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Foreign News: Pride & Petulance

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Quietly the House of Commons moved into the shank of a quiet afternoon. Before the half-empty benches was the Government’s liberal Education Bill. Everyone loved the measure, everyone hoped it would be a cornerstone of the braver postwar Britain.

In the quiet rose mild Mrs. Thelma Cazalet Keir, veteran Tory reformist and sister of the late Major Victor Cazalet, killed in the plane crash that brought death to Poland’s Premier-General Wladyslaw Sikorski. Mildly she proposed an amendment granting equal pay to women teachers. Gently the Government’s respected Richard Austen Butler, President of the Board of Education, objected that equal pay had nothing to do with the Education Bill, should be considered at some other time.

From that moment the afternoon’s quiet lay shattered. A teapot-tempest burbled through the House. All the country’s discontent with Winston Churchill’s management of home affairs whistled over.

Day of Resentment. To Mrs. Cazalet Keir’s support swept most of the House of Commons’ fourteen women members.

Communist Willie Gallacher charged up beside her, along with Arthur Greenwood’s Socialists and a heel-kicking bloc of young Tories led by Captain Quintin Hogg. Ruffled Minister Butler wagged a schoolmasterish finger, waved aloft a copy of his bill, cried: a vote for. equal pay will be a vote against “the interests of this great reform,” a vote “against the Government.”

Vainly did effervescent Lady Astor seek to settle things. Why not, she asked, let the House vote on teachers’ pay without involving the question of confidence in the Government? Other members echoed her plea. But Minister Butler, pale and impatient, roughly retorted: “Childish. … I am here to give a lead. … I must putmyself and the Government in the hands of the House. . . .”

Through the House of Commons’ corridors rang the jingling bells that signal a “Division” (voting lineup). In chattering, uneasy groups, under the eyes of party whips, M.P.’s filed from the House toward the two “lobbies” (voting rooms). There they flowed through the Aye or No doors, gave their votes, passed back to the House. When all were reassembled, they turned anxious eyes toward the main entrance. There, by old custom, the voting tellers for the winning side enter first.

First to enter was Mrs. Cazalet Keir. In trembling, embarrassed voice, before the clerk’s table, she read: “The Ayes are 117, the Noes 116.”

Winston Churchill’s Coalition Government had suffered parliamentary defeat.

Day of Chastisement. From the Socialist benches someone shouted to the Tories: “What are you going to do now?”

Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who is also Government spokesman in the House, did not know. He was not consoled when Socialist Greenwood voiced the sentiment of even the most bitter Government critics: this is not “a vote against the Education Bill . . . not a vote of lack of confidence. . . .” Said nettled Anthony Eden: “We should be wise to bring this discussion to an end. . . . The Government will consult. . . .”

In the Prime Minister’s office on Downing Street a hurried parley took place. Under Britain’s system of Government responsibility to Parliament, Winston Churchill could do one of four things: 1) call for a vote of Parliamentary confidence; 2) fire Minister Butler; 3) resign himself; 4) get the King’s permission to “go to the country,” i.e., ask Britons to decide the issue at a general election.

Winston Churchill was tired, testy under his monumental burdens, touchy over the country’s stubborn criticism of his half-hearted domestic policies as distinguished from his full-hearted prosecution of the war. He was told that Conservative and Labor Party leaders could guarantee an overwhelming vote of confidence. On this assurance he chose to counterattack, teach them a lesson. He would pull the bit hard on restive House of Commons.

The day after the Government’s defeat he stomped into the House, demanded a general vote of confidence. He would not leave Mrs. Cazalet Keir’s amendment on the books; members would have to forego pride and reverse themselves if they wanted him to stay in office. Harshly he spoke: “At this very serious time in the progress of the war, there must be no doubt or question of the support the Government enjoys. . . .”

Members cried: “Nonsense. . . . The Prime Minister makes liars of the members. …” In a medley of cheers from the faithful, glum glances from the critics, Winston Churchill stomped out.

Day of Penance. Next day, gathered for the vote of confidence, the House was jampacked.

Winston Churchill was there to cast his ballot like any other M.P. He was plainly tired, but smiling and convivial. In voting line he said to surrounding backbenchers: “I’m not going about on the bottom of the cage like a wounded canary. Either they put me back on the perch—or I quitthe cage altogether.”

They put him back on the perch. Once more, at the clerk’s table, the tally was read: Confidence in the Government, 425. No confidence, 23.

Days of Reckoning. Winston Churchill now felt “revivified and fortified.” But he had only postponed the day of reckoning between Government and country. Many an M.P. felt as Conservative Beverley Baxter felt: “People have said the House consists of a lot of rubber stamps. The Government is saying to the public, ‘and we will prove it,’ and that is unworthy.” Slim, subdued Mrs. Cazalet Keir, who never dreamt of causing such commotion, was not dismayed. She had given her vote for confidence, was glad the Prime Minister was strengthened for “the stupendous days ahead,” believed equal pay would yet win out.

On London’s streets the people quipped: this is “Salute-the-Government-Week.” London’s press did not like the salute in the House. Said the Observer: “The Prime Minister has seldom acted more unwisely. . . .” New Statesmen & Nation: “Most arrant nonsense. . . .” Time & Tide: “Unfortunate. . . “Daily Mirror: “Parliament might as well goout of business altogether. . . .” Daily Worker: “Now there is a vote of confidence in the House but lack of confidence in the country. .. .”

For once, many Britons found themselves close to New York’s anglophobic Daily News, which said: “. . . Churchill suddenly gave way to petulance . . . told the Commons in effect that if they didn’t reverse themselves on this purely domestic little issue he would quit running their old global war for them.”

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