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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 6. 1967.

Peter Quennell writes [reply]

Peter Quennell writes: Like the Anglican Bishop a year or so ago who began his ser-mon on morals by saving that he did not think all sexual intercourse is necessarily wrong. I try to take a liberal view of your correspondent's defence. But I do suspect that all his dialectical hair-splitting blithely reveals the truly chronic confusion in his mind and permeating throughout the movement, on what our democratic way of doing things is all about. This, of course, is a theme requiring greater amplification than I can squeeze in here, but I do repeat the central, foundation point made all along, and so ably sidestepped by your cor-respondent. In baldly simple terms:

In our system, all protests are, at best, basically irrational. Whatever their defence, whatever rationalisation after the event is conjured up, protests are an irrelevant malfunction of the system, which are produced, in each instance, by disenchanted parties following the initial natural impulse of bludgeoning public susceptibility into acquiescing, in lieu of precipitating a coolly - plotted strategy. Protests are the product of a profound misunderstanding of the true nature of policy - making and public opinion, and. insofar as they try to work on them, are bound for quite predictable frustration. Where the channels for influence do exist (and they do here) all it takes is a moderately sophisticated procedure in their use and the world's your oyster. Others have done it. But ignore the usual approaches, put up fuzzy-minded alternatives like demonstrations, and not even the most divinely ordained cause will win through.

In Spain, in Indonesia, in any of the numerous dictatorships of man or party, such tools for pressing a point of view don't exist, and there, to my mind, is the sine qua non situation for demonstrations and mass action to succeed. But when people tell me that demonstrations here are anything but a morale-boost ing game which any protest movement can play — why. this quite strains my faculty of credulity

So this yet again, was the core of my argument. And if. in the light of it. I barely touched upon the tenuous points your correspondent rushes in to defend, and then only late in my article, you will understand why. They were certainly not as central as he likes to think I included them only to illustrate the "demonstrator syndrome" the rigid and inflexibly defiant frame of mind which is the bugbear that keeps the movement so earth-bound. Why does no one grapple with the four dilemmas that I suggest hog-tie the movement? Does its one great success up to now. the herding together of such a diverse gaggle of opinions under the one umbrella, leave it paralytic and powerless for any sort of relevant action apart from parroting the overseas movements?

Two final points:

(1) No group, with the notable exception of the Union movement (to which other channels of action exist for their purely political alms) gives total, unequivocal support to the Opposition and abuse to the Government, as research will soon show. Also: Mr. Kirk said only last week that the Vietnam issue was a red herring in the Election. created by the Government to divert attention from the economy. So much for Mr. Kirk's guile in letting the Government choose the issues, but the really illuminating aspect of this remark is what happened to the Labour Party's efforts to present an essentially intractable problem like Vietnam in blacks and whites as an election issue: it backfired! But despite your correspondent's minimal grasp of political strategy, his point that a fragmented movement presents no electoral threat is a good one.

(2) A movement which relies on emotive, gimmicky methods, as this one did. will, of course, sourly blame its failure on popular prejudice, misreporting. a blatantly biased and entrenched Government, and so on. How absurd. As I say, a pound of pressure misses out where perhaps an ounce of moderated persuasion and understanding might have carried the day. The acid test of the whole movement is its critical capacity for re-appraisals of what it is all about.

[ This correspondence is now closed. We apologise to writers whose letters have not yet been published. We will try to get them in the next issue. Would-be writers are advised letters over 300 words are accepted subject to abridgement.—Editors.]