Time for NATO to Close Its Door
The Alliance Is Too Big—and Too Provocative—for Its Own Good
IN ANY great political society with strong traditions and understandings there are lines of natural social progress. Temporary appearances may seem to contradict what experience and study may suggest. Yet there is a logic underlying the development of human society, and the study of what has been and of what is reveals in some measure what is to be. Even great convulsions in society, marking a new ferment of thought which leavens the whole body politic and, it may be, overthrowing a long established order, settle down into a development in which we can trace a continuity through change. England has been notably free from violent convulsions, and a characteristic steadiness has marked its long political evolution. But with this stability there has been a power of readjustment to new conditions and of further development. The English constitution has been peculiarly flexible, and with age it does not become less but rather more so. There is in it, somehow, a wonderful power of shock absorption.
The recent elections in England are a landmark--and it may well be a considerable landmark. It is true that there have been many evidences that the nation was approaching a new stage in its political history. The removal--we can hardly say the settlement--of the Irish problem and the disappearance of the Irish party from Westminster almost synchronized with the rise into a powerful and challenging position of the Labor party. The Irish party and the Irish problem have been very much present with Parliament and with the electorate for two generations, and the change in Parliament and in the political atmosphere following their passing from Westminster is a great one. But a new complex of problems,--constitutional, political and economic,--is the result of the rapid rise of Labor since 1918.
The position thus created affects deeply the traditional party system. For many years there have been more than two parties in the British Parliament. But it has remained substantially true to speak of the English system as a two-party system. The Irish and later the Labor party were makeweights--often very effective makeweights--in the play between the two great parties. And this condition of affairs existed until the elections of 1922, when Labor more than doubled its representation and became the second largest party in the House of Commons. The elections of 1923 mark still more clearly the change by leaving no one of the three parties in the position of having a majority, and bring into the sphere of practical politics the program of a third party. That being so, it is right to regard the position now created as representing a new constitutional problem.
In viewing this question, however, it is well to remember that the traditions and the arrangements of the constitution all tend to bring parties back into two great divisions. The Cabinet system itself, with the contrast between the Government and the Opposition, tends to divide Parliament into two great groups. But this in itself will not be sufficient unless there are substantial elements of agreement between the groups which form the opposition.
You may have a Coalition of parties to form a Government, or if not a Coalition an understanding or cooperation between two groups, one of which acts as the Government but is supported by the other party, like the understanding which obtained during part of the war period. But conditions of war differ widely from those in peace and an arrangement by which one party will continue to carry on by the leave of another is not likely to remain a permanent state of affairs. It is not an arrangement which appeals to English habit or temperament. Its permanence, however, depends upon whether there are three distinct policies which call for the continued existence of three independent parties.
It is clear that in the case of Labor there is a party with a very definite body of ideas and a program representing a view of the sphere and methods of state action widely different from that which is held by either Liberals or Conservatives. The real question is whether the division between Conservatives and Liberals is to remain fundamental. So long as the question of Ireland stood in the foreground there was a great dividing issue between them. A second issue which distinguished the parties was the question of a protective tariff,--though not in the same sharp way, for there have always been Conservative supporters of the policy of free trade. But until its revival in 1923 free trade or protection had ceased to be an active issue between the two parties. Other questions such as the House of Lords, licensing, education, and even land policy have not offered as clear principles of division in recent years as earlier. The Parliament Act secured to the House of Commons both the appearance as well as the substance of power, and the House of Lords question has largely ceased to be a party matter between Liberals and Conservatives. The Bryce Conference of 1918 indicated the considerable measure of agreement which there was between the parties as to the lines of reconstruction of the upper chamber; even questions of land and of licensing reform would not divide them as before. Education has ceased to be a political subject of semi-religious controversy. In fact, until the tariff issue was again raised in 1923 the dividing lines between the two parties were gradually becoming less important in principle and more due to the influence of personal, party, and social tradition. In such circumstances it only requires a strong antagonistic force from without to awaken a still stronger sense of common interests between large parts of the Liberal and Conservative forces. Labor may provide this factor. Just as the protection issue raised by Mr. Baldwin united quickly and effectively the two wings of the Liberal party, as nothing else could have done, so the emergence into the sphere of practical politics of the Labor policy may bring about a relationship between the Conservative and Liberal parties which to many has seemed unthinkable.
The position of the two parties is interesting. The Conservatives have a very steady and substantial following alike in town and country, and despite the loss of seats they polled in 1923 as large a vote as in 1922. The party has, on the whole, great solidarity, but this may be affected by the decision which must shortly be reached as to whether protection is to remain an active and principal question of policy,--a decision which also is bound greatly to influence future relations with the Liberal party.
The Liberal party, on the other hand, has not yet recovered the solidarity of either the Conservative or the Labor party, and there already are evidences that to keep it united is going to be no easy task. So long as free trade is under serious question the unity of the party will be maintained. But if the Conservative party allows this issue to relapse into the quiescent state in which it lay from 1906 to 1923, then the diverging tendencies within the Liberal party are likely to show themselves. Faced by the issues raised by Labor, some Liberals will be drawn more and more in that direction, while others holding the traditional individualistic ideas of Liberalism will find themselves in closer agreement with the Conservatives. In foreign policy, on the other hand, Liberals today are on the whole nearer to Labor than to the Conservatives.
In this balance of influences account must also be taken of the part which the women voters play. It is difficult yet to say how far the great addition to the electorate made by the Act of 1918 has affected the relative strength of the political parties. It would seem as if the appeal made by the Liberals to the "Chancellor of the Home Exchequer" in some measure accounted for their success in the campaign against protection as a cause of higher prices. The battery thus effectively directed against the Conservative tariff policy will doubtless be turned against socialistic controls on the ground that they too will mean higher costs, and however strongly Labor argues that food and other articles of living will not cost more under a socialistic régime this line of attack evidently is too good not to be pressed by the Liberals with all the advantage of which it is capable.
Before further considering this situation, however, we must examine more closely the rise of the Labor party, by which we mean not simply the growth of its vote in the country and of the number of its representatives in Parliament but also the maturing and reëxpression of its policy. In 1900 the Labor Representation Committee which prepared the way for the present-day Labor party had secured the election of two members to Parliament. In 1906 the number of Labor members rose to 29. In the election of January, 1910, it was increased to 40 and in the election of December, 1910, to 42. In the election of 1918, following the armistice, Labor secured 57 members and polled over 2,244,000 votes, a very great increase over its previous poll even allowing for the wider franchise. In November, 1922, it more than doubled the number of its representatives and polled over 4,236,000 votes, and in December, 1923, it reached 191 members and polled over 4,347,000. Although Labor's representation in the Commons has grown more rapidly than its voting power in the country, there can be no doubt that before long it will make a bid to secure an actual majority in the Commons.
In this connection it is interesting to mark the degrees of success achieved by Labor in different parts of the country. In the London boroughs Labor followed close on the Conservatives in number of votes polled; in the English boroughs it was also second; in the Scottish boroughs and in both the Welsh boroughs and Welsh counties it was first, and in the Scottish counties it was only slightly below the Unionist party. Only in the English counties did Labor prove the weakest of the three. The growth of Labor's influence in Scotland and Wales--until recent years great Liberal strongholds--is remarkable, and this influence is also extending in the industrial north of England and in London. Provided the constitutional character of Labor's development is maintained, and provided the party shows itself capable of developing a constructive and practicable policy both in foreign and home affairs, the prospects are that before long it may succeed in its aim of securing an independent majority in the House of Commons.
An important fact is that Labor has had practically no press to help it in achieving this success. Its work has been done quietly, by canvassing and educational propaganda. In the great economic organization of Labor there lies ready to hand an instrument of political propaganda and social organization possessed by neither of the old parties, and this advantage has more than compensated Labor for its weakness in the press. But by far the greatest asset of Labor is its vision of a new political, social and economic order. It has brought freshness into the rather stale atmosphere of political controversy and there is a much more widely extended sympathy with its program than would have seemed possible before the war. This has been increased by a growing recognition of the essentially constitutional character of the Labor movement. In recent times the leaders of the party have taken marked pains to insist on this point. The English constitution is their possession and heritage as much as that of any other party; their allegiance to it is as true as that of any other party. They have observed the parliamentary system and have regarded it as the right means for the expression of the will of the people. They profess a desire to respect it, to use it and to develop it.
A second characteristic which has strengthened Labor's position is its interest in European and international affairs. The Great War and the rise of the citizen armies which carried it through brought a new sense of realities into foreign policy for the mass of the people. Furthermore, the two questions of foreign affairs and unemployment are seen to be closely connected and never before has it been brought home so clearly to the nation that our domestic economic life is intimately concerned with the peace and prosperity of other countries. Even more powerful in awakening a new interest in foreign affairs is the recognition that peace itself can only be secured by a more permanent settlement of European affairs and by the alleviation of the misery and uncertainty which brood over a large part of the continent. Strong human instincts of sympathy and pity have been awakened, and with them have come a quickening of the instinct of justice and an anger against the irrational and wasteful methods of settling disputes between nations. Not to recognize the working in the minds of the people of a strong moral sense which desires as a matter of justice to see a better life not only at home but for the workers in other states, would be a failure to understand the times. This feeling is the fruit of the spirit of international comradeship which, to its everlasting credit, the Labor movement has awakened,--a spirit which transcends patriotism and the boundaries of nations.
The nation is at school in foreign affairs, and is learning. Despite the difficulties and disillusionments of the situation in Europe, there is a strong determination to persist in cooperation and to try and work out a better order. In this vision and faith the hope for the future lies. The nation has felt the fruitlessness of the years since the peace, and there is a strong desire that further efforts should be made, and on new lines. This desire is behind the movement toward closer relations with Germany and with Russia, for it is felt that however bitter and even contemptuous the attitude towards England of parties in those countries may have been,--and the Labor party in particular has not been spared in contemptuous references from Russian sources,--it is only through patience and persistent good will that a European understanding can be built up. Herein lies the significance of the leadership of Labor. But it is not forgotten that the problem is predominantly economic. In thinking of solutions of domestic economic problems, Labor points to the importance of international economic action and to the experience which the world gained through the Allied organization for regulating the supply of food, raw materials and manufactured goods among the different countries, both Allied and neutral, in time of war. The League of Nations is going to be concerned as much with the economic as with the political side of affairs if it is to be the instrument of Labor. Slowly but surely this vision is winning its way in the minds of millions in this country.
It is however in domestic affairs that Labor marks a great departure from either of the old parties. A new school of thought is coming into power and responsibility, a school which may be called that of the socialization of national life. It is not a school of Communism, but one which seeks much more than any other party to organize community action and to control the sources of power within the nation. Responsibility for action is bound to exercise a great influence on the formulation and practical expression of this school of thought. The application of its underlying ideas in different fields of public life is taking shape in various definite proposals, the difficulties and advantages of which can now be considered, deliberately if not altogether dispassionately. Parliament again will become the great debating centre in which discussion will focus. The country will also be schooled in the same problems, and the quickening of thought in the country will react on the work of Parliament.
The proposal in the Labor program on which public attention fastened during the election campaign was the War Debt Redemption Levy--better known as the "capital levy." But to some extent the very prominence given to the capital levy and the threat which it seemed to present to the existing order of things have overshadowed even more significant and distinctive lines of thought sponsored by the Labor party. The capital levy is, after all, rather a special and temporary proposal devised to deal with the financial burden left by the war. It is a method which has already been discussed and to a certain extent experimented with in other states. It is not as novel in principle as some of its exponents and some of its critics would seem to think. The graduated income tax and super-tax are in their own way making an annual capital levy, and the very same charge which has been brought against the capital levy applies in its own degree to these severe forms of taxation, namely, that they discourage saving and tend to drive away and dissipate capital. Similarly, death duties are a form of capital levy. The Labor proposal is thus in its nature but a special application of the principles which have been already accepted in income and super-tax on the one hand, and in death duties on the other. We are not here concerned with the merits and demerits of the particular proposal, but aim rather to prevent the focusing of attention too exclusively on an electoral issue. It has been said with much truth that the nation has for the present decided both against protection on the one hand and the capital levy on the other, inasmuch as it has given to neither of the parties putting forward these specific proposals a controlling majority. And therefore for the present the capital levy, just as protection, passes from the immediate field of practical politics.
More distinctive of Labor's position is the way in which it proposes to treat some of the largest problems before the nation today. England's greatest domestic problem is how to reduce unemployment, not merely temporarily but in its chronic recurrence. Whereas the Conservatives aimed at dealing with this problem by protection and the Liberal solution proceeded on the lines of seeking to free industry, as far as possible, from restrictions and to develop methods of industrial insurance and industrial coöperation, the Labor party, while favoring the development of insurance and coöperation, goes much further. It aims to carry out a much more extensive program of central and municipal undertakings in such matters as housing, roads, and the provision and distribution of power, and consequently to use national credit on a very much more extended scale for public works than either of the other parties would be prepared to countenance. The program of public works could be put partly into operation to meet the immediate unemployment situation and could in part be held in reserve to deal with the recurrent periods of unemployment. We have here a clearer presentation than ever before of the idea that the state or community should be responsible for the provision of employment, and that a well organized community will have its plans laid so that at any time public employment can be automatically increased to absorb in useful work the surplus of unemployed labor produced by a period of trade depression. It is thus a policy of seeking to secure first and foremost steadiness of employment for all who are able and willing to work, and maintenance and pension allowances for those who are disabled. It recognizes that only a well thought-out program, with community direction behind it, is strong enough to deal with the attendant evils of the existing industrial system. On the other hand, Labor's proposals for greater planning and intenser activity on the part of central and local government in dealing with such problems as housing, road-making, the supply of power, and other public works are simply an extension of a development which both the old parties, Liberal and Conservative, have accepted.
But the Labor party does not content itself with ideas of a more intense development of these now almost traditional policies. It challenges the economic system under which unemployment exists, and it is already outlining alternative policies for dealing with certain aspects of national production. The governing principle is that of nationalization. Now the principle of nationalization is capable of very wide extension; but while Labor states no limits to its application, it recognizes that it must be carried out step by step and that the case must be made for each further step. There are certain main directions in which nationalization has been indicated, as in the coal mines, the railways, the land system, the banking system, and certain essential imports. Each of these proposals will be required to undergo in its turn the most thorough and searching scrutiny before it can receive national endorsement. Each case will have to be considered on its merits. The state should do only what it can do better than private enterprise, and it should not fail to do what it can do better. Nationalization is a very complex economic subject and on the whole the people have an open mind in such matters. The experience of other countries is of only limited value, and it must be through a process of trial and error that the bounds can be set to the advancement of nationalization during any particular period of time. Our own experience during the war is a more valuable guide; what can be done in such an emergency is not, of course, normal, but it will have a great influence on the economic policy of Labor and will affect the judgment of the country. The Coal Commission of 1918 has provided much material for a policy of reconstruction; and the consolidations of railways and of banking mark tendencies toward the elimination of competition from which there follows inevitably the need for community control to prevent monopolistic exploitation. However, the problems are rightly felt to be complex, and national experience of government controls in war-time and of state management of such services as the telephone in time of peace are fresh in mind and not altogether favorable. It is by no means clear how far a policy of nationalization is going to commend itself to the public.
The foregoing considerations relating to both foreign and domestic affairs indicate the range and character of the policy of the new third party. In other directions--in agriculture, in control of imports, in banking, in social welfare,--the development of a new policy of control is also gradually unfolding itself.
The Labor party is now entering into office--if not into power. And we must here turn to consider briefly some constitutional aspects of the situation.
No one of the three parties commands a majority in the Commons, and the mood both of Parliament and of the people is not favorable to coalitions. For the present, too, each party is jealous of its independence, and we therefore are likely for some time to see a minority of the House entrusted with the control of the administration and the initiative in policy and legislation. On the other hand, there is a strong sense of the need for carrying on the work of Parliament effectively and not allowing it to become a futile maneuvering ground of parties. Further, there is a desire both among Conservatives and Liberals to see that Labor receives not only fair play but a very good chance of showing its capacity in managing the affairs of the nation. That feeling is no less strong in the country, and any party which tried unduly to embarrass the new Government before it had the opportunity of doing its best under difficult circumstances would be likely to meet with diminished support in the next election. There thus exists a sense of self-interest which accords with the desire to give "a fair chance" to any new government. In addition there is a general recognition of the serious consequences which might follow if parliamentary government were to be rendered ineffective and an excuse given to forces which wish to resort to other than parliamentary and constitutional means of action.
In a country where the executive depends on the support of the House of Commons and where parliamentary instability affects the whole sphere of foreign policy and of domestic administration, the responsibility for parliamentary action is deep seated. His Majesty's Opposition is a responsible body as well as His Majesty's Government. On the other hand, it is evident that no policy can be carried through in the present House of Commons by any one party if it arouses strong opposition in the other two parties, which together form the majority of the House. Consequently Labor must defer its more far-reaching proposals, which do not commend themselves to the other parties, until such time as it obtains from the nation a majority in the Commons. This in itself is a safeguard against any violent change and it means that each measure must be argued and decided on its merits and cannot be pushed through by party discipline under the control of the party Whips. At the same time it gives the Labor Government a perfectly clear and common-sense reason why its supporters must be satisfied with moderate progress. It further happens that as the new Government comes into office at a period of the year when the financial estimates and the main lines of the budget for the ensuing year have been prepared, it is not possible, without serious dislocation of the Treasury and in all probability strong opposition in Parliament, to replace the preparations for the coming budget by others framed on very different lines. Nor is there the time for the mature consideration which a new budget requires. It may be possible to modify the lines of the budget in certain directions, but far-reaching changes will have to be deferred to later.
The new situation may be expected to lead to new developments both in constitutional organization and procedure. Already the statements respectively of Mr. Asquith and Mr. MacDonald have directed considerable attention toward the problem of the right of dissolution. In an unprecedented situation we must look for new precedents, for development is guided by something more than precedents, valuable as they are. The spirit of the constitution is larger than its law and will direct with equity and fair play a course framed to meet new circumstances. Whether the right of dissolution should be given to a party which has a permanent minority in the House will necessarily depend upon the particular circumstances of the case. If there evidently is not such agreement between the parties of the opposition as would enable them to carry on effectively the work of His Majesty's Government, or if a question of great public importance arises on which it is clear that the opinion of the nation should be given the opportunity of expressing itself, then the right of a direct appeal to the people is not likely to be withheld.
Another constitutional problem which the new situation is certain to make once more of practical importance is the question of the House of Lords. Even if a minority government is able to secure sufficient support for its proposals from the ranks of other parties in the Commons, there remains the necessity of securing their passage through the House of Lords; and a Labor government, to a much greater extent than was ever true of a Liberal government, will find itself without a party of any size in the House of Lords. It is true that under the Parliament Act the will of the Commons can be made to prevail, but procedure under the Parliament Act is slow and involves delays which a Labor party could not endure. The realization that radical changes would rapidly ensue if a policy were followed of rejecting or severely amending measures may well act as a powerful restraining influence on the Lords. But this can only be a temporary accommodation. Hitherto, Labor has favored the idea of a single chamber legislature, but it remains to be seen whether it will not in the first instance turn to a policy of reconstructing the second chamber on a new basis. The Parliament Act left untouched the personnel of the Lords, but it is recognized (and the Bryce report confirmed the view) that a radical change in the composition of the Second Chamber is required if it is to remain an active part of the government. Whether by a system of popular election, or by indirect election as suggested by the Bryce conference, or by other means, a new settlement has to be made, sooner rather than later, of the Second Chamber. Any proposal to abolish the chamber rather than to reform it would meet with strong opposition in the House of Commons and in the country; for there is a deep sense of the value of the continuity of service which a reformed chamber could give to the nation in carrying on its complex international and imperial as well as domestic affairs.
There is another constitutional problem of great importance to which the Labor party may very well direct attention and in which they may achieve a reform that is already, in the opinion of many, long overdue. The congestion at Westminster has seriously affected the efficiency of our parliamentary system. The adoption of Home Rule for Ireland has brought an important measure of relief, but the growing urgency of domestic affairs and the far-reaching proposals envisaged by the Labor party, together with the seriousness and increasing complexity of international and imperial affairs, make it of the highest practical concern that a policy of legislative as well as of administrative devolution should be extended to other parts of the United Kingdom. Scotland and Wales have for many years favored a policy of Home Rule all round, and influential support to this idea has come not only from the Liberal but also from the Conservative ranks. The joint Committee of the Lords and Commons which under the chairmanship of the former Speaker of the House of Commons examined the problem in 1918, recognized the need for reform while being almost equally divided as to the remedy. One-half were in favor of the creation of a large number of committees within the Parliament of Westminster, to which wider powers affecting legislation should be entrusted, while the other half favored a more thorough-going proposal for the establishment of subordinate parliaments in England, Scotland and Wales.
This latter more drastic change is quite evidently necessary. Every year the congestion of Parliament increases, and no development in its internal organization and procedure can bring the required relief. It is true that in the ranks of Labor there has been an influential group of thinkers who, emphasizing the growing interconnection of interests between the different parts of the country, are averse to the large decentralization which is involved in a scheme of subordinate parliaments. The existence of single Labor unions throughout the country in itself tends toward the adoption of a United Kingdom policy; furthermore, one Parliament may seem to offer a better means of advancing common standards throughout Great Britain than would three or more separate parliaments. But strong as these considerations are, there are others which are more weighty, and it is significant that the Independent Labor party has laid stress on the urgent need for decentralization. It is through more self-government that democracy must advance, and it is possible, while devolving wide powers to national assemblies or parliaments, to safeguard interests common to all parts of Great Britain. Nothing short of legislative devolution can afford the necessary scope for local initiative and experiment, and nothing short of devolution can relieve the central Parliament of its congestion and enable it to concentrate attention as it should on international and imperial affairs and on important domestic interests common to the countries which are still united at Westminster. Furthermore, the presence of the representatives of Northern Ireland at Westminster, combined with the fact of legislative devolution in Northern Ireland and of dominion status in Southern Ireland, leave a constitutional situation which is not final either for Ireland or for Great Britain. Nor should it be forgotten that Wales and Scotland--the countries which have felt most keenly the need of legislative decentralization,--are those in which Labor has secured a leading position. Here, therefore, is a question the solution of which very specially concerns Labor, which is in accord with the general lines of Labor's development, and which also will meet with a measure of support from both Liberal and Conservative ranks.
There also are other constitutional questions in which the organization of the House of Commons is involved. Labor, supported by some members of other parties, has urged a greater development of the committee system within the House, particularly in respect to foreign affairs and as regards public finance. The democratic control of foreign policy has been demanded by Labor, and, as a means to this end, greater publicity in foreign affairs and the abolition of all secret understandings. Special interest has been taken in the working of the Committee on Foreign Relations in both France and in the United States, and it remains to be seen whether the Labor Government will seek to develop such machinery within the English parliamentary system. Similarly, there has been an increasing demand during the last quarter of a century for more effective control over finance by the House of Commons. The Select Committee of 1902-3 on National Expenditure, and more recently the House of Commons Committee of 1917-18 on the same subject, have favored in one form or another the establishment of a Committee on Estimates which should endeavor to secure a more thorough examination of national expenditure than is permitted by the present budgetary system. The establishment of an Estimates Committee in the three sessions of 1912-14, and the more recent experiment since the war, have failed to solve the problem; but renewed efforts are likely to be made in this direction. Not only the annual estimates of expenditure are involved; the procedure may also be extended to the very vital problems of banking and currency policy on the one hand and of taxation on the other.
Thus a large field for constructive constitutional work is today lying to the hand of the more progressive elements in the House of Commons. With so much practical work to be done there is neither the inducement nor the need to embark on schemes of a more visionary, but almost certainly a less fruitful, character. The country and the parties are becoming increasingly conscious of this, which in itself is a guarantee of steady, ordered progress.