882. Harrod to M. H. Macmillan , 29 December 1938 [a]

[Answered by 883 ]

6 Beaumont Street, Oxford #

29 December 1938

Dear Macmillan

I had a long talk with Dalton to-day [1] about the subjects we were discussing last week. [2] There is one point which I am sure he would not mind my mentioning to you.

That any electoral pact or joint campaign would gravely disturb the settled habits of mind of many labour stalwarts is obvious enough. There are technical difficulties and psychological inhibitions and the possibility of discouraging life-long loyal workers for the Labour cause. Yet Dalton was bound to admit that in certain circumstances a national emergency might justify all these troubles. But the question which any one recommending such a compromise of principle is bound to ask himself is--what will the cause gain by it? And Dalton suggested that the only adherents likely to be forthcoming were yourself and Churchill (with perhaps one or two others of minor importance). Could such a great disruption as the agreement would involve be justified for the sake of two individuals however distinguished? And it is always open to them if they feel deeply enough to join the Labour Party.

I put forward the name of Eden and reminded him of his great popular appeal. [3] He took the view that it was in the highest degree unlikely that Eden would join up, that he, Eden, had set his mind on the reversion of the Conservative leadership and would not be moved from that course. He thought that Eden might be dismissed from the picture.

I, of course, do not in the least know if that is a true account. But I did feel the force of the argument that if any approaches were to be considered it was essential that the scope of the support likely to be forthcoming from dissident conservatives should be clarified. In a bargain with Liberals the Labour Party would know where it stood, what it gained and what it lost. But these dissident conservatives--what are they?

I do not know if there are any means by which this point might be clarified. Would it be possible, without definitely committing anyone, to get a list of conservatives who would be prepared to give a conditional support to the Labour programme, say for one parliament, provided that Transport House on its side was prepared to back an electoral agreement?

I see the difficulty that in the early stage of a negotiation everything is bound to be highly conditional and hypothetical. But there is no short cut. I have the impression that if the Labour people could gain some idea of the dimensions of the conservative dissidence, they might be prepared to play. This may be optimistic. But I feel that they have right on their side in requiring this preliminary information.

In our talk the other day we rather assumed without question that the conservative break-away might be of decent size.

I myself think that from the point of view of prestige and efficiency the adhesion of Churchill would be worth almost everything put together. But Labour might argue that this would not be of great electoral value and the embarrassments it would cause are obvious.

It is possible that when the door closed, as you mentioned, some time ago, it was because the Labour people came to the conclusion that there was nothing very substantial on the side of the would-be bargainers.

I expect you have thought of all this, but I felt the point worth recording.

Yours very sincerely

Roy Harrod

I did not mention to Dalton that I had discussed these questions with you.

  1. 1. See letter 875 R, [jump to page] .

    2. See letters 877 R, [jump to page] .

    3. Harrod had sent Eden a copy of his Manchester Guardianarticle: see letter 880 R.

    1. a. ALS, four pages on two leaves, in MaP. Page one is marked "T<M>" in pen.

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