impression that Labor policy today is based on the assumption that such a round of negotiations is likely to occur in the foreseeable future, or that, if it did, it would be easily crowned with success. On the contrary, the premise upon which Her Majesty's Opposition now operates is that after 10 years of comfy affluent decline, this country must, out of its own resources, find its own way of reviving its economy, rebuilding its strength and retrieving its role as an independent power outside Europe.
Of course, Mr. Wilson like Mr. Gaitskell before him is aware that when the negotiations started nearly two years ago, American public opinion shared Mr. Macmillan's view that our situation was really desperate, and that there was no future for Britain outside Europe. One of the puzzles which only a historian of our times can unravel is how this legend became accepted in Washington as well as in London as a serious economic judgment. Both Mr. Gaitskell and Mr. Wilson are professional economists of some repute, and they have exposed it mercilessly in speech after speech, demonstrating quite clearly that, judged solely in terms of British interests, the economic arguments for and against entry are so evenly balanced that no responsible politician could permit his decision to be determined by them. Indeed it is clear in retrospect that what really repelled Mr. Gaitskell about the Macmillan initiative was the implication that nothing could arrest the decline which our country had suffered throughout the 1950s unless and until we joined Europe. To Her Majesty's Opposition, this diagnosis of the nation's health was bound to appear as a piece of political self-exculpation, an excuse for the disastrous consequences of the Government's own infirmities:
The truth is that our faults lie not in our markets or the tariffs against us, but in ourselves; in the failure to invest enough; in the "stop, go, stop" four-year cycle to which we are all so accustomed; in the failure to spend enough on research; in the failure to solve the apprenticeship problem, even to do anything about it, and to build up the necessary reserves of skilled labour; in the continued existence of an antiquated and unfair tax system; in our failure to develop an incomes policy which can only succeed if it is based upon social justice and a fair distribution of wealth.
In these words, Mr. Gaitskell summed up the convictions and the implicit aspirations which inspire the Labor Party after ten years in the political wilderness. Even those Socialists who are themselves Common Marketeers have always recognized that Mr. Macmillan's application for entry was not a considered act of statesmanship based on a sober assessment of all the economic and political factors, but an extemporized device for propping up a failing government-an escape into Europe from domestic problems that had become insoluble. From the start, the Labor Party felt the gravest suspicion of a European community dominated by General de Gaulle and Dr. Adenauer, and as the negotiations went on it expressed more and more emphatically the view that even if Mr. Heath were to surrender on the main economic issues that divided him from the Six, General de Gaulle was determined to keep Britain out, come what may. That this prediction was finally proved right in no way depressed an Opposition confident that it can win the next election and demonstrate that an independent Britain under a different leadership can be restored to health and vitality.
It is of course possible that this conviction is an illusion, and that the British economy will not revive until we are subjected to the forces of competition inside the Common Market. If so, it will not be very long before a Labor Government is forced to follow Mr. Macmillan's example and sue for terms. But this pessimistic conclusion about the United Kingdom's prospects, though it is as widespread in Whitehall as it is in the City and the Federation of British Industries, is completely foreign to the mood of the Labor Party. And surely it is a good thing that one of Britain's two great parties is still passionately convinced that this country has a future-outside the Common Market.