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Nigel Harris

H of C

(Summer 1962)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.9, Summer 1962, p.30.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Backbench Opinion in the House of Commons
S.E. Finer, H.B. Berrington, D.J. Bartholomew
Pergamon. 60s.

This book is a work of clarification. It sets out to examine the political content of Private Members’ Motions in the last Parliament and correlate the signatures appended to these motions and the background of the members concerned (viz. occupation, education, constituency, seniority as an MP). Despite the promising title, the book is a mixed bag – at best, offering clarification of points already noted, at worst a miscellany of trivialities. As an example of the triviality, we might cite their excited overall generalisation: ‘there are indeed significant – in some cases highly significant – associations between the substance of a Motion and the type-class of (the) Member supporting it’ (their italics). This aside, however, the book, despite itself, has interesting things to say. It spotlights. the division in the Labour Party, through which the class division in the country runs (thus the intense friction and need for grossly restrictive discipline), as well as the split between trade union members (left on ‘material’ issues, right on ‘ideological’ ones) and the rest of the party between economic radicalism as amongst the Unionists, and political radicalism. In addition, there are curious bits of information that illuminate the dustier corners of Parliamentary politics – thus the consistent left (‘ideological’) attitude of the Miscellaneous Professions group (which overlaps the other Left group, Co-operative-sponsored members – cf. Mr Gaitskell’s firm limitation of the number of Co-op sponsored candidates for, on the evidence of this book, fairly obvious reasons).

On the Conservatives, there are also points of interest – their relative homogeneity as a class, and heterogeneity of interest within that class – although ‘Directors of public companies were in every sense a better entrenched and more well-established group within the party’. More interesting is the split between Conservative MPs elected since 1951, and those elected earlier – most of the characteristics associated by Labour with Conservatism are shown in the earlier group and are, by inference, a dying factor. Free market economy, growth, Europe, pro penal reform etc. are the attitudes of the new men – symbolised in Macmillan’s accession to leadership of the Party.

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