ELECTIONS were once a purely national event. In Europe, since the Great War, their international bearing has become obvious. Electors, across the barrier of a frontier and a language, have grown sensitive to each other. Indeed, it is so well recognized in France and Germany that the result of a General Election in one country will influence voters in the other, that a period of maneuvring may be noted before the dates of the two pollings are finally fixed. A victory of the more liberal parties in either country will help the like tendency in the other; a simultaneous triumph of liberalism in both might inaugurate a new epoch in Europe. In fact, there seem for the first time to exist in Europe the moral and economic conditions for an advance towards a dim sketch of federalism. The movement for constructive peace can make progress by no other road. The formation of international cartels drives us in the same direction. The quicker minds in our business world realize that Europe can escape from its relative poverty only by expanding on a continental scale the markets for which each national industry caters. We tend more and more to seek an international solution for such problems as gold, the limitation of the hours of labor, and the distresses of the coal and sugar industries. But as yet the political driving force which might translate these tendencies into a living constitution has been lacking.

With more wisdom, more self-restraint and a livelier sense of the common good, the victors might have done it in 1918. They had their moment of omnipotence, when the world lay malleable under their hammers. They abused it, and the League of Nations came into being under conditions which contradicted its dominant idea. The rejuvenation of the League awaits a moment which depends on a hundred chances -- a moment when governments equally conscious of an international purpose shall come to power together in several of the leading countries. The hope that this moment will arrive soon is not easy to entertain. Fascism has dug its dividing trench across our Continent. Communism has lessened the area of Europe by the whole extent of Russia. Yet the possibility remains that if the electorates of France, Germany and Great Britain were simultaneously to reveal a liberal mind, their political and economic prestige might suffice to pour new life into the League and to bring to a radical conclusion its interminable debates over security, disarmament and economic unity.

In France and Germany the electorates have already spoken. The German result is as hopeful as it well could be. The extremists of Nationalism suffered a catastrophic defeat; the Socialists, who of all German parties are the most resolutely pacific and the most conscious of an international aim, overshadow all their rivals and form the kernel of every possible coalition. Their readiness to use the experience and prestige of Dr. Stresemann in the shaping of their foreign policy increases their chances of fruitful and effective work. The French result was at a first glance less hopeful. But if M. Poincaré won a personal success, it was largely because he had learned his lesson in the Ruhr. Timidly and cautiously, a shy appeal to the spirit of conciliation and coöperation has crept into his perorations. He has, on the Left of his loose combination of groups, a big mass of independents who incline to that mild liberalism which the French call Radicalism. The decisive influence in French politics has come for many years from the metallurgical industry, and this has been a force for coöperation with Germany since it entered the Continental Steel Cartel.

But in the trinity of the Western Powers, which in the long run makes European policy, the casting vote belongs to Great Britain. For many a long year this vote has been a veto upon development and progress. Of all Foreign Offices in Europe, the British has shown the least sympathy with the League, the least understanding of its possibilities, the least zeal for its advance. Sir Austen Chamberlain has steadily refused to take one step beyond a conservative reading of the Covenant. He will not sign the so-called "optional clause" in favor of obligatory arbitration, nor will he sign general treaties of arbitration, even with such friendly and innocent states as Switzerland and Sweden. He resists every attempt to increase the authority of the League in dealing with disputants. Under Sir Austen's management, the British Government has been tied in a mysterious partnership with Fascist Italy, the most restless of the European Powers and the least disposed to pay even outward homage to modern ideals of international life. It would be a kindly judgment on British policy under Tory guidance to say that it has been negative. At each League Assembly there have been signs of growing impatience, especially from the smaller European states; but at each Assembly the heavy weight of the British veto has fallen, gently, almost with benevolence, upon a continent which has never ceased to feel surprise.

If this Tory epoch is destined to end with the British General Election of next year, there would vanish with it the sense of impotence which oppresses the mind of Europe when it tries to deal with its international problems. If a Labor government which had before it the prospect of a normal period of life and authority were to follow Mr. Baldwin's administration, Europe would feel that it faced a new era in the organization of its common life. Specifically, it would find the courage to attack once more the problems of security and disarmament. One may feel certain that a Labor government would include among its most cherished purposes the determination to seek, in a revision of maritime law, a new starting point for naval disarmament and a new basis for Anglo-American relations. It may matter profoundly, then, to Europe, and indeed to the world, what is the out-come of the general election which must take place in Great Britain during the coming year. Its exact date is uncertain, but the shrewdest prophets agree in choosing the month of May. By that time Mr. Churchill will have had the opportunity of producing, amid the warnings and grumblings of the experts, a budget which will dazzle the average middle-class man.

In broad terms, most candid Englishmen would agree upon the probable outcome of this election. It seems likely that the Conservatives will lose ground, that Labor will gain heavily in votes, and that both Labor and the Liberals will win a large number of seats. The uncertain voter, who decides every election, has the habit of voting under the prompting of dislikes and fears rather than of positive beliefs. He has no very hopeful conviction that any government can, or will, do much to better the world in which he lives, but he is apt to turn with petulance against an administration which has been incompetent or unfortunate.

It is possible that the impartial historian may apply both these terms to Mr. Baldwin's government: its positive record is certainly not inspiring. Its lot has been to preside over our national destinies during a series of years which have revealed the failure of our staple industries -- indeed, of our whole economic system -- to adjust itself to the twentieth century. We have been slow to realize all that is demanded from us in the passage from the age of coal, competition and small-scale production to the age of electricity, combination and titanic units. The sickness of our coal mines, our cotton factories, and our engineering shops measures our failure precisely in those industries which were the foundation of our fortunes during the nineteenth century. Statistics give but a faint picture of the suffering which this slow decay involves -- one must have seen the despair of the mining valleys of South Wales, where entire populations are without work or hope; one must have witnessed the fall of whole villages in Northumberland or Lanark from relative comfort to the dead level of a bare subsistence, if one would grasp the human significance of the figures which tell of the relative decline of our export trade.

We used to talk of "the industrial crisis." We call it a crisis no longer. We have come to realize that we are confronted with a permanently unemployed population. Our distress can no longer be regarded as one of the customary moments of difficulty in the cycle of trade, and even the war becomes, with each year that passes, a less plausible explanation. Industry, hardened in the individualism of a long tradition, has been incredibly slow in evolving within itself the initiative and the leadership which would make the necessary changes. The obstacles to change which an old society like ours accumulates, are, indeed, so formidable that evolution seems difficult, if not impossible, without some measure of direction and compulsion from the State. That is so evident, that the Liberal Party, once the guardian of the principle of laissez faire, is now hardly behind the Labor Party in demanding the active intervention of the State to hasten the transition in these depressed trades to combination and "rationalization." Mr. Baldwin has occasionally wavered in his theoretic fidelity to laissez faire, but in practice he has insisted that industry must solve its own problems. He has failed to attempt even that persuasive leadership, fortified by enquiry, which Mr. Hoover has developed into a fine art. The fact is, of course, that he inherits the persistent Tory belief that there is only one way in which government can help industry, and that is by imposing a general protective tariff. Towards this he has moved, delicately, experimentally, by the device of "safeguarding" minor industries singly.

But towards the chief of the depressed British industries Mr. Baldwin's record has been on the whole negative. He did, indeed, conduct an inquest over the prostrate body of coal, but he failed to carry out any of his Commission's positive remedies, and chose, instead, to impose the one nostrum of the owners -- the lengthening of the legal working day -- which his own Commission most sharply rejected. Into the plight of cotton, almost as tragic as that of coal, he has not even enquired. The record would be comparatively innocent if it were merely negative. But the ablest of our economists have analyzed the part which the hasty and maladroit return to gold played in aggravating the difficulties of our export trades. The average elector will not weigh Mr. Baldwin's record in fine economic balances. He knows nothing about currency, and has only the vaguest idea of what a government might do to hasten and direct the process of nationalization. But he knows that this government has sat helpless and resourceless through years of unemployment and decline; he feels, as the by-elections show, a disinclination to trust it again.

One cannot predict, nine months in advance, what the issue at a general election will be. It is the business of a party manager to "make" issues. The same crude talent which distracted the wits and inflamed the fears of the electors on the last occasion, by producing the forged Zinovieff letter, may again divert our minds from our graver concerns by inventing some similar irrelevance. But in his quieter moments the intelligent elector has one question which he will address to each party in turn. He will want to know what it proposes to do to arrest the decay of our staple industries, to adapt our economic structure to the twentieth century, and, as a consequence of these proposals, to bring back into the active ranks of labor our reserve of a million unemployed.

The Tory answer will centre in two proposals. The first of them is Mr. Churchill's scheme for lifting from productive industry three-quarters of the crushing burden of the local rates which it carries at present. Vulnerable in detail, the plan does unquestionably promise real relief to the struggling export trades. The other idea will be to extend "safeguarding," the new euphemism for "protection." This may help some of the weaker and smaller trades by enabling them to monopolize the home market, but it has nothing to offer to the great export trades, and if it extends (as it may) to the production of steel and other raw materials it will aggravate their case.

The Liberal answer is more interesting. The Liberals have lost all chance of recovering their hold on the urban working class; they are so disunited that their votes in the lobby of the House of Commons habitually cancel out; they are cursed with a leader so brilliant that no one can ignore him, and so mercurial that no one can trust him; they have lost to Labor many of their sincerest idealists and many of their most attractive personalities. But one asset they retain. They have by far the ablest general staff, and much the most gifted group of thinkers, economists, and journalists. They have used this staff, and trusted it, and supplied it with ample funds for research work. They have paid the electorate a compliment which one hopes it may deserve: they are wooing it with books. In three well-written and cheaply-produced volumes, packed with well-arranged facts and well-considered suggestions, they describe what they would do to cope with the problems of coal, agriculture and industry in general. It is, in sum, an elaborate and able scheme for the restoration of our economic life. It aims generally at bigger units and large combinations; it gives its due place to research; it brings in the State to control and regulate and even to plan; here and there (so far has modern English Liberalism moved from the old laissez faire) it even proposes nationalization. Thus it boldly suggests the nationalization of the ownership of agricultural land and of minerals. Its stress on agriculture is interesting: we must import less, if we are to restore our imperilled balance of trade. One guesses that progressive Tories, like Mr. Garvin of the Observer, look at these books with envy. A Socialist, if he were candid, would wish in many directions to go farther, but he would secretly rejoice if the whole of this wide program could be realized.

The Labor program is by comparison sketchy. This party offers pamphlets where the Liberals produce books. It follows rather similar lines, though the guiding thought of restoring industry is less evident and less influential as a shaping influence. It too would nationalize, as one single complex, the related industries of coal-mining, electricity, the distillation of fuel oil, and the railways (which it proposes to electrify), but it goes far beyond the Liberal scheme in nationalizing the ownership of these industries, while providing them with an autonomous management, very different from the old Fabian conception of bureaucratic services. Its agricultural program realizes, as the Liberal scheme does not, that the pivot of the farmer's fortunes is the price of his produce. It has a bold and interesting plan for stabilizing and regulating the fluctuating prices of wheat and meat, by setting up a disinterested monopoly, under state control, for the importation of those staple foods. By a variant of this idea the same result would be attained for milk and milk products.

The Labor program would have been more interesting, though doubtless more alarming to timid electors, if the Left Wing (the Independent Labor Party, a distinct but federated component of the bigger Labor Party) had had its way. Its leading idea was to start the restoration of industry by expanding the home market. It aimed at increasing the purchasing power of the masses: first, by declaring an ideal standard wage, and gradually reorganizing the more backward industries until they could pay this figure; and, second, by paying out of direct taxation an allowance to every working-class child -- a plan familiar, though in much more modest forms, on the Continent and in Australia. For the regulation of prices and the control and expansion of industry, it laid stress on the nationalization of certain key services, especially banking and the importation of raw materials.

These daring suggestions the Labor Party has rejected or "shelved," and its program is in consequence "safer" but less original. It runs, on the whole, closely parallel to the Liberal books, and where it differs (notably in proposing the nationalization of the coal mines), one gathers that the more radical remedy is relegated to a vaguely distant future. For the program includes an "interim" series of reforms, which can be set going without nationalization. The two programs differ rather in accent and appeal than in their concrete plans. The Liberal aim is to reorganize industry. The Labor Party enumerates rather a long series of benefits for the workers. Of these perhaps the chief and the most salutary are contained in an admirable educational program. Both adhere to Free Trade. Both promise considerable developments of the existing housing insurance and pension services. The Labor program will be most sharply attacked for a proposal to levy a new supertax on unearned income over £500, for the purpose of paying off war-debt and extinguishing taxes on food. Neither program touches the exciting controversy that rages round the Church of England and the revised Prayer Book. If ever dis-establishment comes, it will come by consent, and at the request of the Church.

One doubts how much these programs will affect the result of the election. The organized workers belong to the Labor Party, and it holds securely the bulk of the seats in industrial districts. The propertied class will not waver in its devotion to the Conservative Party, and with it goes an immense following of timid and dependent voters -- small tradesmen, servants and agricultural laborers, who habitually seek safety in the Conservative wake. Liberalism, with a much diminished body of manufacturers at the top, has its main following in the Nonconformist lower middle-class, and on the Celtic fringe -- in Wales and the Scottish Highlands. To these thinking "chapel" people, Labor makes a certain counter-appeal, based on its idealism and its record in the service of international peace. By the moderation of its program it should commend itself to such voters, though it runs some risk, in the desire for moderation, of becoming dull. The Liberals, aided by their able press, with their interesting programs behind them, are struggling with some success to regain the middle-class electors who had drifted in recent years to the Tory fold. They have ample campaign funds, drawn from the sale of peerages under Mr. Lloyd George's régime, and they propose to contest no less than 500 constituencies. They will win some suburban and perhaps some agricultural seats. But most of their candidates will poll a negligible vote, which none the less, under our chaotic system, will often confuse and falsify the result. We disdain in our electoral mechanism both proportional representation and the second ballot, and the result is muddle. The Tories at the last election won power and an overwhelming majority in the House on a minority of the votes cast. Labor, adding over a million votes to its total poll, lost forty seats in Parliament. Such vagaries baffle prophecy. There will be next year the further complication that women between 21 and 30 years of age will vote for the first time. Wherever (as in Berlin) women's votes have been separately counted, the result shows them to be slightly more conservative than men, but this tendency may be balanced by the youth of the new voters and the fact that a large proportion of the younger working women are organized in Labor Unions. The probability is, I think, that Labor and the Liberals will together command an absolute majority in the House. While Labor may, with luck, be the biggest party of the three, it is not likely that it will be able to dispense with Liberal support.

To this impasse both parties are drifting in a fatalistic mood. There will be no arrangement before the election; after it, my own guess is that an arrangement will be furtive and informal. The older generation in the Labor Party remembers with what difficulty it emancipated itself from Liberalism, and in spite of its moderation it dreads an alliance. The younger generation is consciously Socialist: it will not make common cause with a capitalistic party. Both wings distrust Mr. Lloyd George, and bitterly recall his record -- his advocacy during the war of the policy of the "knock-out blow," his plea for "hanging the Kaiser" at the 1918 election, his responsibility for the Peace of Versailles, his use of the "black-and-tans" in Ireland, his attempt (foiled by the Dominions) to renew the war with Turkey. He seems an impossible associate, even if one could count on his loyalty in any partnership. Yet it seems equally impossible to muddle along, as Labor did in 1924, without an arrangement, waiting for the moment when the Liberals, tired of sitting in the shadow and voting for a Government which treated them with disdain, ended the unavowed partnership with a hostile vote. Over the domestic program an arrangement would not be difficult: over the international program no bargaining is necessary. Both parties are strong supporters of the League of Nations; both welcomed Mr. Kellogg's treaty; both profess zeal for disarmament; and both of them, in all these matters, are in the main sincere. Labor would be wise to offer some seats in its Cabinet to Liberals. By giving offices away, one may avoid the more painful alternative of bartering one's principles. There is no lack of ability in the Liberal ranks. But it is highly improbable that this frank procedure will be adopted. Appetites have to be satisfied, and stronger than any appetite is the deep passion in the Labor ranks for independence. But independent a minority cannot be. Mr. Lloyd George will hold the balance, and with it can exercise the power of veto. But a veto of one sort or another Labor can hardly escape. If it comes to terms with Mr. Lloyd George in the Commons, it will still have to face the House of Lords. There remains to it the whole field of finance, administration and international affairs. With tact and good leadership, it might, in the normal four years, put to its credit an immense acheivement of pacification and reform.

Supposing the sort of election result which I have ventured to prophesy, the inspiration and guidance in foreign affairs, however the ministry may be composed, will be Mr. MacDonald's. In domestic affairs he is not an inspiring or constructive leader. His tactics are those of a man who has learned opportunism in the daily work of Parliament. He lacks Mr. Lloyd George's shaping imagination, which revels in wide and ambitious schemes. But the man who faced ostracism during the war has a passion for international peace. Here he will be bold, logical, and constructive, and he has the indispensable gift, as he proved in 1924, of understanding the French without yielding to them. But the experience of 1924 proved also that even Mr. MacDonald's inordinate power of work is not equal to the triple task of leading Parliament, supervising the other Ministries, and conducting the Foreign Office. We had in 1924 a brilliant Foreign Secretary, but we had no Prime Minister. It is fairly certain that another man must be found for the Foreign Office. Of the older men, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Henderson are both possible. Mr. Thomas, the ultra-moderate of the Party, enjoys the personal confidence of a chief who makes few intimate friends. He is quick, shrewd and adaptable, but his mind is not of the calibre for this work, nor would the Party as a whole trust him. Mr. Arthur Henderson is neither brilliant nor ambitious, but he has rare common sense, and the Party trusts and respects him. To him, in the main, fell the credit of negotiating the Protocol at Geneva in 1924. A manual worker by origin, he has, nonetheless, a wide and intimate experience of foreign affairs, gained during half a lifetime in the Socialist International. Of the younger men, Dr. Hugh Dalton, a lecturer in the London School of Economics, would be an admirable choice, if any "intellectual" may aspire in the Labor Party to a post of this importance. Mr. Owald Mosley (Lord Curzon's son-in-law) would make a brilliant Foreign Secretary, but for this particular post the hatred which the Tories feel for a man who once was in their ranks may be a fatal disqualification.

In any attempt to forecast even the near future of next year, one peers through that mist of arithmetical hazards which is an English election. One realizes how much may turn, when Cabinets are constructed, on personal whims and capacities. But on one broad prediction one may safely venture. It is the more progressive and internationally-minded majority in British public opinion which will thereafter dictate our foreign policy. From the vantage ground of Downing Street, an able man could so use the prestige of the British Empire as to wipe out the worst legacies of the Versailles Peace, close the chapter of indemnities, end the occupation of the Rhineland, knit Europe together in a true coöperative league for security and economic welfare, advance disarmament, and seek the basis for a frank understanding with the United States. The probability is that the British electorate will give this man his opportunity: Europe craves such leadership.

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  • HENRY N. BRAILSFORD, formerly Editor of The New Leader, author of "The War of Steel and Gold," "Olives of Endless Age," and other works
  • More By Henry N. Brailsford