The Cautious Revolution: Britain Today and Tomorrow

By Ernest Watkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
Five Years in Parliament

When a political party takes office in Britain, it has two missions. As His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, it is solely responsible for the state of the nation. It is not divorced from the legislature, since its members are a part of Parliament. It is not subject to a Supreme Court as is the case in the United States; there is nothing in the British Constitution that may not be changed by Act of Parliament. Therefore, its two missions are these. It may have a political philosophy to further--the Labour Government certainly had that--which will require a legislative and administrative program. But it must wrestle with, and defeat if it can, all the events that confront a national administration from day to day as, for example, the mining of the two Royal Navy destroyers in the Corfu Channel in 1946, or the implicit threat to Hong Kong that developed after the collapse of the Nationalist Government in China in 1949. The latter chapters of this section deal with the specifically socialistic experiments of the government. This chapter is intended to give something of the background of the events that demanded plain government, to estimate how the party and its members stood up to these daily responsibilities and shaped their policy accordingly.

In 1945, the main figures in the Labour Cabinet were Mr. Attlee, Prime Minister, Mr. Bevin at the Foreign Office, and Mr. Herbert Morrison, Leader of the House. Close behind, all men of potentially great influence in government, were Mr. Hugh Dalton at the Treasury, Six Stafford Cripps at the Board of Trade, and Mr. Aneurin Bevan at the Ministry of Health. Again how did all these men fare in the five-year context?

In 1945 the parliamentary Labour party did not contain 392 identical members. It consisted of two wings with a debatable ground between them, and at first those two wings were inclined to test their

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