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Foreign News: Whose Finger on the Trigger?

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From the Lord Chancellor’s office “in Whitehall last week, stout manila envelopes marked O.H.M.S. (“On His Majesty’s Service”) were expressed to every mayor, provost and sheriff in Britain and Northern Ireland. Each contained a copy of a royal proclamation: “Being desirous and resolved as soon as may be to meet Our people, [We] do hereby make known to all our loving subjects Our Royal will and pleasure to call a new Parliament . . .” At St. Paul’s Cathedral Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and Clement Davies, leader of the dwindling Liberal Party, knelt at pre-election prayers.

Next day, thrusting ceremonial and prayers aside, the party leaders and some 1,400 candidates for the 624 seats in the House of Commons began slanging one another from the hustings for the favor of 30-odd million British voters.

As in all elections, there was much swinging but few hits. Labor, humiliated in its foreign policy by the Iran withdrawal, and hurt at home by high prices and food shortages, tried to make peace the issue, and Churchill a warmonger. (Churchill on World War III: “The main reason that I remain in public life is my desire to prevent it.”) Labor had a catchy slogan: “Whose finger do you want on the trigger? Attlee’s or Churchill’s?” Attlee, driven by his wife in their little family Hillman, set out on an eight-day campaign trip, singing this same theme as if it were a madrigal: “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

Granny & Gas Bill. The Labor Party wound up its family outing at seaside Scarborough with a brave show of working-class solidarity. Hit of the show was 69-year-old “Granny” Nelly Cressall, Labor’s grand old lady, whose pep talk was recorded and will be played at street corners during the campaign. Excerpt: “I remember the days when my neighbors used ter come and ask me fer a penny fer the gas meter—and I ‘adn’t got it. Now they come creatin’ about their big gas bills. It makes me mad—’aven’t they got memories? Don’t they know what this wonderful party’s done fer ’em?”

Labor’s façade of unity was a sham, as everyone in Britain knew. As the Scarborough conference broke up, Laborite Rebel Nye Bevan—who hopes to be Britain’s next Prime Minister but one—bested all comers in the constituency polls for a new National Executive Committee of the Labor Party. Three of his disciples, including fiery Mrs. Barbara Castle, were elected to serve alongside him on the 25-man committee. Defense Minister Manny Shinwell was beaten. Attlee’s moderates, with the powerful bloc votes of the trade unions, still held control of the party directorate, but the vote served notice that a solid platoon of rank & file Laborites shares the daydreams of the “Bevanly Host” (more class-war Socialism; opposition to rearmament). In Bevan’s language, the U.S. is almost as flagrant a disturber of the peace as Russia.

Winnie & Greatness. The Conservatives’ biggest campaign gun went off in workaday Liverpool, a Labor stronghold. In the city’s sooty stadium, home of champion boxers and second-rate wrestlers, 76-year-old Battler Winston Churchill, looking like a grey kewpie, swung some grandiloquent haymakers at Labor’s bungling of the Iranian oil dispute, which the London Observer called a diplomatic defeat in some ways worse than Munich. “It will be my duty,” said Winnie, “to expose the melancholy story of inadvertence, incompetence, indecision and final collapse which has marked the policy of our Socialist rulers.”

From Liverpool, Winnie popped down to Woodford, his constituency in Essex. Sporting a square bowler and an eight-inch cigar, he drove through roars of “Good Old Winnie,” halting at street corners to scribble autographs, pat children’s heads and deride the Socialists’ “ill-natured criticism of the Americans.” He tells the voters: “We make no promises of easier conditions in the immediate future. Too much harm has been done.” His biggest appeal: he reminds Britons of national greatness. Workers, cheering a Churchill appearance while still resolved to vote Labor, often explain: “Winnie’s above politics.”

The big election-day question is whether enough people who dislike Labor are ready to love the Tories. Election betting now gives the Tories a substantial but waning 5-4 edge. Britain’s reliable Gallup poll this week reported, among those who had made up their minds, an increase in Tory support (from 50.5% to 52%), but an even larger Labor upsurge (from 38% to 41%). It reported 11% of the voters undecided. It seemed unlikely that Labor would pick up enough of the undecided vote to stave off defeat. Unlikely—but Laborites, talking to keep their courage up, remembered Harry Truman in 1948.

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