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Ian H. Birchall

Crisis of Leadership?

(Spring 1964)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.16, Spring 1964, pp.32-33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Fight for the Tory Leadership
Randolph S. Churchill
Heinemann, 7s. 6d.

It is hard to see why this book was written (unless of course someone is making money out of it). Seven and six for a 160-page paper-back is unduly expensive for the most worthwhile book; but this, despite its storm of publicity, contains barely enough substance for a magazine article. The book traces the fortunes of the Tory Party over the last two and a half years, retelling stories which are already all too familiar. After saying (p.55) ‘This is no place to recount in detail the events that constitute the Keeler affair,’ Mr Churchill devotes the next 23 pages to the tedious tale. The book is crammed with ‘facts’, but for the most part they are a meaningless collection. Thus ‘In Blackpool 4,000 representatives from the 547 English and Welsh constituencies were gathering. The Chieftains had arrived off the 1.35 from Euston and at 7.15 Macleod gave the Press the news that the Prime Minister would address the Conference on Saturday.’ And a few pages later we are given the complete passenger list of the plane on which Mr Churchill travelled back from Blackpool. Out of 155 pages, approximately 55 are devoted to direct quotation of the press, speeches, election results, etc. In a book dealing with the role of the press some such quotation was necessary, but this seems excessive. The notorious Cabinet paper is not in fact quoted, and in any case dealt only with routine procedure. For any real revelations, such as how Macmillan’s illness was so brilliantly timed, we shall have to wait many years yet.

The whole narrative must be seen refracted through Mr Churchill’s rather quaint prejudices. Thus at the time of the 1962 Cuban crisis, ‘In some quarters there was near panic actively fomented by Dr Stephen Ward.’ But it is nonetheless interesting to observe the ruling class fighting among themselves. We learn how the Times deliberately suppressed reporting President Kennedy’s (admittedly meaningless) letter to Macmillan about his role in the Test Ban Treaty. The overall mood is of the arrogance of the ruling class. Public opinion polls showed that only 9½ per cent of the people supported Home, as against 39½ per cent supporting Butler; there is no indication that this was even a factor in the decision.

This is an essentially superficial book. Mr Churchill is generally amusing and not infrequently acute in his references to Harold Wilson, but he is totally unable to understand the Labour Party. The real issues never emerge. The 1962 dock dispute, Cuba, unemployment, make brief and disconnected appearances; there are hasty references to Tory disagreements on Africa and economic policy. But in general the squalid struggle for power is shown in a vacuum and hence made totally trivial. The book serves no purpose, unless it is to increase contempt for the whole system of institutions by which we are ruled.

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Last updated: 9 April 2010