A Commentary (Apr 1931)
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[ 253 A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 10 (Apr 1931) 481-90 The social and political situation in England is such that we now hear from the most orthodox editorial pulpits in the country that something must be done – something, that is, better than merely turning the present Government out and putting the last one back again. For example, in The Observer of February 22nd, Mr. Garvin had come to the opinion that a new National Government should be formed, to deal with the actual emergency .1 We do not dispute the historical knowledge and political acumen of Mr. Garvin, when we suggest that a National Government, which seems to be a phrase covering a coalition of all three parties, might arouse somewhat less than one third of the mild enthusiasm which any of the three parties is now able to excite by itself, unless something more permanent is proposed to succeed it. If the country is to revert to the present system of government after the “emergency” has been dealt with, we can hardly expect the present system of government to issue from its hibernation as youthful and virile as ever. It will have suffered a diminishment: for we shall be forced to think of it as a friendly three-handed game which is all very well when things are going well, and while it does not matter much who is in power, but which must always be stowed away as soon as any serious business is afoot. And we shall hardly be persuaded that serious business is not preparing while the game is going forward. If on the other hand, it be admitted that the present system not only does not work well now but probably will never work well again, then something more stable than an emergency government must be envisaged, before we proceed to so serious a step as the formation of an emergency or coalition government at all. For our part, we think that a coalition government , at the present juncture, would be only one kind of deathblow, and that the most reckless, to the party system. It would mean that a number of eminent politicians of three parties would weaken their prestige by surrendering some of their convictions, or else weaken it still more by admitting tacitly that their convictions were only prejudices or party creeds. It is too much to expect that men whose careers have been made by opposing each other should suddenly and openly fall into each other’s arms, and kick away Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1931 254 ] the ladders on which they have mounted while they are still on the top rung. We are not convinced that a combination of old gangsters will be a great improvement on the old gangs separately. And it is irrelevant to point to the coalition government of wartime.2 The present time may well be as critical, or more critical, than the war; it does not follow that a crisis which is primarily domestic can be overcome by the same methods as a crisis which was primarily foreign. Even, however, should the coalition thrive for a time, it would probably not thrive as long as the “emergency,” and its disruption would probably leave the country in worse case than before. For there is no question of “tiding over” or “weathering” or “stemming” anything; the matter of it is not even merely to adapt the country to world conditions which have changed, but to adapt it to world conditions which are going on changing. It is very depressing to find that the Labour Party in office has proved not only conservative but reactionary. The one most rational form of representation in the House of Commons, the representation of the Universities, is, if the Labour Party has its way, to be destroyed.3 It is amazing stupidity, for the sake of perhaps a slight temporary numerical advantage, to remove just those men who do actually represent something. Far from abolishing this form of representation, we ought to increase it; and to have more members responsible to genuine interests with which they are acquainted rather than to mixed constituencies which they may hardly know. But for such intelligence we can hardly look to an official Labour Party which seems merely to be a compost of the most outworn beliefs and practices of the Conservative and Liberal parties together. The Mosley programme (Macmillan: 6d.), though in some respects vague or feeble, contains at least some germs...


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